Check out my interview with Fiona Burrell, the founder of The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School (ENTCS) and former principal of Leith’s School of Food and Wine.
Describe yourself in 5 words.
Busy, happy, thorough, determined, optimistic
What inspires you?
I get my inspiration from lots of different places: Edinburgh is a very foody place and sometimes a spark of creativity is set off by just eating out in one of the many superb restaurants. There are many fantastic food writers around at the moment and although the style these days is more relaxed, we still teach our students the classic ways of cooking.
We all love Ottolenghi’s take on food because his food is vibrant and has a wonderful mix of spices and flavours. We also love Diana Henry’s food – Diana was a student of mine when I worked in London.
Sometimes we are inspired by a particular ingredient to devise a recipe for it and we encourage our students to occasionally come up with their own creative ideas for ingredients.
I’m good at…
Staying up late
I’m bad at…
Getting up very early!
Who’s your favourite Style Icon?
I don’t have a style icon but I really admire Prue Leith. She has moved from being a cook to a successful business owner to a novelist and television personality all in one career.
Most inspirational person you have met?
Elizabeth David. When I worked at Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London, Pru Leith brought her to lunch at the school in the early 90’s. It was not long before she died and she was very frail, but we all sat around the table absolutely captivated as she talked about the book she was working on which was a social history about ice cream. Sadly she passed away before it was finished but it was completed by her friend Jill Norman and published under the title “Harvest of the Cold Months’. It is, as all her books are, a great book and well worth reading.
What’s your favourite location?
Italy – particularly Tuscany. What is not to like? The food and wine are wonderful, the weather is lovely, the scenery is beautiful and it is filled with lovely old towns and villages.
What is your background?
My mother was from Edinburgh and my father from Birkenhead, which is where I was brought up. Sadly I lost my mother when I was eight and I was often sent up to Scotland to stay with my aunts during the school holidays. As a result I have always felt like Scotland is my home. I went away to boarding school in Wales and then college in Edinburgh. I was only 21 when my father died and so I have always had to be very independent.
What are the highlights of your career thus far?
I really don’t think of things in this way so this is a difficult question to answer. Having said that, I am very proud of having been Principal of Leiths and opening up ENTCS.
What are your goals for the next 5 years?
To keep doing what I am doing and see many more professional chefs emerging from our ranks.
How did you get started with The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School?
I started the school with my husband, Charles. I knew exactly what I wanted and what the sizes of the rooms needed to be. We looked at a lot of premises before we were lucky enough to find this gorgeous property in Edinburgh’s New Town. I couldn’t believe that we would be able to run the school slap bang in the city centre, but it’s perfect and has turned out to be a huge asset as we are so easy to reach by road, rail, but and now tram! We had a very quick turnaround with only four months for the redevelopment, but we did it and the hard work has really paid off.
How did the name The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School come about?
We thought long and hard about it. Having bounced various names around we decided that simple was best. The name certainly says what it is!
How did you develop the concept for The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School?
My first job on leaving college in 1978 was as the assistant to the Principal of the Woman and Home Cook School in Manor Place in Edinburgh. I went on to work for Leiths School of Food and Wine in London in 1983, so I have had a long career in cookery schools, although I have done other jobs in between. With so much experience in the sector it wasn’t hard to develop a concept. Over the years I have trained thousands of people to work in the food industry and I know what is required of people to be successful. We also teach one day workshops, children’s courses and corporate events but we keep the same standards for all of them.
What is your best tip for those who want to learn to cook?
Get into the kitchen and have a go or come and have a course with us.
What are you working on at the moment?
It’s almost the end of the year, so we are starting to pull together our course programme for 2015.We’re all very excited about it. I am especially looking forward to our popular Saturday courses; they range from Baking and Patisserie to Thai and Vietnamese Cuisine.
What do you have to say to the next generation, particularly for those hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Be disciplined, work hard, get as much experience as possible, but also enjoy life and in particular follow your passion for food.
What is your most treasured possession?
Obviously they are not my possessions as such, but my husband and children are more important and valuable to me than anything else. Sounds corny but it is true. However, if you want an actual treasured possession that is not living then it would have to be my wedding dress. The material was originally part of my grandmother’s 1905 wedding train which was very long. In 1945 it was made into a wedding dress for my mother when rationing meant that luxury dress material was scarce. Keeping the tradition alive, I had it altered for my own wedding dress. The material is a very beautiful ivory duchess satin silk but because it is over 100 years old it is beginning to wither a bit so I don’t think it will be used for any of my daughters!
In a nutshell, your philosophy is…
Always try your best. Try never to feel “I could have done that better.”