Making flavours shine
Lily Biggs, an apprentice at River Cottage, talks about why she swapped engineering for cooking
24 November 2014
At first glance, electrical engineering and cooking seem about as far apart as careers can be. Lily Biggs explains what made her choose a path as a catering apprentice at one of the UK's most well-known catering schools.
'Before I started my apprenticeship at River Cottage I had just finished studying A Levels at Mangotsfield Sixth Form. I took Engineering, German and Product Design, as I was thinking about going into electrical engineering. But I found that the courses actually fed my creative side; looking at components and materials and learning how they can fit together to create a masterpiece. I guess that’s why I love cooking so much; looking at ingredients and learning how to create a perfect, harmonious dish and making flavours shine.
Throughout my studies I worked as a chef for Pizza Hut in Longwell Green, which ignited the yearning to become a chef; they gave me responsibility in the kitchen. They also trained me up as a waitress - interacting with customers broadened my view of the hospitality industry.
When I found out about River Cottage’s apprenticeship scheme, I jumped at the opportunity to gain knowledge from a course while working in a professional kitchen. Going to university has never appealed to me. I think it’s such an expensive way of getting a qualification, and I didn’t see any courses I wanted to do. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out by not taking the traditional university route - I’ve made loads of new friends from doing my apprenticeship who I stay in contact with and can bounce ideas off.
While I’m studying at River Cottage, my work placement is actually at The Royal Marriott in College Green for the year. It’s a forty minute bus ride away from my home, which allows me to live at home throughout the course.
Ever since I was small, I would watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall transform simple ingredients into amazing plates of food. The ethos of River Cottage has inspired me to think about what I’m cooking – to purchase local and sustainable produce and to be passionate about my food. I have a new view on the type of ingredients I use and how I prepare them. I’ve just started, but from the few days of training I’ve done so far I’ve learnt so many new techniques. When I get home I test out new skills on my parents while adding my own twists – they love it!
My parents have been incredibly supportive of me and will spread the word to anyone that will listen to how proud of me they are. I think my mum might actually be more excited than I was about studying with River Cottage! I honestly couldn’t ask for anyone better – she even bought me my own set of professional knives that she knows I’ve had my eye on for a while. My dad is equally excited for me; he encourages me to try out my new skills on him, my very own guinea pig! The rest of the family are also incredibly proud and supportive of me, they can't believe that I've got this far!
At the moment I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I finish, but obviously I would love to go into the culinary trade. I can see myself as a ‘mad food scientist’ – experimenting with flavours and creating my own recipes!'
Find out more about hospitality and catering apprenticeships
Video: opening doors to catering at River Cottage