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Olivia at Etch

Olivia Hawkins

Current position: pastry chef at etch. restaurant

Please can you share a whistle-stop tour of your career?

I began cooking at 18 in a little restaurant called The Fig Tree. Working in a team of three chefs (one of them being the owner) allowed me to learn a huge amount in a small space of time. After working at the Fig Tree I joined the Coal Shed and later, its sister restaurant, The Salt Room. After 3 years of working within the company I left and worked for etch. which has been the job I searched for in my first 5 years of cooking!

How and when did you train in hospitality, was there a particular reason for this career path?

This may come as a surprise to some but I have no formal training or qualifications in cooking but I’ve been fortunate to have been taught by some incredible chefs. I’ve always enjoyed cooking but I had never considered it as a career until I accidentally got a job in a kitchen whilst applying to be a waitress.

Describe your job in three words:

Three words I would use to describe my job are Creativity, Graft and Camaraderie.

Favourite aspect of the job? 

My favourite aspect of being a pastry chef is being given the freedom to be creative. In the past year I’ve been learning to work with chocolate (which is an art form in itself) and I was lucky enough to have a 1 to 1 lesson with an amazing chocolatier. A really enjoyable part of making moulded chocolates is creating something beautiful and unique and making a big mess in the process.

The toughest aspect of your job?

The toughest aspect of my job has been physically demanding hours. It’s become apparent that many chefs struggle with mental and physical health due to the demands of the job. I found a massive improvement in my own state of mind when I began to regularly train in a gym, which also made me more productive and positive at work.

What are you most proud of? 

What I am most proud of in my career is getting to where I am without any formal training or qualifications – graft really does pay off!

Can you summarise what it is like working in a male dominated industry?

I would summarise life in a male-dominated industry as tough. But, in my experience, when you work in restaurants like I have you are respected as a chef regardless of gender. However, I have found that the better the restaurant, the less chauvinistic and sexist chefs I’ve had to deal with. Having a good sense of humour definitely helps!

Who have been your mentors?

My first mentor was David Beaty at the Fig Tree, his passion when it comes to cooking was inspiring and infectious – truly a chef who cooks from the heart. My second mentor was Oliver Newton at the Coal Shed, his classical knowledge in cookery is incredible and his ability to graft is relentless! Last but not least, working for Steven Edwards has been game changing. His organisation skills and attention to detail have taught me loads, and his calm and controlled attitude in all situations is definitely admirable.

What has been your philosophy that has seen the successful development of your career?

My philosophy – work hard without an ego, and let the product speak for itself.

Who has inspired you along the way?

I’ve had inspiration from many chefs along the way, but recently I’ve been inspired by our young female chef at etch. She has an incredibly strong sense of right and wrong and isn’t afraid to vocalise it in the sassiest way, which is pretty impressive to watch!

What advice would you offer for women looking to embark on a similar career? 

My advice for women in the industry is to work hard, have fun and don’t be afraid of confrontation when needed.

Do you have a go to or failsafe plate of comfort food?

My failsafe plate of comfort food is Shakshouka, with homemade Focaccia (of course).

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