Gleneagles Townhouse

A story of sweet success

22 October 2021
A selection of chocolate

In celebration of Hospitality Apprenticeship Week, we caught up with renowned Gleneagles alumnus, Master Chocolatier and four-times winner of Britain’s Best Chocolatier Award, William Curley, to discover how his apprenticeship at Gleneagles laid the foundations for an exciting and successful culinary career.

I didn’t particularly enjoy school and I wasn’t really into academic study.  I always preferred doing things with my hands so, when I left school, I enrolled at my local college to do a woodwork course.

One day at college, I was walking down the corridor when I saw a cookery class taking place in a different classroom. I thought to myself, I’ll just nip in here to see what they’re doing and skip woodwork for the rest of the day.  I joined in with the cooking; we made chocolate and coconut bounty bars and I was captivated straight away.  My decision was made – my life as a carpenter was over and, instead, I wanted to pursue a culinary career.  I still make those bounty bars now!

As a shy young boy growing up in Methil, Fife, who had no real sense of direction or ambition, I never thought to myself when I entered the classroom that day that it was about to change the course of my life and career.

After college, I took a range of culinary jobs in small kitchens and hotels in Fife, until I was given the opportunity to complete an apprenticeship in pastry at Gleneagles, under the mentorship of the revered Head Pastry Chef at the time, Ian Ironside.

It was 1989 and I was 17 years old.  The pace and scale of the operation, the passion, camaraderie and excitement in the kitchen, the glamour of the hotel, the talent that was all around me blew me away.  It was an awe-inspiring place for a young lad like me to find himself and in so many ways a magical experience.  The formative years of any young person’s life can be a bit of a lottery, in that it could be very easy to go down the wrong route or make daft decisions, but my apprenticeship at Gleneagles gave me role models to look up to, mentors to learn from, aspirations to fulfil, and a sense of discipline, structure and commitment that kept me grounded and have helped to shape my entire career.

William Curley, choclatier in his Richmond shop with lovely easter eggs.
William Curley chocolatier at Gleneagles

Ian, who sadly passed away some years ago, was very firm but fair and he inspired me on every single shift, as he does to this day.  He drilled into me that an apprenticeship is your opportunity to soak up knowledge from those around you and perfect the basics.  One of my first responsibilities under his watch was preparing pudding for the staff canteen each day, which used to take me until lunchtime. After only two weeks of making every kind of pudding – bread & butter, tapioca, sticky toffee, rice, sponge – I asked Ian if I could move on to the harder stuff; the sugar skills and the chocolate tempering.  He reminded me I needed to be patient and learn to walk before I could run.  That’s a lesson that’s never left me. Too many young people become head chefs before they’re ready and never reach their potential as a consequence.  If you can master the basics under the caring support of a great mentor, everything else – the technical skills; the really complex stuff; the chance to leave your mark on the industry – will fall into place.

Three years later, once I’d mastered those basics and completed my apprenticeship, I got a job in a three-starred Michelin restaurant in Belgium where I continued to hone my craft.  From there, I moved to London to train under pastry royalty – including tenures with Pierre Koffmann, Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White – before joining the Savoy, where I became the youngest head pastry chef in the hotel’s history.  Then in 2004, I opened my own business, going on to win the Academy of Chocolate’s ‘Britain’s Best Chocolatier’ award four times, as well as a gold medal at the Culinary Olympics.  A couple of years ago, the journey came full circle for me when Gleneagles approached me to create chocolate bars for its Gleneagles & Co artisan food range.

Young people often think academic study is the only option after school but university is not right for everyone. With an apprenticeship, you’re trained up, on the career ladder, making money, and lapping the university students on the track before they’ve even graduated.  I look back on my apprenticeship at Gleneagles with fondness, and with recognition that it helped me forge a career that’s taken me all over the world, introduced me to so many different people and cultures, and continues to inspire me to this day.

If you’re interested in completing a Gleneagles Apprenticeship, take a peek here:

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