Le Cordon Bleu UK Scholarship
About 4 months ago now I saw an advert on my Instagram news feed for a scholarship at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in London. At first I didn’t believe what I was seeing. The scholarship was offering one lucky winner the opportunity to enrol on their prestigious Patisserie diploma, as well as the Culinary Management diploma. Not only that but the winner also received a three month internship with Clare Smyth, at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. Wait there. That’s not all. If you thought that this was enough, they were also offering to put the winner up in luxury accommodation in central London… for 15 ruddy months! No joke, this was what they were offering. A scholarship worth over £30,000.
Naturally I thought that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. And all I had to do was send in a 1 minute video, post a photo on Instagram, and write a few words about why I’d be the ideal candidate. A doddle right?! Saying that, the 1 minute video was the most cringiest thing I have ever done- and considering how short it was, it took me the best part of an afternoon to film it- following excessive deleting, editing and retaking. I sent my application off thinking nothing of it. In fact I pretty much forgot about the application until a few weeks later, when I noticed ‘Bethany Marsh’ listed as one of the candidates for the Northern region of the scholarship. I literally couldn’t believe it.
The days following the announcement of the semi-finalists consisted of overwhelming excitement and mild panic. Because the next round consisted of a panel interview, hosted by Frances Atkins at her Michelin starred restaurant The Yorke Arms in Ramsgill. And I had to face her, along with two other Le Cordon Bleu chefs. The thought of it sent me into a flurry of self-doubt and terrifying nervousness. But after a few sleepless nights thinking about what might go wrong and what they might ask, I began to get my head around the idea. Of course the following week was entirely centred by the up and coming interview; I made news in two of my local newspapers (yeah, I’m a local celeb now…), I talked through potential questions with my boss, with my family and friends, naturally doing as much prep as I could for the interview.
When it came down to it, all I could think about was whether I should bake something to take along to my interview. Would it be inappropriate? Is it technically a bribe? In my gut I thought it was a good idea, but a few people doubted it. But you have to follow your gut, right? In the end, I spent the night before the interview making dusty pink macaroons and filling them with homemade rhubarb jam and mascarpone cream. Maybe I should’ve just had a relaxing bath like a normal person. But my efforts were paid off in the end!
I found the very beautiful Yorke Arms tucked away in a little village just outside of Pateley Bridge, the front of the building a myriad of rich green ivy. I arrived at the door, a bag full of nerves, with a bag full of macaroons in tow. The very lovely Emmanuelle, the web marketing manager at LCB, was there to greet me on arrival with a smile which immediately set me at ease.
The interview itself absolutely flew by, and it was over before I even knew it. Of course it consisted of a number of generic questions about why I applied, what kind of job I do, where my passion for food comes from etc etc…and I answered them all to my best ability. Frances Atkins lead most of the interview and she was very lovely to talk to, so lovely that I kind of forgot I was in an interview at all. It was an absolute pleasure to sit there and talk to her about my passion for food, in fact I could have done it all afternoon, over a cup of tea and some biscuits. Sadly, the interview did end, and there were no tea or biscuits. But before leaving the interview room, I proudly handed over my macaroons as a token of thanks – and they were lapped up with such appreciation. I left the room feeling rather elated and in an emotionally exhausted, dream-like state.
Of course with any interview you always have your doubts, there were a few good moments but there were also some that I very much doubted. But about ten days later I received a call confirming my place in 2016’s UK Scholarship Final. I was one of 3 people representing the North in a total of 14 candidates fighting for that one prize. I was absolutely gobsmacked. Overwhelmed. Terrified. Proud. Excited. I think I felt every emotion.
The scholarship final took place on the 2nd of June, at the cooking school in Holborn. Naturally I arrived about an hour earlier than I needed to, so I sat in Pret, nervously clutching a cup of tea like it was going to save my life. I must’ve looked like I was on the edge of a break down. I felt like I was. Upon arrival at the cooking school we were quickly given our chefs whites and lead to the changing rooms. As soon as we were all in the familiar comfort of our whites, the nerves seemed to subside. The day began with a cooking demonstration lead by Patisserie chef Julie Walsh, who was assisted by last years scholarship winner Katie Leslie. She demo’d a Tart Au Citron with a Creme Anglais and also showed us how to pipe Italian Meringue using a St. Honore nozel. We all knew we were getting judged during the demo, so we were writing for our lives taking note of every single detail, asking questions about the techniques and generally trying to make ourselves noticed.
When it came down to our practical we had to make a Creme Anglais, an Italian Meringue without using a thermometer, and pipe in the St. Honore style on a dummy. We also had to plate up two pieces of pre-made lemon tart and decorate with an array of ingredients in our own style. The tasks were not that complex in their nature; I have made creme anglais and italian meringue so many times before- but in those circumstances, in that kitchen with several sets of eyes watching you, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
In the evening we were all left to mingle with champagne and canapes, discussing the day amongst ourselves and given the opportunity to talk about our experiences with Clare Smyth. It wasn’t long before speeches were said and we were all brought up on to the stage to receive our certificates. It was an incredibly inspiring moment, to stand among like-minded people, with the same passion, the same interests, all fighting for the same thing. Finally Chef Julie announced Keiron Murphy as the winner of this years Le Cordon Bleu Scholarship. I’d met Keiron at The Yorke Arms for our regional interview with Frances Atkins, and I instantly knew he was a really great guy, and it was really lovely to see him again in London- he thoroughly deserves the award and will no doubt go on to do wonderful things in the world of Patisserie. Many people have since asked me if I felt disheartened; but in that moment when Keiron’s name was announced, I didn’t feel the slightest bit of disappointment, I never expected to win, I didn’t even have the slightest inkling. It was just such a pleasure to have spent the day at Le Cordon Bleu, amongst young aspiring chefs and to have met the very inspiring Clare Smyth. The whole process of the scholarship has been an incredible experience which has fuelled my passion for food and my desire to work in the industry- and I’d do it all again in an instant!