College Leads to Career as a Pastry Chef for mum-of-three Nicola

21 March 2019 | Hospitality & Catering

For 37-year-old Nicola Wood, studying just one day a week at City College Plymouth has led to her dream career as a Pastry Chef at one of Plymouth’s most popular venues – less than 12 months after enrolling on the course.

Mum-of-three Nicola, from Plymstock, had spent 14 years raising her three children as a stay at home mum, when she decided the time was right to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a chef.

She explains: “At school I told my teacher I wanted to be a chef, and she told me that I couldn’t, because ‘men are chefs and women are cooks.’

I had my first child at the age of 18 and focused on raising my children, who are now aged ten, 15 and 18. I’ve never really had a career but once the children were a bit older, I decided this was the right time.

I have always really enjoyed baking at home. I started looking at courses and found the patisserie and confectionary course at City College Plymouth. It’s a level 3 course which is equivalent to A Levels, but studied for one full day every week – which worked well with my family commitments.”

Nicola also found that she was eligible for an advanced learner loan, which meant that she didn’t have to find the money to pay for the course up front, instead receiving a loan which paid her tuition fees. These loans are not means tested and only need to be paid back once someone is earning £25,000 per year or more – with repayments usually less than £15 per month for those earning just over the earnings threshold.

Talking about her time on the course, Nicola says: “My lecturer, Emmalene, has been absolutely amazing and so supportive. She knows exactly what employers require of chefs, and was always available whenever I needed support.”

She adds: “A career as a chef involves a lot of time management, creating various dishes at the same time. Obviously, my time as a mum hones those skills well, but the course really helped with that side of things as well as the technical skill involved. For example, we completed a five-hour challenge where we had to make croissants, pain aux raisins, Florentines, baked Alaska and Sachertorte. It was quite intense, but that is realistically what it is like when you work as a pastry chef.”

Within a month of completing her course last summer, Nicola was offered a job as a full-time pastry chef at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal.

She says: “I now work 40 hours a week in a really busy role creating all kinds of pastries, breads, afternoon teas, cakes and desserts for theatre guests as well as catering for functions. It’s full on but I absolutely love it. I’m really happy I went for it and enrolled on the course.

“My daughter is also at City College Plymouth learning to be a chef. She’s 15 and in the Junior Chef Academy – she will graduate this year. The passion for being a chef is definitely something that runs in the family.”

To others who may be considering retraining or finding a new career, Nicola says: “Just go for it! You never know what can happen! I never thought that less than 12 months after starting the course, I’d walk straight into the job I’d been dreaming of having! I thought it would take a bit longer to get there, but thanks to all the testimonies on the quality of my work from my lecturers, I got the job at the Theatre.”

Nicola says her skills are also very popular at home, too. She jokes: “The other day I offered to make my daughter some cookies when her friends were coming around. She said: “Mum, you’re a chef, I don’t want cookies, I want macaroons!”For more information about part-time adult education courses at City College Plymouth, visit

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