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Neal Cooper

Neal is a Chef with over a decade's worth of culinary experience which has taken him from Canada to the UK including one of London's finest michelin starred restaurants. His passion, dedication and enthusiasm is infectious and you'll be sure to have a great class or two with him!

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Interview

Tell us a little about your experience as a chef

I lived in a small tourist town in Canada and when I was 15 the local Hotels were the best place to get a job. I started washing pots in a busy restaurant and really got along with all the Chefs. There was something about the camaraderie that really attracted me, like a band of pirates, sailing the seas and just doing what needs to be done. After my first 6 weeks in the kitchen, my Chef, Virginia Marr asked if I would be interested in joining the brigade and I humbly accepted. From there on it was hard work, long nights, lots of yelling, a few tears and even more sweat...I Loved It! It's strange I became a Chef considering while I was growing up my mother would not let any of us help her in the kitchen. She was a very adventurous cook but thought it was too dangerous being around knives and fire!

What attracted you to teaching?

Since I started managing kitchens I really found a lot of pride in training young chefs and helping them develop both with skill and passion. One of my greatest achievements so far is a Chef that I took straight from college, who worked for me for 3 years, went on to manage his own fine dining kitchen in Italy. Also the opinionated debates that arise in the kitchen about "what's the best way", "the fastest way" or simply "Your way" of doing the same job in the kitchen are always a lot of fun! Teaching allows me to enjoy these aspects every day.

What is your signature dish?

This is a question that I have been asked a lot in the past few years and is still a question I find impossible to answer. Any dish that I have ever created or innovated is in constant development. Maybe something to do with perfectionist issues. I think if I had created a dish that had my signature to it and it needed to be made the same way every time, I would get extremely bored and resentful with it. Cooking, for me, is about passion and feeling, using ingredients that are available, throwing love into them and seeing what develops with the finished product.

What is your favourite class to teach and why?

I do really enjoy the French classes and the Pastry classes the most. I suppose because of the amount of technique and precision involved in them. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I have mainly worked in French restaurants or for French chefs. In saying that though, I really enjoy the Thai classes, because of the balance of flavours Thai cuisine and I just find the dishes can be very fresh and healthy. Basically I'm undecided about this question too - who wrote these questions!!!

What advice do you have for budding chefs?

My advice to budding Chefs is never take the job too seriously. It is hard work and long hours but, if you have the passion for it, one of the most instantly self-rewarding jobs you will ever encounter. Don't be afraid to try something new, make mistakes or just plain and simply say that "you don't know". Most of all, enjoy what you do and take pride in what you've done. At the end of the day, we are not saving lives, just giving people a great night out!