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The big betty careers Q&A: we meet a pastry chef

The end of school is nigh, and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve got 100 decisions to make. What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to college, or uni, or do I want to get stuck straight into work? It’s easy to feel lost when you don’t know what you want to do, or how to get there.

But while you have literally your whole life to make up your mind, a little bit of good advice can go a long way. So with that in mind, in a series of interviews, we’re speaking to women who’ve ‘made it’, and asking their advice on how to follow in their footsteps.

This week, we speak to Rav Gill, head pastry chef at Llewelyn’s restaurant in Herne Hill.

Describe your typical day

I start at 6:30 in the morning and on a long day, I get a break about 4pm. I usually go to the gym or something—I feel like I should because I eat so much sugar! I honestly start my day with a cookie—then I come back for 5:30pm and work until 11pm. I am usually here all the time, I even moved down the road so I do actually live here!

What’s the best part of your job?

Tasting everything! And having creative freedom to use everything I have learned over the years to create something new. When you see people eating the food or they post a little thing saying how much they loved your food online, it’s so satisfying. Also, as a chef you can literally travel the world. I work at Llewelyn’s full-time, but I also freelance for different companies so I cook for VIPs and families on my days off. The money is finally nice—it does get good when you stick it out. You can also use your knowledge to be a recipe or food writer, or a food stylist too. There are so many different avenues you can go down.

Are there any bad parts?

Long hours, which means you don’t get to see your friends and family that often, and having a relationship is hard—unless they’re a chef, but you don’t want to date chefs, they’re all crazy! You become so close with your colleagues, though, which is nice. I now have friends all over the world, it’s awesome. You also get so many perks! I get to eat in lots of restaurants as I know everybody in the industry. Plus, you will never be out of a job. Everybody is looking for chefs, especially for pastry chefs—I know I’m plugging the pastry!

How did you become a pastry chef?

I actually did a psychology degree in Southampton, and I was meant to do a PhD, but last minute turned it down to be a chef. When I did my degree I just spent the whole time cooking for other people and I realised that was more what I wanted to do. I graduated, then worked in a chocolatier and saved up to go to Le Cordon Bleu in London, to train to be a pastry chef. Now I’m head pastry chef, but it took a lot of time and hard work.

Have you always loved cooking? Why pastry?

Yes, but I was so bad at it! Up until I was about 19. I do everything now, but I love pastry most—I like the finesse of it. I think because I have such a sweet tooth, I am so much more interested in it. Whenever I have a meal, I always obsess over what I’m going to have for dessert.

Wow, they are long shifts!

It’s quite typical to work around 80 hours a week—when you start out as a chef you have to know that your social life is gone. But I think a lot of restaurants are changing that now. At St John I only did 48 hours—it depends where you are. Generally the higher up you are, the longer the hours.

The Big Question: uni or no uni?

If you’re serious about doing it I would say so. You can’t really just pick it up, unless you’re willing to do loads of reading, because there’s so much precision. It can be quite scientific. There are three levels of diploma you can do: basic, intermediate and superior. You could get away with just doing basic because to be honest, no one is really looking at your CV—as long as you know the basics and have enthusiasm you should be fine! Enthusiasm is the most important thing.

What’s your favourite pud?

Anything with chocolate. My sweet tooth is SO big, there isn’t any dessert I don’t really like! Unless it’s savoury. I went to a super posh place recently and ordered the cheesecake, and it was actually just cheese. I was so disappointed.

If you could give one piece of advice to your 14-year-old self, what would it be?

I would tell myself to not be so fearful of following a creative path in life, and not to listen to my food tech teachers, who told me I was rubbish. They were wrong!

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@EllieCostigan

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