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From apprenticeship to TikTok food content sensation – 1.8M followers

Now 27, Poppy O’Toole (Poppy Cooks) started her catering career with an apprenticeship at South & City College, back when she was 18. Poppy is currently a TikTok cooking sensation with over 1.8 million followers and the author of a recently published book.

A self-confessed lover of food for as long as she can remember, eating and cooking has always been a major part of her life.

Poppy didn’t do well in a purely academic setting and therefore didn’t finish her A Levels. She was working in a pub when she saw the opportunity of an apprenticeship at Glynn Purnell’s Michelin star restaurant in Birmingham. She applied for the 12-week programme to compete for one of two apprenticeships. Although Poppy wasn’t one of the two winners, she became Glynn’s wildcard pick and stayed with him as an apprentice for three and half years.

The apprenticeship connected the dots for Poppy. Spending four days in the restaurant and coming to college one day a week.

“Because I didn’t do that well at school, I felt like I was stupid.” Explains Poppy. “But actually, with hindsight, it was just that the academic route didn’t suit my way of learning. I should have gone straight into working in kitchens via an apprenticeship.”

Poppy describes her time at college fondly. “The college gave me lots of support and it was a lot of fun. The tutors were great and the facilities were comparable to those at the Michelin restaurant.”

After her time with Glynn, Poppy moved on to work for two years at another fine dining restaurant in Birmingham, before deciding to make another career move, which saw her move to London.

When the pandemic started, Poppy, who moved back into her parents’ house when she was made redundant, found her younger siblings aged 10 and 13 were obsessed with TikTok dances. She wanted to do something to fill her time, so she started food videos on TikTok in order to share her knowledge. She started with ‘What a chef eats in a day’ when they are at home.

For six months, Poppy slowly grew her TikTok followers to 1,000 and when she realised that one of her potato recipes had received over a million views, she decided to give her audience more of what they wanted and then the growth really started.

One day in November 2020, her TikTok followers grew from 200,000 to over 1 million – literally overnight! 

That amazing success has led her to publish her first recipe book called Poppy Cooks: The food you need. The book isn’t about set meals that you will probably cook once and never again, it is about learning core skills. In each chapter, begin with the core recipe and then advance to a new dish with the staple, the brunch, the potato hero and finally the fancy AF.

“With her no-nonsense cooking and focus on technical skills, Birmingham-born Poppy is the millennials’ answer to Delia Smith” ― Daily Mail

“One of the ascendant stars of TikTok. Her remarkable rise is testament to her natural affability on camera, kitchen skills, and nose for food trends” ― Observer Food Monthly

Many congratulations to Poppy on her successes and we look forward to welcoming her on campus at some point in the near future.