The Great British Bake Off is back and what better time to ask a local chef how they got into their chosen trade?
At 21, Beth Douglas is one of the rising stars at Crieff Hydro, where she has risen from waitress to pastry chef de partie in just a few years.
Beth Douglas found her passion early, and that passion is baking. She shone in home economics at high school, but it wasn’t until she started helping out in the kitchen at Crieff Hydro – where she was also a part-time waitress – that she saw the possibility of a career in the kitchen.
Realising a love for baking, she is now the youngest of an all-female team of pastry chefs at the luxury Perthshire hotel.
Now, as pastry chef de partie, she works in the main kitchen making cakes for the Wintergarden Café, one of six eating places in the resort. She also occasionally helps prepare food for fine dining restaurant Meikle, and for functions.
“It can seem intimidating as this is a very big hotel,” says Beth of a resort that includes 200 bedrooms and 50 self-catering units. “But the kitchen is split into little teams so that makes it easier.” Teams are arranged according to sections of the kitchen, each called a partie, in a system that dates back to the late 19th century.
Last year Beth was given the challenge of creating a selection of cakes and baked goods from scratch; up until then the Wintergarden ordered in cakes from an outside supplier. But it’s a challenge this young chef has relished.
Beth isn’t college trained. Instead she learned as she went along, by watching her fellow pastry chefs and by developing her own ideas. Experimentation is key when you’re a pastry chef and Beth gets inspiration from watching cooking and baking programmes, and from Pinterest. But she says she’s lucky to have the backing of a kitchen and an executive chef that gives her creative space.
“They give me a lot of scope to try things out and follow through different ideas,” she says.
That’s how executive chef Bruce Price operates – by trusting his brigade of 45 chefs to do their job, and giving them flexibility to put their own stamp on dishes.
Bruce says Beth showed a natural flair for being a chef right from the beginning. When she was just 19 she came 3rd in the Association Culinaire Francaise Challenge Student Final in Lille, France. “For a 19- year-old practically straight out of school, that’s really impressive,” he says.
Although Andy Brodie, development chef with the Crieff Hydro group of hotels, sees the benefit of young chefs attending a catering course at college, he says it’s not for everyone. “Beth has a talent for picking things up quickly. A college environment would be boring for her. In her case there’s more to be learned by going straight into the kitchen environment.”
Ask her what she loves to bake and Beth says simply: “Anything that makes people say wow.” As for the future, Beth hopes one day to open her own “little tea house – with good food and home baked cakes”.
Beth’s advice for future chefs is this: “Get yourself a decent collection of cookbooks to look through, watch cooking programmes, and experiment at home. Then go for it! Get yourself into a kitchen for some work experience and just take things from there. So long as you’re interested, passionate and enthusiastic about food I personally don’t think going to college is completely necessary.”