I was approached by Chef Network to write a blog on what it is like to be a student chef in 2020/2021. I felt I could not just represent my own feelings in writing this blog, so I decided to also put a call out to my class group. I wanted to know what my classmates felt about learning online in while training for a profession that is incredibly hands on. Honestly, I expected a lot of negativity, but was greeted with a level of positivity I was not expecting. I know it can be difficult to feel positive when faced with this topic but there is always a silver lining somewhere.
I entered the industry as a commis chef in Buswells Hotel in Dublin. I wanted to find a profession that suits my inability to sit still, my wish to work with my hands and to work in an environment that pushes me to be better on a daily basis. The industry offered me all of this and more, while also appealing to my passion for food.
As a first-year student starting in GMIT International Hotel School (mid COVID-19), it was evident that the best was being made of the situation. Mondays and Tuesdays were spent in the kitchen with four hours of pastry on a Monday and nine hours of culinary skills and live kitchen classes on a Tuesday. The highs of Monday and Tuesday kept me going. When my motivation starts to lag, it usually coincides with time staring at a computer for the rest of the week with me itching to get back to the kitchen. Although thankfully, the thought of getting back into the kitchen for those two days, kept me going and kept me focused.
After Christmas, everything changed. The new restrictions coming from the new surge, meant that as students, we were going to be spending a lot more time staring at computer screens. Considering you now had a group of people who hate sitting still, learning through theory, it was easy to see a big dip in motivation. The loss of motivation was evident in the first few weeks. Not being able to do what you love to the best of your ability was hard for all of us. I know it was not just us feeling this way, it has happened in restaurants, cafes, hotels and kitchens all over the country. I am acutely aware that people who work in the industry are also feeling this, and I also know the vast amount of positivity that that has come from them really spurs us on. From seeing Michelin star chefs setting up take away burgers, to sending at home food kits from restaurants around the country, it was evident that the silver lining was starting to shine through.
With the restrictions affecting everything, the staff at GMIT have adapted amazingly. Not only with the online learning but also the additional supports and resources put in place to help us. From getting assignments involving foraging on beaches and forests, to lectures recording video guides on techniques so we can understand them easier. They also set up a flurry of different guest lectures from chefs, restaurant managers, suppliers, and artisan producers amongst many others on a weekly basis. The understanding GMIT has shown to its students has been incredible and the positivity which stemmed from this really shone through from my classmates.
As we move closer to the summer, we also hopefully move closer to the reopening of the industry. With this comes our first professional work placement, an integral part of our course in GMIT. The usual nerves of young people, a lot of whom have never stepped foot in a professional kitchen before, is heightened with the current situation. However, over the last number of weeks my confidence has grown. The advice, support and motivation offered to us from the people who have taken the time to speak with us from the faculty and the overall industry has been incredible.
I wanted to take a second to offer my thanks to everyone who has helped us. To thank the college and the team for all the help they have given us. The support in our learning and preparations for our placements within the industry in general has been outstanding. In particular, the chefs that took the time to chat with us, sharing their experience and taking the time to provide some motivation to us. Amazing people need recognition, and we offer our thanks for this. One of the things that keeps me motivated is just knowing how supportive and friendly our industry is, and hopefully when all of this is over, I will have a chance to meet and work with some of you in person.
I am a first year student studying culinary and gastronomic sciences in Galway Mayo institute of technology. I had started as a commis chef in 2019 and have stepped out of work in order to train and upskill.
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