From the north of Ireland to Melbourne Polytechnic’s Preston campus, via London, Muriel Cassidy’s chef career has taken her all around the world.
Over 30 years, Muriel worked in big hotels, fancy clubs, in education, in aged care and hospitals and now she’s sharing her vast knowledge with her classes in Certificate III and IV Commercial cookery, with both full-time students and apprentices.
Muriel teaches both practical components, such as basic knife skills, pastry and desserts, and theory -‘I love my job as a teacher and you actually become a better chef because you get a better level of learning and understanding because you have to share that knowledge and you have to teach it. A lot of people think it’s glitzy and glamorous and they want to be a chef, and then it’s daunting that they have to sit down and do the theory too but we get them through,’ Muriel says.
Alchemy in the kitchen
Muriel understands that its not just kitchen work that's involved in cookery, there is an element of science too ‘I knew how to cook seafood and shellfish but when you actually have to teach it you can learn more about it because you have to give that theory component of it as well.
‘It’s not just standing there making a béchamel, they have to know the skills behind it, they have to know the science, the whole alchemy of it. Now as a teacher I realise that I’m like a scientist.’
Muriel, who moved to Australia from near the picturesque Antrim coast in the north of Ireland, says she slowly realised that she might be good at teaching while helping youngsters in her kitchen.
‘Working in industry you have apprentices and students there and they’re coming in for work experience and I realised that I had a personable interaction with them and I thought “ah!” You don’t realise that until you’re doing it and seeing results and think “what do I have to do to be a teacher?". This is what gave me the bug and it ignited my passion again.’
Light bulb moment with sharing knowledge
So Muriel studied for her Certificate IV in Training and Assessment then found her place at Melbourne Polytechnic in 2015.
‘I love sharing my knowledge, I love teaching, I love seeing the light bulb moment in the student, having that interaction, being relaxed about it all, listening to what they have to say, encouraging the teamwork especially.
‘I’ve got 16 students in the class, I like to push that team environment because when they move into the restaurant they all work very very well together, so I love that unity and teamwork and camaraderie. In five to 10 years she says she ‘hopes to still be loving my job here at Melbourne Polytechnic. By then I will have had more years of teaching with so many more stories to share.’
Cooking for pop royalty
One of those stories was of a brush with fame – and her pop idol - at the prestigious Naval and Military Club in London, of which the Queen’s husband Prince Philip is the president. ‘I was working in the club and prepared little chocolate curls for a cake and we didn’t know who it was for - it was for George Michael,’ says the superfan of the ‘80s pop star.
Muriel maintains her industry currency by still working, doing ‘small private functions and private catering’. ‘Sometimes some of my students come in and work alongside me and they’re still calling me Miss and I’m saying “No no no it’s Muriel”. That grows the relationship as well.’
So how would she like her students to remember her?
‘As that fun-loving chef who was very approachable and at the same time, there’s a time to be serious and a time to focus.’