Thurles Commis Chef Apprentice Writes About “Whirlwind” Learning Experience

August 1, 2023


“My Commis Chef apprenticeship experience has been a whirlwind in the best possible way. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I also could never have predicted the doors it would open or the things we would learn”, writes Shauna Kelly, Commis Chef Apprentice at Tipperary ETB’s Further Education and Training Centre in Archerstown, Thurles.

I believe we got so lucky to have a Tutor like Fergal Phelan to ensure even the academic side of things would never be dull or overwhelming. He understood from the beginning that we were not accountants or English scholars and that we would have to find our own way of retaining information.

I would not have described myself as a confident person before this course. However, with Fergal’s guidance and the team morale within the class, I’ve learned to push myself and to go for the things I want.

In June of our first year, with Fergal’s advice and leadership, I was chosen to compete at the World Skills Competition in the RDS in Dublin. I couldn’t believe I had even been offered a place considering they had never chosen an ETB student from a Commis Chef Apprenticeship before. I was nervous leading up to the competition and even during it. When it was all over, I was proud that I was in a unique group of the top six under 25s Chef Apprentices in the country. It was something I had never originally set out to do but I was overjoyed when I completed it.

Through the connections Fergal had made after I had been selected to compete in the RDS, I was asked to train with the Junior Irish Chef team for over a month. This experience was unique and taught me the kind of planning and training that goes into competing as a chef.

In November and December, we had to develop a product, packaging, labelling, test batches and a product launch. This was something I loved, and it helped me to understand the importance of being able to turn an idea into a viable product.

In February of our second year, I competed in Catex in the RDS. As part of the Cold Salon section, I put myself forward in the Macaron division. I had to make six different flavour combinations and 24 macarons in total, and I was awarded with a bronze medal. I was surprised as I was not completely happy with them when I left for Dublin that morning. But it was another achievement that I could be proud of, and I felt like I had accomplished something that I hadn’t expected.

Recently, we experienced a funded training field trip to the Lady Helen in Mount Juliet to enjoy a tasting menu, with the chance to pose questions to the Head Chef. This was a rare opportunity that I never dreamed we would experience together. The elegance and refined plating were like something from another world. It was the perfect dining experience, Wonderland style.

And the most recent highlight has been our Chocolate Showpiece masterclass from the Head Pastry Chef in the Cashel Palace. An entire day learning how to work with chocolate was surreal. We learned to understand structures, how to build and the importance of casting and cutting chocolate the right way. It was an honour to have a masterclass with Alicia. The opportunity to ask her questions and get her advice on our showpiece ideas was incredible.

Everyone has different strengths and preferences. There are so many different subjects and modules covered on the apprenticeship course, including Volume Food Production, Global Cuisine, Gastronomy, Classical Cuisine and so on. We’ve had a butchery demonstration and entire days devoted to international cuisine.

It has been truly life changing and eye opening. I have learned techniques that have changed the way I approach my work. Also, I’ve made friends I will cherish even after this course is over. If anyone was thinking about signing up for this course, I would say do it because you won’t regret it. And with a Tutor like Fergal leading the way, you’ll open doors you didn’t even know were there.

The next intake for the Commis Chef Apprenticeship in Tipperary is January 2024.  If you would like to express an interest, please contact Tipperary Education and Training Board (ETB) Apprenticeship Services by email at or call 052 6191431.

Post expires at 11:16am on Tuesday August 1st, 2023

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