Student Chef: Looking After My Mental Health

By Sarah Mitchell posted 16-06-2020 10:59



Hi! My name is Sarah Mitchell and I’m a 23-year-old, first-year culinary arts student at TU Dublin, Tallaght Campus.

Cooking has always played a big role in my life. My mother was a chef in Intel before I came along and my grandmother, I would say is locally famous for her apple tarts, and rightly so because they are amazing! When I began to think about becoming a chef, I knew I would have big shoes to fill. I loved baking and cooking at home. Although in the beginning, I burned everything!

Sarah Mitchell - Chef Network


At the age of 16, I worked in a little café in my local town. It was only for two weeks, as part of my Transition Year work experience, but I loved it. I’m a very hands-on person, I love to jump straight into things, so I while I was working here, I didn’t hold back, even though I was only young. After my work experience ended, I decided I wanted to try getting a part-time job. I applied to a small restaurant close to where I lived. Having not very much experience and having never worked before I was very nervous to start.

I had gained a lot of knowledge of food from cooking at home over the years with my mother and my grandmother. I also love to read, more specifically I loved to read cookbooks and I watched a lot of cooking shows in my spare time. I brought all of this knowledge with me to my trial for the new job. After the two-hour trial had ended, I was offered the job on the spot. The chef was very impressed with me, considering not only had I never worked in a professional kitchen before but at all. That’s when it all started.


I worked in my first job for just under a year before applying to go to college. I decided to apply for GMIT to get my Bachelor of Business in Culinary Arts Management (very fancy!). I accepted my course on the Friday and moved to Galway on the Monday. I was so nervous! I’d never been away from home for longer than 2 nights before and I was very much a mammy’s girl. I didn’t expect to last longer than a week.

It was the scariest thing I had ever experienced in my life.

After I started college, however, I quickly settled into college life. I loved college. It was amazing. A short month after starting I was offered a job in one of the hotels back in my hometown. I accepted and for the next three years, I alternated between college from Monday to Friday and work Friday to Sunday. I began to burn my candle at both ends. I would skip college on Mondays because I was so tired from working over the weekend, which then meant I had more work to catch up on from college during the week. I ended up skipping exams so that I could go out with my friends. I wanted to experience the college life of going out and parties as well.

Sarah Mitchell Food 1 - Chef Network


Eventually, my lifestyle began to take a toll on my mental health.

It was around this same time that my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Living away from home, when someone so dear to you isn’t well, is heart-breaking.

At home, I tried my best to be brave and hardworking and would balance looking after my family and working 40 hours every weekend. I’d travel back to Galway at 11 o’clock every Sunday night in order to be back in college on Monday morning.

I was wearing myself out. I stopped having any interest in college and wasn’t putting in the effort anymore. I just stopped handing in assignments altogether.
I was drained, and I had accepted it.

I was losing friends, I was missing home and I was hating college life. I knew my mental health was going downhill very fast. I needed my mam.

I emptied my locker, packed my life of three years into a suitcase and headed for home. I had decided to drop out of college unbeknownst to my parents. I was scared to tell them, but after making the decision instantly I was happier. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt as if I was forcing myself to be happy when I was not.

I moved home and began working full time in the hotel I was in. During this time, I worked with some amazing people, I gained so much knowledge and had an amazing experience overall. My confidence increased and I started taking care of myself. I surrounded myself with good people, I looked after my own mental health and I started doing things for myself rather than trying to prove to other people what I was capable of.


In Summer 2019 I decided I was going back to college. I was at a better place in my life and so I decided to apply for culinary arts in TU Dublin, Tallaght. I haven’t looked back since. It’s amazing! The experience of college this time around is so different for me. I’m living at home, the journey is an hour max. I get to come home to my family every night and tell my mam everything that goes on. The support system I have around me now is amazing, my friends and lecturers are second to none. I feel as though I fit in a lot more now in Tallaght than I ever did in Galway.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 from Sarah next week, where she continues her journey and tells us about her experience in TU Dublin, Tallaght

Sarah Mitchell Food 2 - Chef Network


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