Julia Ratcliffe: "I’ve had so much freedom to experiment"
“I’ve always felt like I’m being actively encouraged to learn”
Julia Ratcliffe is in the third year of the National Bakery School’s BSc Baking Science and Technology course. She is the winner of the Frank Brake Charitable Trust Prize for the Best Student in Bakery Science Technology (Level 5 Foundation, 2rd Prize).
When I first visited LSBU, I knew instantly that I was in the right place. It was a bit of a convoluted journey. First the course I’d been planning to do was scrapped. Then I visited another university but I didn’t feel comfortable. I’m coeliac, and it just didn’t seem like they were going to be very supportive of that. When I came here, everyone was so positive. They were like, “You’re coeliac? That’s amazing! We’re all going to learn so much!”
I’ve had so much freedom to experiment. Obviously I need to learn to make things in the conventional way so I can get my skills up. But beyond that, I’m free to do what I like. In the bread class for example I’ve been experimenting with loads of different gluten-free flours, developing trial recipes. I’ve always felt like I’m being actively encouraged to learn.
You want to know the secret to gluten-free pastry? An egg, a pinch of xanthan gum and plenty of time in the fridge. I promise you, chill it well and it will roll out and behave beautifully. You’ll be amazed!
My passion for baking and the support of my tutors has kept me going. I’ve been dealing with some mental health issues but I was absolutely determined not to quit. My tutors have been so supportive too, always checking in to see if I needed any help or support. I’d like to give a special mention to my course director in the first year, Elaine. She was fantastic. We had regular meetings to talk about how I was doing. But really, everyone’s been incredible. I’ve been very lucky.
Studying here has made me more independent and more confident. I’m a lot more proactive, too. Last summer for example when I was looking for work experience, I found a company I was interested in, Bakkavor, tracked down the boss on LinkedIn and contacted them direct. They put me in touch with someone else who put me in touch with someone else and it got sorted. I would never have done that before! But the tutors have really encouraged us to go after what we want.
The prize came totally out of the blue. When the email landed I was sitting watching TV at home. I actually screamed, I was so surprised. Then I was absolutely delighted. I rang everyone I could think of to tell them the good news. After uni, I want to take a month or two out to go travelling. I’d love to go to Indonesia and Malaysia to taste the food there and pick up some new ideas. So hopefully my prize money can go towards that trip.
It gives me confidence that I’m on the right track. With the year we’ve just had, having to work from home during the pandemic, and the personal issues I’ve faced, it’s incredible to me that I still did well enough to win this prize. For me, this confirms that this course is what I’m meant to be doing. And I’m all right at it. It’s also made me feel like it’s OK to aspire to a career in the food industry too. It feels like a validation.