Follow your own recipe for success!
My name is Kieran Toner. I work as a chef at Gleneagles Hotel, and I’d like to tell you about how I got there and the huge role ENABLE Scotland has played on my journey.
Support at school
At school, I was disruptive and teachers didn’t know what to do with me. I had additional support in the classroom, but even then, it was hard to focus on my work.
It was when I was at school that I first got support from ENABLE Scotland through their ENABLE Works programme which supports thousands of employers all over Scotland to welcome people who have a learning disability or other support needs into their workforce.
ENABLE Scotland held sessions at my school and I got really into it. They even helped me to get work experience in a top restaurant in Glasgow, and that was my breakthrough into cooking.
I realised a career in catering was the dream I was determined to chase and enrolled in a catering placement at Motherwell College. My life seemed to be going the way I wanted it.
However, I was just about to turn 18 when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma – cancer.
My treatment lasted a few months and during that time I met some amazing people and loads of news friends. I really am one of the lucky ones. So many of my friends I met at that time are no longer here.
I feel having a focus and commitment to my work and a passion for cooking helped me get through those dark days.
At school, the hardest part was not being able to describe how I was feeling. It has been a long time coming but eventually, just nine months ago, I was diagnosed with autism.
When I was diagnosed it felt like for the first time my experiences made sense. The way I was as a youngster and even why I love cooking – it’s all related. I was lucky to have support from ENABLE Works, even though back then I hadn’t been diagnosed. They stepped in when I really needed it.
My family play a huge part in my life too, and their determination for me to see beyond my disability and strive to aim high has helped me become who I am.
Career at Gleneagles
Right now I work with Jonathan Wright, who is Head Chef at The Strathearn Restaurant at Gleneagles Hotel. It’s a real dream come true. He’s really supportive and has taught me a lot about food and why we use certain techniques. He really knows his stuff and I learn something new every day.
I don’t want to be known as ‘the chef with a learning disability’; I want to be judged for my cooking skills.
I love the creativity of cooking, of trying new things and exploring tastes and textures. But I also like the logical side of cooking. When you follow a recipe, there are very precise steps you have to follow. It’s like a roadmap of getting from A to B by using the ingredients in front of you. It’s thrilling. And it’s even better when people genuinely enjoy the food.
My top tips
Just because someone has a learning disability doesn’t mean they don’t have a talent.
If I was to give a top tip to another young person who has a learning disability who wants to follow their dreams, I’d tell them to figure out what they want and the steps they need to take to get there. Then go for it!
It sounds really cheesy, but figure out your own recipe for success! Don’t focus on what you think you can’t do, but what you like doing. Don’t be afraid to ask charities like ENABLE Scotland for help – that’s what they’re there for.
Throughout the good times and the challenging ones, ENABLE Scotland has been there to support me. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but I feel that I need less of their support now – which means they’ve done a great job!
Kieran Toner works as a chef at Gleneagles Hotel