STUDENT BLOG: You’re Never Too Old To Start Something New – A Mature Student’s Perspective on Entering the Industry Later in Life

By Niamh Mulholland posted 25-03-2021 13:43


Having finished school and deciding to pursue to a career in holistic studies and healthcare, I never dreamed I would end up in the weird and wonderful world of kitchens, surrounded by eclectic characters and the sounds of sizzling and buzzing on a regular basis. It was during a nightshift in the homeless shelter, where I was working at the time, that the lightbulb moment occurred. I realised I wasn’t cut out for this line of work.  Nor did I want to still be caring for vulnerable people 10 years down the line, not because I didn’t love it but simply because I was the type of person to carry that work home with me. When I realised I had a real passion for food, I decided maybe I could investigate studying this and see where the road took me. 


Less than twelve months later, I found myself enrolled in my first year of Culinary Studies and working under my first head chef. After a few shifts we began getting to know each other and the topic of age came up. “You’re a bit old for getting into this game” he informed me, and as I was twenty-six at the time I was inclined to agree. There was a mixed bag of students in my class at that time, ranging from late teens to early fifties, some with kitchen experience and some with none.


However, the high achiever in me instantly got her back up and decided that since I was a late starter, I now had a point to prove and set about the impossible mission of trying to gain as much experience and knowledge as I could.  I convinced myself that I could catch up with some of the chefs around me who had been working in kitchens since they were sixteen or seventeen. I had previously worked casually for a small artisan sauce business, so I told myself that although I had not worked in a live kitchen, I still had some relevant experience and knowledge.


Over time the balance of work and college became too much, and I left that first kitchen job to focus on my studies, the words of that head chef constantly ringing in my ears. I found myself constantly trying to soak up knowledge about food and learn from other chefs’ experience and all the while, I still felt I wasn’t good enough, purely because “I was a bit old for getting into this game”.


Other kitchen positions came along and in late 2018, I faced my first major hurdle, being rushed to hospital requiring emergency surgery on my spine. Now, it seemed my body and mind were both working against me. After some lengthy hospital stays and various forms of physiotherapy and rehabilitative therapy, I returned to my previous kitchen and discussed returning to work with the manager.


At this time, I was due to go on my work placement but due to ongoing issues with my spine, this never came to fruition. It seemed maybe that first head chef was right after all, maybe I was ten years too late and maybe there were too may hurdles to jump (no mean feat when you have almost lost the power in your legs). However, with stubbornness and still the need to prove myself driving me forward, I decided to return to college and complete my work placement so that I could progress into my final year of studies. I felt I needed to pursue a placement somewhere that I would be completely thrown in the deep end as this was the best strategy to learn and, in my mind, catch up.


I was offered a place in a prestigious 2 Michelin star restaurant and informed my work week would consist of seventy plus hours, unpaid. The weak state of my body was only mildly concerning to me and it was more so the fear of potential failure that enveloped me. It was nearing the time to move across the country and begin my work placement when the pandemic hit. Coupled with the death of my father in early 2020, again, I heard the head chefs voice and once again I felt ready to quit.


However, twelve months later, I have battled Covid, learned to start living with the grief and I now work three to four days per week while balancing my course work. It occurred to me after some time, that any chef that ever says they know it all, really is lying to themselves and others, as every day, every opportunity and every perceived failure or hurdle should be cherished and used as a learning experience. It became clear to me that, the small things I do daily, whether it is trying out a new dish at home, researching new restaurants opening and comparing menus or simply having a conversation with like-minded people, I am constantly learning and always will be. That is the beauty of this industry, I suppose, if you have the passion, it will take you anywhere and I do not think any two days will ever be the same. When I hear that head chef’s words in my ears now, I simply try and silence it and remind myself, you’re never too old to start something new and I’m definitely not ready to quit yet.



I am a final year Culinary Arts student based in Dundalk. I have been working in industry for approx. 2 years. I aspire to travel the world and own my own food truck. I am an animal lover, avid movie buff and enjoy writing poetry from time to time and have done since a young age. I believe hard work and passion for what you’re doing are the key to success.



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