Claire Macdonald, principal, Leiths School

The Staff Canteen
Claire Macdonald

Claire Macdonald discusses his role as Principal at Leiths School and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Claire Macdonald

Role: Principal

Bio: A graduate of Leiths, Claire worked at various restaurants before returning to teach. Claire is responsible for the day to day administration in the kitchen and for the welfare of students.

Twitter: @Leithscooking

Chef Skills

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

How did you get into the industry and how long ago did you start at Leiths?

I trained as an accountant on leaving school and worked in the profession and in business for 12 years before deciding to change career. I felt I was too old to start in kitchens with no skills and thought if I went to cooking school I would be more confident and better placed to enter the industry.

I completed the diploma at Leiths, got some restaurant experience and then came back to Leiths to teach, where I’ve been for a number of years. I was a permanent full-time teacher for ten years starting as a junior teacher and working my way up to the class teacher, head teacher and now principal.

Do you think there was enough advice available when you were starting out? 

Probably not. It’s only been in the last ten or so years that food has become so prominent in the media etc which has given insight into the industry and how it works and what is possible.

What advice would you give to those looking to follow in your footsteps?

 Teaching cooking can be very rewarding and satisfying, however, the role of cookery teacher can take quite a long time to achieve. Firstly one must train as a cook – a classic training is advisable. Once trained, working in the industry is a necessity to gain industry experience. Developing a good all-round knowledge of food and cooking is needed so experience in cuisine, patisserie and different cultures foods is ideal. The next step is to train as a teacher (in further education if someone wants to teach adults),  this can be done whilst working for a cooking school, dependent on the school.

How has teaching within cookery schools changed since you started – have there been any significant changes in what people want to learn?

As the industry develops so do curriculums and course content. The skills we teach are classic skills but over the past few years we have introduced sous vide cooking for example. We have become more knowledgeable about the science of cooking. We adapt as the industry does to ensure the students are equipped to enter the industry with regards the professional courses.

What has more obviously changed is the style of recipes. We try to broaden the curriculums and the students experience by teaching fairly classic skills using different cultures recipes and styles of cooking, recognising that food in this country has become much more multicultural and international. But underlying all this is recognition of and respect for the classics.

If someone was applying to work as a teacher at Leiths what are you looking for in that person?

Passion for food and a desire to teach and to be able to express this clearly. Evident ability to convey and pass on knowledge. Varied experience in the industry. The desire to continue learning and developing, questioning and pushing boundaries. Energy and stamina. Self-discipline. Patience. Attention to detail. Organisational and administrative skills, a team player and a sense of humour.

Your top tips on how someone can get into the industry – what should they be doing in order to learn?

  • You have to enjoy food, both cooking and eating. 
  • Be adventurous in tasting the food and learning about food and its provenance.
  • Develop really good cooking skills, start with knife skills.
  • Have or develop discipline, attention to detail and a desire to continually develop and enhance one’s skills and knowledge are prerequisites for entering the industry.
  • Be prepared to commit 100% to whatever you do; if you want to succeed you can’t enter this industry half-heartedly.

If you could go back and tell yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what would it be?

Take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you, they won’t necessarily come round again.

Find a Chef Job

Whether you're an aspiring Chef soon to be leaving education, or you are an established Chef looking for a new culinary challenge, we have a variety of Chef roles to suit you;
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The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th March 2017

Claire Macdonald, principal, Leiths School