How an apprenticeship led me to become an award-winning chef

Isabella Raccagna, 22, lives in Portsmouth and is Chef de Partie at Farmer, Butcher, Chef at Goodwood in Sussex.

Isabella Raccagna, 22, is an award-winning chef

At school, I enjoyed the practical based subjects far greater than the reading and writing subjects.

I was confused about which career line to go down during my college years, but I felt pressure by my school to take the university route.

Deciding not to go to university

Work experience within the hospitality industry caught my initial interest, which made me withdraw my university application.

I have always felt I have belonged in the kitchen from the interest I showed as a child with my parents and cooking for my younger sister every night after school.

The thought of a career involving food has always excited me, and the hard work required to succeed always pays off.

Training to be a chef

I studied food technology at GCSE and A-Level.

Instead of going to university I took a year out and became an apprentice, studying for my culinary arts diploma whilst working.

My passion comes from growing up in a multi-cultural family (having a half Sicilian heritage).

Because of this, I have a great appreciation of different cuisines and the ingredients they use.

I used to bake with my English grandmother most Saturdays and this was something I enjoyed greatly.

What I love about my job

It is a job where you’re constantly learning by changing sections along with new seasonal menus and dishes to master.

The job requires great teamwork and the sense of accomplishment after each shift is addictive.

From leading sections in the kitchen, I know how to manage and utilise each member’s skills to become successful.

I hope to one day use my knowledge and people skills to become head chef or run my own restaurant.

By heading up a restaurant, it will enable me to express myself through food in a distinct and innovate way.

Working at Goodwood

Goodwood is one of the most prestigious estates in England and is a widely respected place to have worked.

What personally drew me to Goodwood was its on-site working farm, as much of the produce is used in the restaurant.

This is a chef’s dream and I have learnt a lot from this.

A day in the life of a chef

Depending on how busy we are and what section I’m on, a normal day starts at about 9am.

At the moment I’m on sauce so dealing with all the meat, fish and sauces used in dishes.

Everyone puts the deliveries away first; veg, meat, fish, dry store.

Once this is done, prep starts for lunch. Fish and meat are always prepped on the day it comes in unless we are drying the meat.

Lunch service starts at 12pm so sections start setting up at 11am.

Fresh purees are heated, the ox grill is lit and any changes or specials are given to front of house.

After lunch service, we continue prep. Anything that is urgent and needed for dinner is done first. This is normally the time we barbecue our meat.

We start setting up at around 5pm.

Once we are ready for the dinner service we can take an hour break.

After dinner service is done and the last table has been sent out it’s a clean down of stoves, sections and equipment, then leaving for home at around 11pm to midnight.

My favourite dish

My signature dish is Sea Bass, black olive and chorizo crumb, Razor Clams, curried raisins, puff rice, egg puree, sea herbs, smoked Dulse and mermaid hair.

One of the first dishes I learnt to cook was Kedgeree. It showed me how many ingredients could synergise together to create a great-tasting dish and sparked ideas on how I could experiment with it.

My dish is based on the deconstruction of the original dish to illustrate my background using different flavours and my progression as a chef.

While on holiday, I was dragged out by my partner fishing. Unexpectedly we caught a European Sea Bass and I was responsible for cooking it.

I gained a better understanding and respect for the meat by catching it myself. From that point onwards Bass has been my favourite fish to cook; not only for its flavour but the memories that come with it.

For me it was the perfect fish to use as a backbone to the dish. I wanted my Sicilian heritage to be incorporated into a large part of the dish. Sicily has a rich history being conquered by many different cultures.

The most dominant of these is the Mediterranean. By using the bold flavour of olives and chorizo as a crumb it will not be overpowering, but it brings in my Sicilian influence.

Overcoming challenges

Starting in this industry for anyone can be a challenge but particularly for an apprentice as they start at the bottom.

Towards the start of my career, I have faced some challenges due to my gender, which was a real struggle for me but it has made me stronger.

The best thing to do in these situations was to tell someone.

I have had to get used to the hours this job requires. The best way to deal with this I have found is to make sure you’re healthy by eating well and getting enough sleep.

My advice to others wanting to get into the food industry

Always have confidence in yourself and maintain a positive outlook.

It is easy to get comfortable at one position or role, but my main advice is always be looking to go up the ladder otherwise you’ll miss out on some amazing opportunities.

I used to suffer from panic attacks, which affected my performance. I didn’t think this was a problem at the time and feared admitting it would ruin my reputation.

Since improving my mental health, it has not only improved my work but my social life.

Isabella works at Farmer, Butcher Chef at the Goodwood Estate.

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