Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Cooking up a new life in London

Laoise Casey left a steady HR job in Ireland to follow her childhood dream of going to cookery school in London. Was she brave or mad?

Thu, Apr 4, 2013, 08:00


Laoise Casey

Do you have that little voice in your head? Not the one that says you really shouldn’t have eaten the whole sticky toffee pudding, but the one that says maybe, just maybe, you could do something different with your life? If you’re like me, you probably smack it on the head and tell it to get back in its box. Sshh. Things are just grand thank you very much.

My life was all mapped out. School, check. College, check. Job, check. A Celtic Tiger cub, purring away happily. I had worked my way up to HR manager in my company, was set to go higher and loved it. But there was always a little niggle. The more hours I worked, the easier it was to ignore it. Work was becoming my whole life. I was the reliable safe type you see, not a risk taker.

In late 2011 my dad became critically ill and after a terrifying roller coaster he survived. That little voice started shouting and became harder to ignore. I found myself thinking that if it all ended for me tomorrow could I really say I gave life everything? I had a dream all my life that I had been scared to follow – to become a chef and food writer. Having started down the academic route in school it seemed easiest to keep following it. The thought of breaking the mould I’d created for myself was too frightening.

Shortly after my father’s recovery my partner made the difficult decision to move to London for an internal promotion, due to the lack of opportunities in the financial sector in Ireland. After fighting with myself for a number of months, I made the decision to go too and, gulp, follow my dream. Moments before I told my old boss I was leaving I changed my mind. And changed it right back again. To hell or to London. For my two loves – cooking and my partner.

Last summer I landed across the water, and in many ways it is just the same as being in Ireland. I read stories of people in America or Australia and feel guilty for missing home when I’m still nearby. But the distance can feel like 99 million miles away when you can’t call into your mum for a cup of tea and a chat. Going home makes it harder sometimes. It’s a lot easier to pretend you’re not homesick when you’re rushing around London.

Potential emigrants beware – chances are you’ll end up just like me, a stereotypical Irish person abroad, insisting on only drinking Barry’s tea, listening to Irish radio on the internet and thinking about home with a rose-tinted fondness. I’ve turned into someone who strikes up conversations with strangers just because we have the same accent, delighted with ourselves that we can swap stories.

In January I started a six month professional culinary diploma in Leiths School of Food and Wine. Part of me still doesn’t believe I’m getting to do this. Sitting on the Tube I grin manically at the other commuters, until I’m reminded smiling is forbidden on the Tube.

Cookery school is a slice of the sweetest heaven. In the kitchen, cooking the dish correctly and serving it on time are the only things that count. It’s not saving lives, or changing the world. But when I’m in that kitchen they’re the only things that matter.

I’ve had some successes so far which have encouraged me. I won a baking competition in Ireland in October and appeared on TV3 Ireland Am to cook my recipe. Two of my lunchbox recipes were published in a Modern Irish Cookbook, my blog was shortlisted for the Blog Awards Ireland 2012 and I’ve been accepted to work in two Michelin Star restaurants in London and Ireland for work experience for this month and next.

But a part of me is petrified. Like on the days when I burn toast. What if it doesn’t work out? That bit of me wants to run home and crawl back into my old life. At 30, most people I know are successful in their careers at this stage. I’m starting out again at the bottom. When I first left work I woke up each night wondering if I’d made the right decision. Sometimes I still do. Then I go into school and it all becomes clear. This is how it’s supposed to be.

If things don’t work out, at least I will have had the time of my life trying.

Laoise blogs at and tweets @cuisine_genie.