Young chef Immy Birkett took part in the Bristol24/7 Autumn Feast in 2017. Here, she shares her experience and lets us know what she’s been up to since then.
Whiling away hours in the uni library one day, my friend suddenly brought to my attention to a call out on Bristol24/7’s Facebook feed looking for budding young chefs. I hadn’t thought about being a chef before, but the next thing I knew my friend Jane and I were heading down to Square Food Foundation’s home in The Park in Knowle to meet Barny Haughton and his troop of professional chefs from all over Bristol.
I was nervous: Jane and I prepared ourselves for what we thought might be a Ready Steady Cook-style competition. But the reality was very chilled, focused around learning from each other and from the chefs, and creating a spread of delicious dishes. As a penniless student an added bonus was that I ate well that day! My regular go-to – beans on toast – was trumped by our fresh creations, inspired by everyone’s unique exposure to food.
With the likes of Finn on my left, concocting a West-African stew, and Larissa on my right, whose Brazilian mum was her main inspiration, I felt spectacularly vanilla in my approach. Still, Jane and I found our groove, whipping up a lemony hummus with flatbreads and a smoky aubergine bake. The preparation for the Autumn Feast had begun.
We went back for cookery workshops in which we were taught some brilliant new skills. Having Josh Eggleton standing in front of me demonstrating how to cure pork belly was a unique experience – I have always wanted to eat at his restaurant, the Michelin-starred Pony and Trap. Together we designed a dish that would show off our newly learnt techniques. Seeing the mackerel that we had filleted and smoked that day go on the menu for the Autumn Feast was amazing. We really felt responsible in this process – both a nerve-wracking and exhilarating prospect.
The Feast itself was great fun. The street food stall set-up made the atmosphere lively, which put us all at ease. Jane and I ran the fish station, serving smoked mackerel atop homemade flatbreads, and a bouillabaisse with a rouille. We took it as a compliment when there was barely enough left for us to try – there was a queue out of the door of eager Bristol foodies waiting to taste the food we had made. That was an incredible feeling.
Since the Autumn Feast I’ve continued to bring my love of food into everything I do. As a recent graduate, uncertain where to take my life, this has been the ideal time to find out what a job in the food industry entails. I was drawn to the chefs of the Season and Taste group, having walked past their tapas bar Bravas every day on my way to university.
Barny at the Square Food Foundation had told us to let him know if we were ever interested in further opportunities, so I contacted him and he put me in touch with Imogen Waite, chef patron, and Mark Chapman, executive chef, both of whom were incredibly helpful in setting up a chef placement for me. Mark sorted a two-week rotational schedule in their four exciting venues.
With a bakery, two tapas bars, and a Mexican street food restaurant within my reach, I learnt new recipes and techniques every day and met some brilliant characters along the way. I had sourdough master classes at Bakers & Co, worked on the pass at Bravas, perfected paellas at Gambas, and turned tacos at Cargo Cantina. And it goes without saying that I ate like a queen.
Now back from my Bristol adventures, I am on the search for a job as a recipe developer/chef, with the hope of incorporating some food writing into the mix. I want to say a massive thank you to all involved in the young chef programme and the Autumn Feast. I cannot stress enough how this has opened up opportunities that I never would have had the confidence to go for before.
The next How To Be A Chef course starts in April 2019. No experience is necessary, register your interest at www.squarefoodfoundation.co.uk/how-to-be-a-chef