Maria left Truro School in 1986 after joining at Sixth Form as one of the earlier cohorts of girls to attend. She went on to study at the University of Bath before taking a job with the Environmental Health Department in Bristol. Maria is now back in Cornwall where as the Head of Cookery School at Truro School which has the unique combination of being an academic and commercial cookery school.
“Being in one of the early cohorts of girls at Truro School, it is fair to say it was a far different place than it is today! Us girls brought logistical challenges (toilets, changing rooms etc.) as well as practical conundrums – what sport would we do? What uniform would we wear? I distinctly remember a mixture of some of the pupils and teachers embracing the new female contingent but others being scared witless! I have so many memories it is hard to choose… I was really involved with music and drama – lots of concerts, choirs, orchestra and band performances as well as school plays and musicals. I also remember being awarded some prizes at Speech Day and buying cookery books with the vouchers.”
Maria initially wanted to become a dietician but at the time food related subjects were not yet on offer at Truro School, causing Maria to consider drama or chef school. Thanks to Maria, Truro School Cookery School now offers Leiths qualifications, the only Leiths Academy School in Devon and Cornwall. The Leiths Certificate of Food and Wine allows Sixth Form students to make the most of an opportunity to begin a life working in the food industry or to study it further.
Maria also runs a café as part of the Cookery School which is open to the general public six days a week during term time; a tuck shop for pupils selling a range of home cooked goodies; a bar in the Burrell Theatre and most recently a café and open-plan kitchen and restaurant for Sixth Formers. Maria said, “I am particularly lucky to have a magnificent team, including my inspirational ‘right hand man’ AJ, formerly the senior sous chef at Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant in Padstow. ”
What are your career highlights or is there anything you’re particularly proud of?
I am personally proud of my decision to re-train as a cookery teacher when I was 40 and at that time living in Cheltenham. A change of career at that age and with two young daughters was not easy, however it enabled me to set up and revitalise many cookery departments in a number of very different schools – from an inner-city academy to an independent boarding school. I had become acutely aware that our society was suffering from the decision made over 30 years ago to take cookery out of the National Curriculum. I will never tire of seeing the pride and pleasure pupils gain from preparing and cooking a meal from scratch to take home and share with family, friends or carers – and the knock-on effect of those families wanting to learn how to cook and prepare fresh ingredients from scratch themselves.
Is there any advice you could offer anyone considering a similar career path?
My best advice is to believe in yourself and gain as much experience as possible from the bottom up. The year before I trained to be a cookery teacher I worked as a cookery technician in another school – this gave me the experience to know what it takes to make a department work efficiently and what sort of support a good cookery teacher needs. Finally, never shy away from hard work – always be prepared to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty – especially if you are the Boss! As my Mum used to say, ‘If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!’
Did you have any siblings or other relations at Truro School?
My Father, Paul Taylor CO65, was a boarder at Truro School. He remembers his time fondly – everything except the food! He has recently been doing some family research and discovered that another relative a Richard Duncoff Thomas (Great, great, great Uncle??) was a pupil from 1889 – 1891. He has even discovered some amazing old school photographs with Richard in, as well as his copy of the school register at that time – a really interesting find!
Away from School, not only am I a Mum but a Granny too! My eldest daughter (now 23) lives in Cornwall with her fiancée Josh and their gorgeous little boy Rowan. She works at Truro School too, bringing her artistic and barista skills to our Cookery School café, as well as volunteering at the Prep school and Nursery. Becoming a Granny is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
And being back in Cornwall means I can be a ‘hands on’ Granny whenever possible, which I adore. My youngest daughter Libby (who is 20) lives in Bath and is training to be a Norland Nanny which also makes me hugely proud – and means I have the perfect excuse to visit Bath regularly!
Do you feel your time at School, or anything about your time here, helped you to progress in later life?
A tough question, however on reflection I think that coming from an all-girls school into a predominantly male environment at the age of sixteen was quite moulding! Whilst Truro School handled the transition to co-education brilliantly and were very supportive of their ‘early girls’, it certainly toughened me up and taught me how to be resilient and hold my own amongst male colleagues. I am a firm believer in a co-educational learning environment and equal opportunities socially, academically and financially for women – I am sure some of this came from my time at Truro School.
What are your plans for the future?
There is still work to be done at Truro School – I would like to explore cookery playing a bigger part in the lower school curriculum as well as continuing to build the commercial school to be the best in Cornwall, if not the South West! The model we have built here at Truro School of combining an academic cookery department with a commercial cookery school is game changing, and I still have the energy and drive left in me to explore new challenges. That said, Truro School is in my blood, and now that I’m finally back home I’m not ready to fly the nest again in a hurry!
Maria would love to show Old Truronians around the new Cookery School if they are ever visiting, or even better to welcome them to join us on a cookery course at Truro School Cookery! Please visit the website truroschoolcookery.com to see what they have to offer and email Maria at [email protected] for a unique alumni discount code to use when booking a course.