Here I am, 34 years old and I’ve just received the news that I have passed my Culinary Diploma exams with distinction and I will be graduating in a few short months. I will have a Chef’s qualification – A Culinary Arts diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking. Hard to believe that just over a year ago, I hardly dared to dream that this could be my reality.
My passion for cooking and all things culinary has grown and grown over the past couple of years, to a level of obsession – our PVR decoder is always on 99.9% capacity. 98% of this being foodie shows and the other 1.9% being limited recordings of my husbands favourite action show “Arrow” (sharing is caring after all). My book shelves are trembling not only from the strain of every food magazine I’ve ever purchased, but also from a recipe book collection, which I should possibly consider insuring! And then of course, there’s my daily ritual – no sooner have my eyes opened in the morning, that I’m asking the question: “What will I cook tonight?”. I will spend some enjoyable time conjuring up ideas in my head and after work, pop down to my favourite shop aka “The Mothership”, where, trolley and shopping list in hand (you will find endless shopping lists in my handbag), I will pick up the necessary supplies before racing home & carefully unpacking my beloved ‘chosen ones’, and starting to cook.
I would dare to dream about having a career in the food industry, even sent off a few application letters to some of my favourite foodie magazines, in the hopes that they would see my potential, but that’s all that was …DREAMS.
I never dared to dream that one day my dream would come true.
So how in the space of just over a year did I go from ‘foodie day dreamer’ to foodie with a chef’s qualification embarking on a career in the industry? Well, in January of 2013, whilst lazing on Clifton 1st Beach, with my husband (our summer time local ‘hot’ spot), a dark shadow cast over me as I realised there was only 5 more days of this holiday bliss before I would be back at my desk, staring at the same computer screen, doing the same thing I had been doing every day since I could remember. So looking for comfort (misery loves it!), I rolled over to face my husband and asked, in a very somber voice, if he could believe that in only 5 short days we would have to go back to work? To which he responded “I’m looking forward to going back to work, I have a lot of exciting projects planned”. BLEH! This was NOT the comradery in boycotting work, I was depending on!!! “I wish I loved what I did” I mumbled before rolling back and continuing to read my TASTE Magazine (Yip, they were one of the magazines I had emailed a few years prior and the Editor was kind enough to respond to me but not kind enough to offer me a job – but still – contact from the Editor of Taste Magazine, was almost enough for me at that stage in my life – I still have the email). Hubby’s response, without looking up from his book, “You can, what’s stopping you?”
YOU CAN. It was those 2 words that changed everything. I mean, this wasn’t a new topic of discussion, over the years, we had often debated me following my passion and chasing that culinary dream, but for me, it always seemed ‘impossible’, ‘crazy’, ‘something that eluded me’, ‘scary’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘the time was not right’. And now suddenly, there on 1st Beach, his words echoed again “YOU CAN”. It was as if, even though he had been saying the same thing for years, for the first time, my mind actually took those 2 little words in and recognized that he was right… I could! My mind started racing … I was going to be 33 in a few days, the years were starting to march by, as if in fast forward mode… did I really want to be lying on this beach, a year from now, again feeling as if I had missed my calling? If I was really going to make a go at a career in food, the time really was now! Wasn’t it? “Oh no I can’t… Let’s just forget we had this conversation”.
But I couldn’t, moments of overwhelming fear were overcome with moments of ecstatic excitement as I dared to wonder “what if?” I allowed myself to day dream about being a chef, about catering for glamorous and intimate affairs, about having my own cooking studio where I taught people how to cook wholesome good food and share my passion …. YES. That felt good. What a feeling – it was like a moment of clarity–I’M GOING TO DO IT!!! “You only live once”, “If you don’t try you will never know”, “From great risk comes great reward”, “It’s now or never”, “don’t live with regret”, “what’s the worst that could happen?” every predictable proverb I could think of, edged me on.
And then, like a crazy person who forgot to take her meds, my mind started shouting “don’t be ridiculous, you can’t do this!” fear and uncertainty crept back in and I was embarrassed for thinking I could do it, who did I think I was? Ludicrous. I am Tracey Dewey, not Martha Stewart for heavens sake! But even with the fear, it was too late, something had shifted, the seed had been planted, the thought was there and while my emotions of excitement and of fear wrestled each other relentlessly, I found myself moving forward, calling schools, arranging meetings, starting to conceptualize how this could all possibly work.
After all those years of conversations with Hubby, for the first time, suddenly, it didn’t seem impossible. For the first time ever … the question I suddenly found myself asking and one I wasn’t able to answer, was “WHY NOT?” I mean after all, even Martha Stewart, now a culinary & domestic Goddess and an internationally recognized brand in her own right, was once upon a time… just plain old Martha Stewart wasn’t she? At the start of her career, upon hearing her name, surely the response was; “Martha Who?”
WOW, 2013 – What a ride! Balancing my corporate job responsibilities and the responsibilities of being a student again, had its challenges, its highs and its low’s.
After I took the first step and enrolled into Culinary School, the universe aligned the stars for me and opportunities and offers I hadn’t even imagined, started to present themselves….
I was in turmoil at the prospect of resigning from my job. As a company, we celebrated so many highs and overcame so many challenges together, that the few of us that remained, felt more like family than colleagues. The turmoil was heightened by the prospect, of losing my source of income, my independence. My husband, my real life hero, had assured me that he could support us for the duration of my studies but this amazing gesture and unquestionable support, weighed guilt heavily on my heart. How could I accept such an offer?
