What you need to know about becoming a 'capable cook'

Published: 31 Jan 2017 By Jennifer Jackson

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Love cooking? Come and be part of a friendly community in Devon hosting guests on retreat. From menu planning to cooking, serving and hosting meals, Dr Sarah Horsman, warden of Sheldon, tells us about the capable cook role they’re recruiting for 


Dr Sarah Horsman

Dr Sarah Horsman, warden of Sheldon 


Tell us about Sheldon and what it does

Sheldon is a retreat and education centre set in beautiful rural Devon. Until 40 years ago it was a working farm, but now all the barns have been converted or rebuilt as good quality guest accommodation. Seven of us live here as a resident community – men and women, married and single. We’re serious about God but don’t make a big show of our faith – it’s more expressed in our day to day service of guests. People come from all over the country for retreats and courses. Our unique specialist work is to support clergy and ministers, especially at times of stress, crisis, burnout or breakdown.

What role are you currently recruiting for and what does it involve?

We are a 7-strong community currently recruiting for a capable cook to be a third key member of the team involved in providing meals for guests. The role involves everything from menu planning, food ordering, cooking, serving and hosting meals. The community is assisted by hospitality volunteers who come and live in for a week at a time and help in the kitchen and with making guests welcome.

Describe a typical day in the life of a cook at Sheldon

Really there’s no such thing as a typical day.

The community day starts with short morning prayers at 8am, but before that the kettles are on and the tables laid for serving breakfast straight afterwards. The morning generally involves food prep followed by serving a light meal at midday. If all has gone well in the morning there is generally time after lunch for a break and then maybe to catch up with some office or other work. 

Later in the afternoon, it’s back to the kitchen to finish off getting supper ready. Prayers again at 5pm and supper usually at 7pm. The two members of the cooking team currently run alternate weeks in the kitchen, so the week “off” is more focused around menu planning and other tasks such as gardening or things related to the wider life of the community. 

Each week is a bit different, so there are volunteer work parties, silent retreats, workshops, family holiday weeks and much more. In the summer there is even an open air theatre serving up to 500 theatregoers from our ‘burger bar’! 

Sheldon kitchen pic

A love of food and cooking for family or small groups is a good basis to start from

What kind of person are you looking for? 

We are looking for someone who is interested in making a medium to long term commitment to living and working at Sheldon. It would be someone with a mature (but not necessarily conventional) Christian faith, with a vocational desire to serve. It’s more important that new members have a deep sympathy with what the place is about (they ‘get’ it) than coming with specific catering qualifications. 

We can teach how to cook but we can’t teach how to care. Members need to be conscientious, well-organised and good at working collaboratively. For Sheldon to run smoothly we have well-established systems and expect people to understand and work within them before helping us develop them further. A love of food and reasonable experience of cooking for family or small groups would be a good basis to start from.  

Why would someone want to work for Sheldon?

It’s a vocation. It will stretch you in ways you have never imagined.

What are the best bits about the role?

The variety - you’ll have the chance to get involved in a range community activities beyond cooking. The beautiful setting makes it a very nice environment in which to work and the community life is very friendly and rewarding as our guests are very appreciative. Ultimately, you will be doing something that really matters. 

And the most challenging?

The variety and community life - it’s hard work and takes commitment but very rewarding for the right person.

What opportunities for training and development are there?

You will receive a lot of in-house and on the job training as more experienced colleagues will be on hand to teach you. Hopefully you’ll bring things that we can learn from too.

What tips would you offer applicants?

Read the website carefully to get a good idea of the flavour of the place – do you feel it is somewhere you would like to spend the next chunk of your life? Are you at a stage in your life when you are ready to be ‘all in’ for something? If so, talk to people who know you well, especially as part of your faith journey and listen to their advice. Then we’d love to hear from you.

Sum up what it’s like to work for Sheldon

Varied, hard work, interesting and rewarding.


Want to join our community? Find out more about our capable cook role here.


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