Pathways: Nichola Davis, chef de partie, Pig on the Beach
The chef de partie at the Pig on the Beach has arrived at her apprenticeship-led career via a circuitous route but with a lifelong love of the industry. Lisa Jenkins hears her philosophy
What was your first job?
I was raised in a home where my mother would frequently throw dinner parties or have people over for Sunday lunch. I would watch as she prepared and read cookery books to give her creations an extra bit of flair. Of course, I wasn't just allowed to watch, I was roped in to help – with the food, the table, the welcome, taking bags and coats, and with drinks. I learned hospitality in my family home. It brought me joy to see the joy it brought to others.
Did you do an apprenticeship in hospitality?
Yes, I am currently enrolled as a chef apprentice with the Pig on the Beach in Studland, Dorset, in association with Umbrella Training, which I'm due to finish next month.
What initially attracted you to working in hospitality?
I never really thought about a career in hospitality, but during lockdown I had time to breathe, to think, to create. Since the only place I could freely go to was the supermarket, I started cooking and to feed others around me. At this point I knew I wanted to go to college to learn more about food, to do something that would feed my spirit. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to learn, but I wanted to be exposed to an environment where I could broaden my culinary horizons.
How did you make the transition into a job in hospitality?
Once lockdown eased, I enrolled on an NVQ in professional cookery. I absolutely loved it and feel it was a great step for me, as it gently introduced me to what to expect in a commercial kitchen. At the end of the course, I pondered what to do next. I took some annual leave from my job and, out of curiosity, decided to see what kinds of jobs were out there. Having no experience in this field, I connected with an agency and soon had several trials lined up and four job offers to choose from, one of which was to work at a restaurant with a Michelin star. It was a difficult decision, but I took the job that was part of an apprenticeship scheme, as I believed this would be of benefit to me as a newbie coming into the industry. At 45 years old, I handed in my notice and in August 2021 I started work as an apprentice chef. What an adventure it has been!
What have been your biggest challenges since working in hospitality?
It has been challenging physically as I have had to adjust to standing on my feet for long periods. It has also been humbling adjusting to kitchen hierarchy, especially going from managing others to being managed. I have learned a lot about myself and my responses to different management styles. It has, in a way, developed my sense of self and has changed how I define myself.
Antisocial hours come with the territory, but I've been blessed to have a thoughtful head chef who takes into consideration the needs of his staff as well as the needs of the business.
Do you have any regrets or things you wish you had done differently?
I don't regret my decision for one moment. I think things happened quite organically for me, and I'm grateful for this experience.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
I would say, do your due diligence. Know what it is that you want to achieve and take your time to find the right fit for you. Know that there will be challenging days, where you may wonder ‘What on earth am I doing?', but there will also be great days when you find your stride and hit that sweet spot. Having a positive outlook and a good grounding of self-confidence will help immensely. I would say, listen more, speak less. You will learn so much, which will help in navigating this adventure.
What are your career goals?
I'm open at the moment as I'm not sure what I want to do exists, so I may need to create my own career path. I would love to use my life's learning in music, food, mentoring and public speaking in one role. How that happens will unfold with time, as I continue to show up and step boldly into each page of my life.
Would you recommend a career in hospitality to your friends and family?
I would recommend finding the right fit. I would give them the pros and the cons and leave them to decide. I am at peace with my choice, and I would hope they find that too.
Who inspires you in the industry?
I am inspired by Mariya Russell. The first black female chef to earn a Michelin star [for Chicago restaurant Kikko]. Her accomplishment speaks, "I'm possible!"
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