My journey from apprentice to Chef de Partie
To mark National Apprenticeship Week 2021 we spoke to Trinity Hall Chef de Partie Sophie Swann who first came to the College as an apprentice in 2014. She's come a long way since; loves the College and the wide variety of people she encounters here. But she still cries when she cuts onions.
In September 2014 after leaving Netherhall School when I was 16, I started my Apprenticeship in Professional Cookery, Level 2, with Trinity Hall.
I had always enjoyed cooking from a young age and when we had to choose our work experience in July 2013 I was fortunate enough to spend my two weeks at Trinity Hall. I spent one week in Front of House and the following in the Kitchen. By the end of my work experience I realised I preferred making the dishes rather than serving them!
I had already decided university was not for me and wanted to get straight into a working environment. I approached Trinity Hall about an apprenticeship and they agreed to take me on as part of their team. My apprenticeship involved working mainly in the Kitchen but also attending Cambridge Regional College one day a week.
After successfully completing Level 2 I went on to do Level 3 which was completely within the Kitchen with my Tutor visiting on occasion to observe me working.
What appealed to you most about taking an apprenticeship in cookery?
An apprenticeship appealed to me as I really wanted to learn ‘hands on’. I felt being in the environment alongside chefs would be the best way to learn the skills needed to become qualified.
What’s the most valuable thing you learned during your apprenticeship?
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions or make mistakes – you only learn by listening and observing your colleagues and lots of practice. I used to be concerned that I was not quick enough in my cutting abilities but I soon learnt this only comes with time. But I do still cry when chopping onions!
How has your career progressed since completing your apprenticeship?
After gaining my qualifications and finishing my time as an Apprentice Chef I was given a full-time position at Trinity Hall and promoted to Commis Chef. I continued to learn and progress and was again promoted to Chef de Partie, the position I currently hold.
What’s your favourite dish to make?
I wouldn’t say I really have a favourite dish to make but I do enjoy making breads, which usually get good feedback! I also enjoy working in the Pastry Section when the opportunity arises. I like working on new dishes on my own, or working with colleagues to put ideas together for special events.
What’s the best thing about Trinity Hall?
There are lots of people to meet with different backgrounds from many parts of the world and of course Trinity Hall is a lovely College in beautiful surroundings.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The variety of functions we cater for makes the job interesting. One day it can be focussing on staff and student lunches and the next can be preparing for multiple fine-dining dinners in the evening. We also cater for weddings, graduations and student Formal Halls, not to mention Burns Night and ‘addressing the Haggis’! If the opportunity arises, I enjoy trialling new dishes in the hope that they make it onto the menu.
What’s the best thing about working with in an academic environment?
Knowing you are a small part of students’ university experience and time at Trinity Hall and realising that you may have catered for a future genius!
What do you find fun about working in a Cambridge college?
I work with a great team of chefs and there is usually something to laugh at during the day. It is a very busy and pressured job where we have to meet tight deadlines and multi-task different functions so a bit of happy banter or having the ability to laugh if things don’t quite go to plan is a must!
Who’s your favourite chef?
I don’t really have a particular favourite. I admire many professional chefs for different reasons. Michael Caines always amazes me as he is so talented. He lost an arm in a road accident but overcame this to become a highly talented chef. I enjoy watching MasterChef and the Great British Bake Off and seeing new talents coming through.