Alex Connell, Vegetarian Society Cookery School

The Staff Canteen

Alex Connell discusses his role as Principal Tutor at Vegetarian Society Cookery School and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Alex Connell

Place of work: Vegetarian Society Cookery School

Role: Principal Tutor

Chef Skills

Alex Connell takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

Do you think there’s too much emphasis for Chefs to go straight into a restaurant?

Do you think enough are encouraged to teach at schools or go into catering?

These days there’s lots of avenues you can take, and also a lot of places you can work as a Chef. For some, going to a restaurant will be the natural path they will take. But for others it will be something completely different. They may work in a school canteen or they may work in a high turnover fast-food place. There’s lots of different ways of doing it, lots of different experiences as a Chef and each one is different so you need to become confident in any of them. You need to experience them all.

What made you go into this sector?

I’ve always been interested in food, you know the classic ‘I used to help my mum make pastries’ and then as I got a bit older we were given jobs to do while my mum was at work like peel the veg ready for when she got home. But I always wanted to do a bit more than that, I thought that was the boring part. In my early teens I was cooking the dishes for my family and I just found it very natural to do that.

So that’s my background, growing up I was just naturally into food. Later on I became a teacher, teaching A levels for 6 years or so. When a job at the Vegetarian Society came up which meant I would be teaching but also doing some fairly simple cookery demonstrations, and visiting schools etc I  took it straight away. Over the 6/7 years, I had that role I was developing my culinary skills at the same time. I then left to become a Chef in Oakhampton in Devon, then after working in various places, I came back. So after having that experience of real world cooking I feel I can talk competently as a principal tutor at the school.

What do you like the most about this type of work? What does your job entail?

There are all sorts of things, I’ve got a varied role. I love teaching, I love having a full class. When I’m talking to the students about how to cook something or how to get the best out of something, and I see the buzz, that’s what I love. That’s one aspect of it, I also write a lot of recipes which is great for me to be able to research, test and get creative that way. I write for the magazine too. We have all sort of classes and abilities, so it’s great to meet people that way. I also do cookery demonstrations at food shows, so I’m very lucky that I have got a very varied line of work.

What would you advise for someone looking to follow in your footsteps? If you could go back and do anything differently would you?

Be passionate about what you’re doing and be committed to it. The path that anyone sets out on isn’t necessarily the one you end up following. You might try something and discover it’s not for you, whatever line of work that is. You need to keep an open mind and learn as you go. I don’t know if I would do anything differently, I have got to a position where I am very happy with my work. If I had done something differently I might not be in the same spot!

Work hard, be creative and try to challenge yourself. Be forward- write to restaurants and you can often get experience where you’ll pick up lots of skills.

I think if you’re going into catering, specifically vegetarian catering then there’s lots of places you can find work. People that own vegetarian restaurants and cafes want good quality staff and so if you want to try then just ask if you can volunteer. That way you get a feel for what goes on in the day to day life of being a Chef.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd February 2017

Alex Connell, Vegetarian Society Cookery School