In this interview, we catch up with alumna and winner of the very first UK Scholarship Award, Abigail Watson. She has gone on to work in a two Michelin-starred restaurant and now works as a private chef. Abigail tells us how winning a place on the Grand Diplôme® has changed her life.
What inspired you to enter the UK Scholarship Awards in 2011?
I have always wanted to go to Le Cordon Bleu from a young age as I have always loved cooking and have always been very passionate about it. When I heard about the UK Scholarship Award I just had to enter as attending Le Cordon Bleu London was a dream of mine. Having a Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu is like having a passport to the culinary world as it gives you all of the necessary skills you need to succeed.
What was going through your mind during the different stages of the competition?
I absolutely loved every stage of the competition, as I felt more and more a part of it as it progressed, and I really got a feel for Le Cordon Bleu. However it was also very nerve-racking and I think this was simply because I wanted it so much. I took every stage of the competition a step at a time, and as it went on it got more nerve-wracking, but it was even more rewarding. Especially the day of the finals – just being able to wear the chef’s whites felt amazing!
How did it feel to be the winner of the award?
It’s something that still puts a smile on my face whenever I think about it. The moment that they called my name and my lifelong dream became a reality, I almost didn’t believe it! It was a feeling that I had never felt before – ecstatic is definitely an understatement.
I absolutely loved every stage of the competition, as I felt more and more a part of it as it progressed... especially the day of the finals – just being able to wear the chef’s whites felt amazing!
How did you find studying for the Grand Diplôme® at Le Cordon Bleu London?
I found studying for the Grand Diplôme® to be really rewarding. It was extremely hard work and very full-on but I learnt so much in those nine months. I enjoyed every single day of the course and I would love to do it all over again!
What was it like working with Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens at Tom’s Kitchen?
It was great to work at Tom Aikens because I really got to understand how a working kitchen operates during service, and how each element of a dish comes together. It was great to be able to put the skills that I learnt during my time at Le Cordon Bleu London into practice in a professional kitchen, especially a Michelin-starred one!
What is the most valuable thing that you learned during that journey
The most valuable thing that I learnt during my UK Scholarship Award journey was the true meaning of hard work, and how good enough is never enough, as you must always strive to be better. At Le Cordon Bleu London you are taught by the very best Master Chefs in the industry who have had years of experience, and who are always pushing your creativity and culinary skills to the next level. They taught me so much during my time there and I am truly grateful.
What have you done since completing your internship?
I have worked at Raymond Blanc’s highly acclaimed, two Michelin-starred restaurant Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons in Oxfordshire. Since then I have been working as a private chef, which I find very rewarding as you get to work directly with the clients in every aspect from shopping to cooking and cleaning up. It has also given me the opportunity to travel to some amazing places, for example I just spent a month in Île de Ré, which is an island off the west coast of France. I stayed in a beautiful house and was a private chef for a family there.
How has the Diploma and the internship helped your career?
Having my Diploma has not only given me invaluable experience and knowledge but it really is a passport to the culinary world as you can go into almost anything. People really respect the excellence and expertise that a Le Cordon Bleu Diploma carries so the career opportunities are endless.
What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?
My biggest accomplishment so far has got to be getting the job at Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-star restaurant. I was a commis chef there and it felt great to land a position in one of the best restaurants in England, and having the Grand Diplome® definitely gave me the ability and the confidence to secure the job.
What do you hope to achieve within the next 5 years?
I would like to continue being a private chef for a few more years and then hopefully I will be able to own my own catering company, catering for events such as weddings. The concept for my catering company will centre on honest, high quality, wholesome food with a modern twist.
What advice would you give to the entrees for the UK Scholarship Award 2017?
To completely be yourself, to speak from the heart, and to show how passionate you are about food. It’s such an amazing opportunity and each step of the competition will teach you something new so just take the time to enjoy it and learn from it.
If you could do it all over again what would you have done differently?
I would have taken even more detailed notes as I am not very good at taking notes! I would have typed them up and attached a photo to every dish that I learnt. This would have helped me when looking back on recipes that I haven’t done for a long time because I have come to realise that you do forget a lot! But when you see something written and a picture it jogs your memory.
Want to follow in Abigail's footsteps? Apply today for the UK Scholarship Award - all you need is passion, we'll teach you the rest.