Enter Universe aligning stars –
My boss offered me a generous part time position – the last piece of the puzzle was now in place! This turn of events, meant that I would be studying part time instead of full time which lead to Universe aligning stars again because looking back now, I do not believe I would have survived going back to ‘school’ full time…
I was 33 years old. All the full time students were fresh out of high school, not taking college seriously, more interested in what the weekend plans were, this was evident on the few occasions our worlds collided. I on the other hand, thought college was very serious. So serious, that I had taken a pay cut to be there and was sacrificing evenings I could have been spending at home with my husband and cats (more on them later). It had taken me my whole life to figure out what I wanted to do and now that I finally knew, I was not going to waste another second messing about. I showed up at class to learn, if there was a test, I studied like my entire career depended on the results of this one test, I took notes in class (I will refer back to my little pink notebook till the day I die – thank you Dines & Al, best gift ever),
I recorded demonstrations on my iPad so that I could go home and practice the technique, I took photographs of everything I cooked in class so that I could monitor my progress.
I realized quickly how much I still craved that interaction and professionalism of the corporate world and having access to it, for 5 hours a day, was a welcomed break from my life as a student. The full time class, consisted of over 30 students with an average age of between 18 – 22. My evening class, consisted of 5 students, myself included. All like minded individuals, ages ranging between late twenties to early forties. All of whom had made sacrifices to be there, to follow their dream. Yes, that was where I belonged and thank you, to the powers that be, for guiding me there.
Was Culinary School everything I thought it would be and more? NO. Sad to say, but isn’t that the reality of life? Things are never quite as you expect them to be, are they? Being in a mad love affair with all things culinary and now setting off on this adventure of mine, I don’t think any school could have lived up to my romantic notions of what cooking school would be like. Having just finished reading “The sharper the knife, the less you cry” by Kathleen Flinn( a real life story about a woman of similar age to myself, who left her life behind in the UK and headed off to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu, even though she couldn’t speak French), I was very inspired … I imagined myself in immaculate chef whites (but in truth, I looked more like Michelin Man than Top Chef), I imagined state of the art knives and gleaming equipment (what do you mean we have to whisk our meringues by hand? Where are the electric Kitchen Aids, hmmmm?), I expected French speaking chefs who were passionate about what they were teaching and who would share their best tricks of the trade with me, I imagined tables of fresh organic produce, duck breasts in abundance, mushroom truffle risotto, scallops, stocks bubbling over on the industrial sized gas hobs. I imagined myself as Julia Child, quickly rising to the top of the class and excelling at all I attempted. But, In reality, you don’t use ‘A Grade’ ingredients, the equipment is more ‘old and slimy’ than new and shiny, I didn’t excel at every dish I made (I still haven’t mastered the art of how to tourne a vegetable butttt I will not give up!), WE were the dishwashers and we had to sweep and mop after every lesson and scrape the leftover food out of the kitchen sink (bleh!). We had to take the rubbish out (okay, I never had to take the rubbish out – that terrible task, at the dead of night around 11pm, down 3 dark floors of stairs, into an isolated back of building exit, fell on 1 of the only 2 boys in our class – thanks guys, forever grateful – owe you big).
The Highs? The lessons? The achievements? Oh, so many, I will share some as we go along … for now, let’s start with these…
SO in summary … if you are reading this and there is a passion stirring inside of you but you are too afraid to listen to it, to dare to dream that it could become your reality … Make your first move, take that first step and I promise, the Universe will be there to align the stars for you…
Roughly, 4 or 5 years ago when the company I work for was going through a rough patch and it was advisable to seek alternative opportunities, I interviewed for the Good Food & Wine Show’s Founder, for the position of her Personal Assistant. The role was very diverse and would require the successful candidate to be extremely involved in the co-ordination of all the shows country-wide. I could not contain my excitement at this opportunity!
The first interview with the boss lady herself, went exceptionally well, I could tell she was impressed and she invited me back for a second interview to meet with her ‘second in commands’. I was so nervous about this second interview, that I worked myself up into quite a state and had to take calming tablets. Which made me feel a little out of sorts, even though they were ALL NATURAL – this feeling coupled with having to wait in reception for what felt like forever, only made the anxiety worse so when it was finally ‘show time’, I was a babbling idiot who failed to impress. The boss lady at one stage even said to me “what happened to the Tracey I met the other day?” :s Oh dear!
The one question they threw at me, which has stood out to me ever since, was “Why are you passionate about food?” – To which after a pause, I answered, that I can’t explain it, I just am, that I couldn’t put a finger on it … I just loved and consumed everything to do with food. They were not happy with my answer and didn’t understand why I couldn’t summarize what it was exactly that I loved so dearly about food. That question has haunted me ever since and to this day, I still try to come up with an answer that would not only satisfy them but would satisfy myself. But all the ‘appropriate’ answers I conjure up just don’t feel right! It’s like saying “Why do you love him?” – you can list a few things sure, his personality, his smile …but it doesn’t totally capture the essence of why you love this person, does it? It’s indescribable and that’s how I feel about my relationship with food. I can’t explain it, I just do.
So fast forward a few years to 2013 – there I am, back of house in one of the make shift kitchens working at the Good Food & Wine Show in Cape Town, for the 3 consecutive days, long hours, no pay, no glory, just hard work (don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of it – it was my first taste of what a commercial kitchen could be like! and throw in the fact that some of the full time students who obviously didn’t know me, where calling me Chef (based on how much older I was than them – Hee Hee) and who should enter the kitchen and ask me for some pieces of equipment, but the boss lady herself! As she stood there, sifting through pots and pans, I almost asked her if she remembered me (there did seem to be a hint of recognition but whether she placed me or not, I can’t be sure … me in my Michelin Man uniform and all), but I lost my nerve. I should have though, perhaps seeing me there, all those years later, actively pursuing my culinary dream, would have finally legitimized my answer to that haunted question all those years ago “I can’t explain it, I just do”.
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