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Helen Vass

Pastry Chef Lecturer, Winner - Bake Off Professionals

Hospitality Health caught up recently with Award winning Helen Vass, a Pastry Chef lecturer at South Lanarkshire College. Her great claim to fame however was winning the Bake Off Professionals a few years ago, a terrific achievement. she is now inspiring you people training to enter this wonderful industry. Some great answers Helen, thanks for your support.

  • What was your favouritesubject at school?

I was told by one of my teachers at school that I had a flair for languages and I loved being able to communicate in another language. I later pursued that by studying Spanish as part of my degree at University. After 7 years living in Spain, I am bilingual in Spanish and I also speak Catalan too.

  • What was your first job?

My first job was when I was 16, working at a local newsagents after school and at the weekends. I´ve always worked and I had a work ethic instilled in me from my mother at a young age. I’ve always had to work if I ever wanted anything and always worked throughout my studies. Working has taught me so much including skills like resilience and time management.

  • Which is your favouriterestaurant /hotel?

There are so many wonderful hotels and restaurants out there, however, if I was to choose one hotel, it would be Gleneagles. A real taste of luxury and showcasing Scottish hospitality at it’s best.

I used to work at Eusebi’s Deli in Glasgow and I love going to eat there. Giovanna makes everyone feel so welcome and it feels like you’re on holiday in Italy. The food is so fresh, using prime ingredients, I just love it!

  • How do you inspire your team

I´m currently teaching bakery and patisserie at South Lanarkshire College and it is so important to be able to inspire and motivate the students. Providing students with positive and constructive feedback helps them learn and improve on a continuous basis. I always like to challenge students and let them go out-with their comfort zone. When they realize they can do it, it is great to see their faces when they have produced something they had never made before and this is a motivation for them to keep going. When students lack confidence, it is vital to believe in them and show that you care. Giving students the chance to be creative is so important too as it gives them the freedom to express themselves and they grow with their learning.

  • Which person in hospitality have you most admired / inspired you?

I have a couple of key mentors who have inspired my career. Mark Tilling, UK World Chocolate Master, has been such an influence. Mark gave me the opportunity to be on his team in BBC Bake Off Crème de la Crème. When he asked me to be on his team, I said no. I didn’t think I was good enough to be on his team as he is such a respected industry figure. However, he believed in me, and that was a life changing moment when we won the competition. Mark has taught me so much about chocolate and we still speak often and he will always help when I have any questions. A real inspiration!

Jordi Bordas, world champion pastry chef at the Coupe de Mon 2011, has also played an important part in my life. He is a chef who believed in me, and working with him in his kitchen and participating in his courses has given me the opportunity to learn from the best. If you want to be your personal best, I believe you need to learn from the best.

I also have to give credit to Gordon McIntyre, who always believed in me when I was a student and has championed everything I have done since I completed my HNC in Patisserie.

  • How do you manage your stress levels?

I’m not sporty, however I do like to go swimming 3-4 times a week. Twenty lengths of the pool gets the heart rate going and a bit of jacuzzi afterwards is the perfect way to wind down after a stressful day.

I think it´s also really important to put boundaries to your work life and your personal life. This is one lesson that I have learned and being able to separate the two is so important. I do not have any work related apps on my phone and will only access them when I switch on the computer.

  • Instagram, Twitter or Facebook – and why?

I use all three platforms, but my favourites are Instagram and Twitter. Instagram is great for pastry chefs as it is so visual and twitter is great for instant information and news.

  • If you had not gone into hospitality, where do you
    think you would be now?

I came into hospitality later in life after a career change when I was 30! Before that, I did my degree in Travel & Tourism Management and my postgraduate diploma in Business Administration. I worked in a real estate investment company over in Barcelona and I probably would still have be doing that. However, I had that lightbulb moment to change career and I knew eventually that I wanted to get into teaching. Teaching is so rewarding, and I love what I do! I am privileged to be able to help shape the future careers of our students and make a difference to their lives.

  • What did you do on your last days off?

I did absolutely nothing, and that feels great!!!!!

  • What do you do to relax, to support your wellbeing?

I love baking in my spare time, even though it´s my profession, when I bake in my spare time, it´s on my terms and I can take my time and practice new skills and recipes.

I also love reading cookbooks and travelling. Travelling opens your mind to so many cultures and it’s so exciting. I can’t wait to pack a suitcase and get on a plane when this pandemic is over!!!