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#MadeAtLeiths; Camilla Schneideman on following her calling to a career in food

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#MadeAtLeiths; Camilla Schneideman on following her calling to a career in food

As part of our #MadeAtLeiths series, Camilla Schneideman, our very own Managing Director, shares her Leiths journey.

Growing up my parents were obsessed with food, as a child our holidays would be great adventures across France, searching out potteries selling hand-painted plates and platters, bowls and jugs and resulted in them buying as much as they could pack in to our tiny white van to bring back to their kitchenware store, Divertimenti. My brother and I grew up among this jumble, and throughout my teens, people would ask if I was going to join the family business, but I had no interest in working in food. I wanted to be an actress, but food was always something I ended back at, I even wrote my dissertation on food in film!

Upon graduating, I felt none the wiser how to go about becoming an actress so took off to Australia with my best friend. From the moment I arrived it became clear that the culinary wasteland that my mother had abandoned had changed. Sunshine and a multicultural population had generated an informal style of eating. Cafés served fresh, healthy cuisine with a clever mix of European and Asian influences. This unfamiliar territory excited me and while I pondered my lack of an acting career, I got seriously stuck into Sydney food. Doing the usual round of waitressing jobs, I had no money but ate like a queen.

All too soon it was time to go back to England where aged 24, having pursued various career paths and running out of excuses for not having a proper career, all roads led to food. It sounds like a cliché, but had an epiphany up a mountain in America that I wanted to be a chef. If I was going to do it I wanted to do it properly so I signed up to a year at Leiths School of Food and Wine. With only one intake per year I had eight months to wait until I could start so I got a job running a café on Clapham Common giving me my first taste of cooking in a professional environment; an experience that was definitely a huge learning curve.

Once I joined the diploma all the pieces felt like they fell in to place; the structure and understanding of not just the how tos but the whys and why nots were a revelation and I gained huge amounts of confidence through understanding efficient practices in kitchen. This new found confidence inspired me to get my first post-Leiths job in Antipodean chef, Peter Gordon’s restaurant, The Sugar Club, which specialised in fusion food. I had spent one night doing work experience here during my diploma and had never experienced a restaurant where ingredients from all over the world were brought together and although suspicious that the food would be a disaster I was proved wrong. That evening I tasted just about everything. Scallops quickly seared and coated in a mysterious but divine sweet chilli sauce went surprisingly well with a dollop of crème fraiche on the side. Kangaroo fillet, sliced like rare beef and served with a salad of mint, coriander, spring onions and peanuts, was a revelation. Feeling that I might get laughed out of the kitchen but desperate to learn more I offered to work for them for free and after two weeks of washing salad in freezing water and julienning chillies until my fingers throbbed, I was offered a job. I stayed for eighteen months at what was one of the busiest restaurant in Soho, and whilst I had never worked so hard I felt invigorated and it all felt so right.

Feeling the need to regroup I joined my boyfriend Tom in New Zealand, not feeling ready to hurl myself around another restaurant kitchen just yet, I took a job baking cakes for a café that was attached to a cookery school and kitchen shop. Life was idyllic and we were tempted to stay, that is until a phone call from home changed everything. When my father announced he was moving the shop and there was some additional space, I couldn’t say no to opening a café and cookery school similar to those that I’d learnt to love and so it was back to London we went. With lots of enthusiasm and some apprehension, I took the first steps to recreating the Australian café scene by investing in a large communal table, hiring an Australian barista and adding two chefs I’d previously worked with at The Sugar Club to the team, even though it was only café food it was simple yet delicious, and we sold out every day.

My role in the cookery school was to entice chefs to come and teach. There were lots of lessons to learn along the way but everything was always held together with great food. My Leiths training gave me the confidence that I lacked in so many other areas, despite plenty of education.

After six or so years, Tom, my now husband was on the move again, this time to Spain. I was fortunate enough to be able to take some time off and write The Divertimenti cookbook. Valencia was a great place to do this, with some of the best food markets in the world, full of beautiful produce and I could often be found trundling back from the market with a bag full to recipe test.

After the sale of Divertimenti, my decision to look for a new adventure and the birth of a rather time consuming baby we moved back to London where I started teaching cookery from my home; I was in the process of looking for new premises when I was approached by Caroline Waldegrave () and Christopher Bland (chairman and >span class="st">co-owner of Leiths School of Food and Wine) to let me know they were interviewing for Managing Director replacements. I couldn’t believe I would ever have the required skills to run my alma mater but I couldn’t not give it a go, I was offered the job and here I am eleven years later.

Even after all these years, I am constantly inspired by the students. I love meeting people who are at the start of their food careers and seeing the opportunities that working in food can bring. We are proud to have graduates go onto roles in top restaurants but it’s not just about landing a role in a Michelin starred restaurant. Leiths students also go onto high profile positions in food writing, recipe development and food photography. They are entrepreneurial; starting their own catering companies and pop-ups, authoring cookbooks and launching food businesses. Many work on food series for television and others act as thought leaders in the future of food and technology in governance and policy. The opportunities are endless and highly motivating.

I’m often reminded how passionate people feel about their calling to a career in food, these encounters and our students’ development and growth make me look forward to everyday at the school.

Camilla Schneideman

Author: Camilla Schneideman

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