Today marks the end of National Apprentice Week (5-9 March), so Katie Pathiaki caught up with Eleanor De Maria – a former apprentice with the Compass Group, now chef de partie at Roux at Parliament Square – to find out her most valuable moments as an apprentice
What’s your background?
When I was 18 I decided to enrol on a general chef course. I had no knowledge of the catering industry and didn’t know much about food either. I always took an interest in baking and at first I wanted to complete a pastry apprenticeship, but then I decided it would be better to do a more general course.
What was your first job in the hospitality industry?
I began my Level 2 Professional Cookery Apprenticeship with Compass Group UK & Ireland at Chelsea FC Stadium. I worked in the kitchens, catering for matches and private corporate events, and after a few months I was moved to the training ground in Cobham to prepare meals for the footballers.
Did you find it an enjoyable experience? What did you learn?
When I first started it was a challenge to adjust to the hours, but it really taught me the value of responsibility. I have been lucky enough to work with some great chefs who took me under their wing and showed me how great working with food can be.
At the training ground, for example, I was shown how to cook from scratch with amazing ingredients that I had never tried before. There were no boundaries, so I was free to be creative. Working there was one of the happiest times of my career.
Was it something you always wanted to do?
Like many chefs, I just fell into it – I had no idea what I wanted to do. Since then I’ve discovered my passion for fine food and have had the opportunity to hone my skills in one of the most exciting and innovative industries in the world.
Have you had a mentor?
Sam Jones, lead development chef at Compass Group UK & Ireland, taught me how to cook. He has always been patient and encouraging, and he wants to pass on everything he knows. He wants to excite and inspire others to love food as much as he does.
Nick Vadis, culinary director of Compass Group, has been my other mentor. He has taught me to always be prepared and to have confidence. He’s a role model within this industry and he never stops giving back.
What do you do day-to-day?
I have recently started working at Roux at Parliament Square in Westminster, where I have been assigned to the larder. I produce and plate up the canapés, snacks and cold starters and I generally support the other sections when I am needed.
What do you love about your job?
Eating! I love trying new food and discovering new cooking techniques. The eating experience is always worth the preparation, no matter how lengthy the job.
Who do you think is the best ambassador for the hospitality industry and why?
Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in the US. Dan is a very passionate chef and educates people about the importance of farm to table, sustainability and tackling food waste. Earlier this year he headed a pop-up in Selfridge’s called wastED, where the chefs used the offcuts from food that would normally be binned, such as chickpea water or the cores of spiralised vegetables.
What’s the most inspiring day you’ve had in your career?
Winning Compass Group UK & Ireland’s Junior Chef of the Year 2015 was an experience like no other. The entire process changed me. I grew stronger as a chef and learned there are some things in life that are worth the sacrifice. The task was to prepare three courses in 90 minutes: a fish starter, a pork main and a seasonal fruit dessert. Coming up with the menu was only half the battle; militant organisation and self-belief is what really helped.
Would you recommend the industry to others?
I would, to anyone who is passionate about food, is creative and just enjoys a good feed! The satisfaction you receive when someone enjoys your cooking is unlike anything else. There is a real pride in starting with just a few ingredients and making something beautiful to share and enjoy with customers, friends and family. To top all that, your self-confidence gets a real boost and you feel like you’re part of a family when you work in a kitchen with a great team.
What are your plans?
To move around the various sections in the kitchen during my time at Roux and to learn as many new skills as possible. I have also scheduled some work experience with a kitchen magazine to gain an insight into how the magazine is produced.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
I hope to inspire others just as my mentors have inspired me with their wisdom and guidance. I wish to make my mark in the industry, whether that’s belonging to a Michelin team or opening a small deli of my own abroad. My goal in life is to feed people to make them happy, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.