Where are they now? Lily Gjertsen

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Where are they now? Lily Gjertsen

Lily Gjertsen (front centre) and the Amateur Table.

Evening Essential graduate Lily has not only successfully moved into the food industry after studying at Leiths; she is on a mission to give culinary students and graduates a chance to shine with her brilliant supper club format, The Amateur Table.

Q: Why did you choose to study the Evening Essential course at Leiths?  

A: After university, I started working for a strategy agency based in Soho. It blew my mind, I’d never seen so many inspiring people making their dreams a reality - restaurants, bars, food trucks, you name it. I started eating out a lot and trying to recreate my favourite dishes when I got home. It didn’t start very well (with lots of burnt pans and expensive mistakes) but as I tried more things, my understanding and interest in cooking began to grow. 

After 4 years of debating, I finally decided I wanted to move into the food industry for good, so I handed in my notice at work. It’s a pretty hard industry to crack if you’re an outsider so I knew I had a lot of learning to do. I decided I wanted to do a culinary course where I could also gain experience in the food industry at the same time, so the Evening Essential Certificate seemed to be the perfect option. I got to work in different jobs during the days - where I did things like recipe testing for BBC Good Food and marketing for a healthy food company - and go to culinary school to learn in the evenings.  


Q: Did the course meet your expectations?    

A: The course was perfect for me, I was really surprised with the number of new things I learned. I thought I knew a lot going in but walked away with a really solid understanding of why you cook certain ways and why things can go wrong. After you understand the fundamental basics of cooking, I think you can really start creating your own flavours and tastes from there. 

The teachers at Leiths are also amazingly talented and passionate, they gave us the perfect balance of support and ownership over the course. When it got to the day of the exam I remember how nervous I was, but it’s such a fantastic feeling walking away with a certification - it makes you feel really good about your ability and gives you the confirmation of knowing you can do it.

Q: What have you been doing since you graduated?  

A: I got pretty lucky. Once I’d graduated Leiths I started looking for jobs in the food industry. I knew I didn’t want to work in a professional kitchen because the culture is so full on, so I started looking for jobs that would be right for me. A few weeks later an opportunity arose to do content & recipe development for an amazing company, which I applied for. I had so many worries I would be under qualified and up against a million and one applicants (which it turns out I was) but I told myself I could do it - I knew I could cook, so years of experience shouldn’t get in the way. I ended up getting the job and I’ve never been so happy. I get to do what I love every day and work with some really inspiring people. 

During my free time, I started doing cookery classes to get friends & family excited about cooking, which later turned into supper clubs. There is something magical about serving delicious food and teaching people how it all came together. I started speaking to some of the girls I went to Leiths with and they were keen to get involved, so concept of The Amateur Table started to grow from there. 


Q: So what is concept of The Amateur Table? 

A: The Amateur Table is about getting people excited about cooking and enabling fresh talent in the food industry.

I truly believe that passion, hard work and talent create unforgettable chefs, not just the number of hours you've spent in the industry. Some of the best meals I’ve had in my life have been created by people who have a natural flare for it, and I want people to be part of that experience.  

We’ve started running a series of supper clubs dedicated to discovering and celebrating the abilities of talented culinary students and graduates, giving them the opportunity to show off their skills and express their creativity. Once a month a top amateur chef is handed the reins of a professional kitchen and given complete responsibility to develop their own menu and deliver it to the highest standard.

Our aim is to help amateur chefs do what they want; start businesses, work in professional kitchens, open street food stalls, but most importantly enjoy what they do. We’re just here to give them a little helping hand by giving them the support they need.

Q: What are your ambitions for the future? 

A: My dream is to help and inspire as many people as I can about cooking. I want people to have the ability to do exactly what they want and show off their talents, if I can help even a handful of people achieve that I will be so happy.

If I'm completely honest with you, I have no idea what's in store for the future of The Amateur Table... amazing things I hope! A good friend of mine gave me some advice recently; to avoid using filters and be completely honest with yourself and those around you - and that's exactly what I intend on doing. At the moment, it's a small business that I use my weekends to work on and I'm really enjoying it.

I think the notion of success has become so important to us in this day and age, but really success is what you make it. For some people success means money and status, for others it's pleasure and enjoyment - for me it means happiness and fulfilment. At this moment in time I feel both of those things due to meeting people, learning new things and getting people excited about cooking. I'm excited to see where it takes me.


Q: What advice would you give to people who are wanting to work in food/commit to a career change? 

A: Changing career can be a really daunting prospect, believe me I know. But the food industry is full of so many amazing opportunities, there are thousands of avenues to explore.

I would say one really important thing to do is talk to people, whoever you can - I must have spoken to about 30 people before making the decision to move industry. People really want to help, and they’re happy to give any advice they can to give you a helping hand. Also, don’t be afraid to change your mind, if you go into a job that doesn’t end up making you happy, don’t force yourself to feel fulfilled. We’re lucky to have the opportunity to move around and work out exactly what it is we want to do.

Learn more about The Amateur Table by visiting the website. Their first supper club runs on 3rd March at London Cooking Project in Battersea.

Thinking about a career in food? Train around your 9 to 5 with the Evening Essential Certificate and kick start your business plan with our dedicated food business course.

Lily Grouse

Author: Lily Grouse

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