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Feature: Cooking Changed My Life, But Can It Change My Future?

Chef Susan Davies opens up about the ups and downs of changing your career, following your dreams and the journey of starting a career in food later in life.

I love cooking, and I love food. I grow what I can in my garden, I love fresh ingredients and using seasonal produce to create dishes that you just want more of! Oh, and I love chocolate every day!

All of the above has been true for over 25 years, however, a few years ago I made the decision to see if I could earn money from cooking. Was I able to turn something that I do every day at home, into a career?

I created my business Dish of the Day, producing, fresh, hot meals to the elderly in my local community. It is probably the thing in my life that I am most proud of.

But the reality is I never earnt over minimum wage.

In 2017 I made the decision to close my company. I was offered a job at a local restaurant in Leigh on Sea, created by a chef who wanted to produce food with one primary purpose; that it was beneficial to our health. This was extremely exciting for me, it was a role I quickly came to love.

I worked at the restaurant part-time until April 2019. The work was hard and tiring on the body in a way I’ve not experienced before. It made it impossible for me to sleep. You can finish work at past midnight, but my head will feel wired and sleep alluded me.

After a year and a half, even though I worked only 2-3 days a week, they were nearly always weekends, I felt it was time for reflection.

Shortly after starting my job, I also enrolled at Westminster College. I was one of four women and obviously the eldest in the class - which was no badge of honour! I questioned what I was doing. It felt so out of my comfort zone, it almost felt like an out of body experience.

The first term, I found very intensive. The young guys on the course were all competing amongst themselves, and testosterone was flying. Our chef was fierce-looking with a voice that boomed! I just kept telling myself “what’s the worst that can happen?” I mean really, I’ll ruin a plate of food! I can survive that!”. So I just kept going, every single week. Up at 5am, on the 5:54 train and in college for 7:30.

Midway through the second term, I realised I was beginning to look forward to it, and in June 2019, I passed my final diploma with a distinction.

Guess what though? I am still earning minimum wage. So the question I ask myself is, how do I make this change?

After an utterly exhausting four years of often working 7 days a week, attending college, keeping my family alive, fed and in clean clothes, and if I’m honest probably not much else, I decided to take two months off. I sat in the sun, put on 10lbs, spent time with my family, saw my friends, (they just about remembered who I was) and even on the odd occasion had a little laugh.

Also, in that time, I felt a little anxious, can I hack it? Can I make money? Will I ever find the balance of family life and work?

I so want to work, it is tied intrinsically with my self-worth. I am desperate to find a way forward. Well, can I? We are about to find out.

This month I worked a three-day shift this weekend, and I can hack it!

I’ve accepted a new job, in a larger kitchen, for 3 days a week and working hours in the day.

I’ve started my own pop-up Supper Club on evenings that suit me and my lifestyle.

I have enrolled back in college (because I love it there now!).

I have signed up for a Thrive Course as surviving is not good enough!

So this is where I am now, today. Follow me, and see if I can make this work.

Is the belief true; that if you put the hard work in, you get to reap the reward? I’m chasing the money and in an industry that I love. I’m not ashamed to say that, but I will be ashamed to say that I’m still earning minimum wage on the 1st January 2020. I have given myself four months to step up, find new opportunities, make the most from them and not be earning minimum wage, not even close!


Chatting Food Contributor: Susan Davies

Susan Davies is a chef and gardener. She runs her own pop up, Leigh-on-Sea Supper Club, and undertakes work as a private chef. She has studied at Writtle College for Horticulture and Westminster College. Her new blog will launch next month with its purpose to inspire and cheer on women to remember their adventures and live out their dreams.

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