Holly forged her career as a chef and restaurant owner from a love of chemistry that was inspired by her science teacher.
A thirst for knowledge
Holly grew up with great chemistry teachers that brought the subject to life and always had an underlying desire to understand more about how the world works. She remembers her first high school science teacher, Mr Rollason, “on the first day he made rings of fire travel across the classroom ceiling and I was hooked.”
With the vivid memory of growing copper sulfate crystals, Holly also loved experimenting in the kitchen. When making decisions about her future, Holly chose to study for a degree in chemistry, despite her love for food and cooking. Whilst at university, Holly enjoyed being part of a faculty with inspiring people, but often found the contact hours left her with little time to pursue extracurricular activities.
Half way through her degree, Holly realised she didn’t want to pursue a career within the chemical sciences. In her first year she had studied for a diploma in nutritional therapy whilst balancing her undergraduate chemistry material and, after graduating, she worked in a supplement company and advised people with nutritional problems. She enjoyed seeing improvements in her clients as a result of changes to their diets and this motivated her decision to become a chef.
She undertook a fast-track professional cookery course and this enabled her to draw links between cooking and her chemistry background:
“Cooking is basically edible chemistry! Understanding how things behave at different temperatures and how they react together is essential when you’re trying to recreate someone’s favourite food with none of the original ingredients.”
Holly was then given a part-time position as a pastry chef, where she used her experience with gluten-free cooking to develop bread and cake recipes.
In February 2013, Pure Taste was created - Holly is both owner and executive head chef.
“Pure Taste restaurant is a gluten-free and paleo restaurant that specialises in creating food for people with food sensitivities. It’s down to me to design the dishes, plan menus, train the staff, as well as source and approve suppliers and make sure the food is of the right quality. I’m also responsible for our health and safety procedures, staff management, costings and, of course, promoting the brand and cooking!”
Holly is a busy woman but the enthusiasm she has for her vision shines through. “The project is a culmination of everything I love and my experiences so far. The scientist in me loves the scientific challenges of working with unusual ingredients. The nutritionist and chef relish the ability to create amazing, healthy dishes that people will love to eat whether or not they have food sensitivities.”
In the future, Holly wants to become the restaurant of choice for people following specialist diets: “Families can eat together again, safe in the knowledge their food has been cooked in a dedicated space by someone who understands their needs.”
Stand up and be counted
With role models like Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver and Professor Phil Parsons, Holly uses the things she learnt during her degree in her work:
“Chemistry teaches you to problem solve and think both logically and outside the box. It also takes a certain dedication and tenacity to make it through a chemistry degree, so the qualification is often looked upon favourably by potential employers.”
Holly states that a chemistry degree doesn’t always have to lead to a career directly in the field but that experience is vital. For people wanting to branch out and use chemistry in new areas, she advises, “Think about how everything you’ve learnt from chemistry is applicable to the new subject area. Even the practical skills like time management, working with precision, handling hazardous substances and communicating complicated ideas are useful attributes.”
Recognising that good role models are important, Holly also agrees that wider campaigns are needed to demonstrate the many facets that chemistry encompasses. “There are a lot of misconceptions that chemistry is somehow a dangerous career - this can make it seem less acceptable for women to work in the field. I’ve had work experience students who were passionate about chemistry but whose parents felt they should be pursuing a safer career. Shaking off this perception of danger could help encourage a wider uptake into the chemical sciences.”
Understanding that, for any career, it takes passion, dedication and a willingness to stand up and be counted, Holly says “most of the women I studied with have had no trouble carving a niche for themselves in the scientific community.”
“There’s no such thing as can’t! You may not be able to see how you’re going to get where you want to go, but that’s not important. You just need to be really clear on what your goal is and keep focusing on it.”
Words by Jenny Lovell and Holly Redman
Images courtesy of Holly Redman
Published December 2014