Baking for the First Minister

This morning I had the pleasure of being back in the wonderfully modern kitchen at Tennent’s Training Academy in Glasgow.  Instead of taking part in a course however, I had been invited to help prepare a few sweet treats for the First Minister, Alex Salmond, who would be visiting the Academy before opening the new bottling plant at Tennent’s Brewery.

When I received the call from Stephanie at Tennent’s Training Academy, I was a little excited to say the least.  Not so much about meeting the First Minister (I leave the politics to my other half who is very close to finishing his PhD on the subject), but more about the fact that someone had actually thought me worthy of an invite. I am but a modest baker (with blossoming ideas of turning professional one day) and was flattered to be offered the opportunity to bake for the head of the Scottish Government.

I arrived promptly at 8:30am and was presented with a crisp set of chefs whites that matched the rest of the chefs in the kitchen. Although similar in appearance, there was one large difference between me and the others: a professional kitchen is not my normal habitat. I didn’t know where anything was, how much I was expected to get involved or the rules of a kitchen that wasn’t my own.  Would I be entirely responsible for the deserts? Should I be referring to Head Chef John Quinn as Chef John? Was I supposed to shout “yes chef!” in response to orders à la Masterchef?

Despite these uncertainties, I decided to treat my novice status as more of an opportunity than a hindrance.  I took every opportunity to have a nosy at what the others were doing and asked as many questions as they would let me. While the others were engaged in preparing all manner of dishes for a VIP buffet lunch (including grilled oysters, haggis tempura and endless other fabulous dishes), my task for the day was to help prepare three sweet dishes: fresh fruit shortbread towers, chocolate fudge cakes with chocolate sauce and lemon and ricotta cakes, all of which I had made at the baking course in March.

The first of these three was to be presented to the First Minister on his tour around the Academy kitchen when he would meet everyone involved in the day’s cooking.  When I was introduced to the First Minister as “Fiona, who has her own blog”, I was most surprised that The FM immediately made the connection between my baking blog and a film he had seen recently on a similar topic: Julie & Julia.  Anyone who is able to link from my very own modest baking blog to one of my all-time favourite films in just one step will quickly win me over!

I unfortunately can’t really take much credit for the other two deserts which were to be served to the remaining VIPs at lunch. While I did help to measure out the ingredients, I was in fact whisked off to the official opening of the new bottling plant while Head Chef John Quinn took over the baking of the deserts.  Upon my return, I found myself in what, to me, felt like a genuine professional kitchen.  There was an urgency to everyone’s movements, plates crying out to be dressed, dishes being expertly served and the occasional moment of narrowly avoided stress when things didn’t go to plan.  I was glad to be able to stay out of the way and observe the dance the others seemed to be performing while assembling and decorating the remaining deserts at my workstation.

When I eventually emerged from the concentration of assembling and decorating my dishes, everything had been miraculously completed and served.  Plates had started to reappear in the kitchen empty as the VIPs in the room next door relished in the supreme quality of both the ingredients and the cooking.  I may not have been able to contribute much to the day but I certainly appreciated the opportunity to be part of it.  I have absolutely no doubt that I will be back at the Tennent’s Training Academy very soon.  I just have to choose my course!


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