Explore Leiths Diploma Open House – 5th June 2024


Alumni Stories: Florence Cornish

Leiths alumna Florence Cornish has followed a varied career path since completing her Diploma at Leiths, working in hotels, catering, and start-ups, and even establishing a ‘side hustle’ in occasion cakes. She’s now Menu Development Chef for UK and Ireland with Hilton Hotels. Here she shares with us the focused thinking that has gone into her career choices.

What brought you to Leiths? Had you always wanted a career in food?

“I’d never really thought about a career in food but I’d always loved food and eating and restaurants and cooking. When I was finishing university [History at Goldsmiths in London] I was looking to go into magazines and publishing and the fashion world then just kind of fell a bit out of love with that and thought what else is there? I looked at food and it went from there. I’d done a half day course with my mum at Leiths when I was about 16 or so – she had been gifted it – so I had an awareness of Leiths already. Later, when I did a competition with River Cottage [Florence was a finalist in the River Cottage Rising Star competition in 2013] which really cemented what I wanted to do, it was my mum who said I should consider Leiths.”

How was your time at Leiths?

“Brilliant. It was quite an intense year for me, not so much to do with the training necessarily, just the anxiety of wanting to make sure I was setting myself up for work afterwards as best I could. That was massively important to me. I remember saying when I was going round Leiths on the open evening: “I need you to guarantee me I’ll get a job at the end of this”! But I found the course to be brilliant. I really enjoyed the structure and the repetition as well, knowing that you would do something again and again until you got it right.

While I was at Leiths in the final term I secured a book deal for my book Made in the USA. I always say there was a brief time in my life when I was very determined! I was also job hunting and managed to secure a job for once I’d finished through Leiths List with a boutique catering company called Ginger Jar – Jenny who owned Ginger Jar had been to Leiths –  which for me was like the golden ticket. It was really important to me to have a job for as soon as I finished.”

What was your next move?

“I knew the people behind Ballintaggart because they’d been in my year at Leiths. They were opening a second property in Scotland so I thought this was a great opportunity to travel, live somewhere else and get some restaurant experience. I went up to help set up their catering wing and also lead on the pastry side of things. After a year, I came back to London and went into development with allplants, a vegan ready meal company. I started off as junior development chef and ended up running that team. Allplants was a start-up and we went through scale up, so it got a lot bigger while I was there. That gives you an opportunity to really create a whole process from start to finish. I was there for about four years.”

You now work with Hilton. Can you tell us about your role there?

“I sit in our central food and beverage team. We have about 26 hotels up and down the country that are on a central menu. My job is creating that menu and updating it, twice annually. There’s a lot that goes into it that takes a very long time – presentation, trying to make sure that everyone’s on side, talking with suppliers…it’s not just the dish creation. A lot of what I do is actually ‘hearts and minds’ work; it’s really trying to make sure that chefs feel involved in the process, that they feel their opinion has been listened to. I’ve only been here 18 months so will be here for a while. I am also working within Hilton on an ongoing training project with a women’s prison which is something that’s really got me fired up. Working with these women, talking to them, and helping them to realise their own potential, has been really great. Hilton’s the first big company that I’ve ever worked in. I feel grateful to have experience of both the small businesses and the start-ups and now a bigger one.”

You also find time to make occasion cakes. What do you enjoy about it?

“I really got into it when I was doing the catering. We had a lot of requests for wedding cakes and it unlocked something. It’s just a little side project, a side hustle really. I really enjoy it because it’s such a creative outlet and always for a happy occasion. I don’t think I would ever want to do it full time because it would take the joy out of it. I enjoy the fact that I can just pick it up as and when. I feel really practised now; it’s a skill I’ve honed over years and years and when I look at ones I did initially compared to what I’ll do now, you can really see that progression.”

You’ve had a very varied career. How much was planning, how much chance?

“I never had a five- or ten-year plan. In my view, that’s a hangover from the ‘80s, our parents’ generation: you start in a company and go up and up and up. But there are jobs being created now that weren’t there before. You could work for Twisted or Mob and be an Instagram chef, a food content creator. That wasn’t a thing, even when I was at Leiths really. I think with each move that I’ve taken, there’s been a pull that has made it the job I really wanted to do at that time. It’s strategic and not strategic; each role that’s come about, I have quite a gut feeling about. After getting all that training at Leiths, I wanted to do something that was hands on. Later, I wanted a job where I was using all sides of my brain, so at allplants there were all these levels to it – it was plant-based, frozen meals, working with a budget. You need to shape roles, in as much as you can, take what you can from them, so they serve you. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur setting up your own food business to have entrepreneurial spirit.”