Asli Yalinkilic has traded in her microscope for a piping bag, as she builds her career as a pastry chef.
Yalinkilic, who holds a PhD in fungal genetics, is studying towards UCOL's New Zealand Certificate in Cookery (Level 4). The programme combines on-the-job, online, and in-class learning, giving chefs the opportunity to earn a qualification while working.
Yalinkilic came to New Zealand from Turkey in 2014 with undergraduate and master's degrees in molecular biology and genetics to her name. She completed her PhD at Massey University and found a job as a research associate. However, the impact of the Covid-19 meant money was tight at the company, and Yalinkilic was let go.
"I remember coming home, sitting down, and thinking about what I wanted my future to look like. I didn't want to go back to science and thought it could be a good opportunity to do something that I really wanted to."
That something was baking. Yalinkilic had got into baking while at university and over the years had become very good, without any formal training.
She found a job as a junior baker at Columbus Coffee before moving on to Alexandre Patisserie, where she learned to make traditional French pastries.
When Amayjen owners Andrew and Jenni May decided to move their restaurant from Feilding to Palmerston North, they offered Yalinkilic a job as their pastry chef. Yalinkilic jumped at the opportunity.
She makes everything on Amayjen's dessert menu, from chocolate mousse to creme brulee to dessert tacos.
After a year in the job, Yalinkilic decided she wanted to gain a qualification in cookery. She saw this as an opportunity to upskill as well as strengthen her application for New Zealand residency.
"I was incredibly excited when Andrew told me about UCOL's in-work programme. At that stage of my life, I didn't want to become a full-time student again and I didn't want to let go of my job because I love it and I learn a lot there."
With good chefs so hard to find, the Mays were delighted to keep Yalinkilic on board while she works towards her qualification.
"It's great for us because we don't lose a chef. Yalinkilic gets to work towards a certificate and learn new things, but we get to keep her in our way of thinking and following our standards," May says.
Working 45 to 50 hours a week, Yalinkilic appreciates how flexible the UCOL lecturers have been with fitting assessments and fortnightly classes around her schedule. She also gets to do a lot of assignments at work, with Andrew providing guidance.
While switching careers can be daunting for many people, Yalinkilic knows she made the right decision.
"I love food. It's the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep. I have a drive to learn more and try out new recipes.
"I definitely want to stay in this career. I've never been happier. I get to be creative and get to connect with people who share my passion for food."