How to Become a Chef with Jamie Dowling
Who I Am
Jamie Dowling, Head Chef at Bodega in Waterford for three and a half years. We are a casual dining restaurant and always specialised in local produce, but just recently we’ve revamped our menu to include more produce from our immediate area, and taken a simple approach to the cooking.
The Nitty Gritty
What type of training did you have?
I started working in a kitchen when I was 14 years old as a kitchen porter for my uncle. I went to college to study Biotechnology, but it just wasn’t for me. At about 21 I went to Ballymaloe Cookery School for the three month professional cookery course, to get myself a good knowledge of cooking and kitchen practice, then I did three years in the culinary department at Waterford Institute of Technology, on a day release basis. I went to college one day a week and worked in a kitchen the rest of the week, doing a traditional chef’s apprenticeship. I think that’s the best way to learn. You get to know how to cope with the day to day problems of being a chef in a practical working environment, which is something you don’t learn in college.
What were the challenges along the way?
The biggest challenge is the work/life balance! You’re always at work and never at home! It does take time to find a balance that suits you.
Were their any major positives or crucial turning points in your career?
I was working at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore when I got the call to come here to be the Head Chef. That was a massive turning point and a big part of the job was putting in the hours to prove myself.
Which people influence your cooking?
My biggest influence foodwise comes from my mum who is a very good cook. We always had proper meals at home and her cooking gave me my passion. She is English so she taught herself to cook Irish dishes and make all the traditional things. She had to figure it out on her own and I know she is very proud of me and my career. She loves it at Christmas when we all have dinner together, she says it’s great to have me there to carve the turkey!
Which food styles/trends interest you or influence your cooking as a professional chef?
Our food trends and style at Bodega are totally influenced by small local suppliers and organic growers. For example, we might get a random box of organic vegetables into the kitchen, and we will write our menu around that. We have our own smokehouse as well so we produce our own smoked ingredients for the menu. That freedom is really shaping our food.
Why do you love your job as a professional chef?
I love the challenge every day. I never get a chance to get bored! I also love the adrenalin of a busy night, it’s unbelievable. I usually get a headache on my day off!
What's the worst thing about your role as a professional chef?
The work life balance is the most challenging thing about being a chef.
Describe a typical day in the kitchen
My day is more structured now than it has been in the past. I start about 10am to get ready for lunch. After lunch I will take a break in the afternoon before we start to prepare for dinner in the evening. I take Sundays off every week and I like to relax by fishing and walking the dog.
What are your strong points?
Creativity and I am a good motivator. I’ve always been self motivated so I can motivate others
Would you change anything about your journey so far?
I would have liked to have travelled a bit more and worked in different countries. I am settled now so it’s unlikely to happen at this stage. But I would never say never!
Who does the cooking at home?
It’s split between me and my wife. She is a restaurant manager as well so she understands the pressures of this job and the hours. I think it would be hard to have a relationship with someone outside this industry.
Any early cookery disasters?
I left a full bottle of cooking oil on the hob at home when I was 18 years old. It was in a plastic bottle which melted and I nearly burned the house down. It was before I was cooking professionally and it had caught fire before I saw it. The fire blanket came in very handy!
Any advice for anyone who wants to become a professional chef?
Think hard about what you are getting into and try it out. If you don’t like it then walk away, because there are too many chefs who fall into this business just for the sake of it and they don’t put their heart into it. If you don’t love the job you will never be a good chef.
What’s your favourite dish or recipe?
We do a delicious Smoked Haddock Bake with our own smoked haddock and smoked cheddar from the smokehouse. We cook the fish in milk then use that to make a white sauce. I usually use the whole piece of smoked haddock fillet and top with breadcrumbs to bake till it’s golden. It’s very popular on the menu at the restaurant. At home, I love my wife’s lasagne. I don’t know what she does to it but it’s just brilliant and I can never replicate it!
If you've enjoyed reading about how Jamie became a professional chef then why not read more advice, tips and insights from other top class chefs right here - How to Become a Chef.
Don't forget to check out our fun infographic on The Journey To Becoming A Chef