Last week Sarah talked about the start of her chef journey. If you haven’t seen that yet, you can click here to read part 1
A BIT ABOUT ME
Hi! I’m Sarah Mitchell, a 23-year-old, first-year culinary arts student at TU Dublin, Tallaght Campus. I started my culinary arts journey a few years back in Galway, but for personal reasons that didn’t quite go to plan. Now I’m starting over. In Autumn of 2019 I joined TU Dublin, Tallaght as a first-year culinary arts student, ready to start fresh and begin my journey again.
As I mentioned in my earlier blog for Chef Network, I’m in a completely different place now compared to when I first started my journey. The experience of college this time around is so different for me. 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. One of my favourite modules in my course at the moment is ‘The Mindful Kitchen’ module. Today I want to share some of my experience in this module with you all, so that hopefully you can take some learnings away. I know it was a valuable experience for me and something I continue to practice.
If you want to know more about the mindful kitchen module from TU Dublin, Tallaght, you can read the Chef Network blog here from Chef Lecturers Annette Sweeney & Denise Murray explaining what the module is and how you can practice some of their teachings in your own kitchen.
DAY 1 OF THE MINDFUL KITCHEN: WHAT IS THIS?
Before coming to Tallaght, I hadn’t heard of a ‘mindful kitchen’. I read the module description on the course curriculum, it sounded interesting. Definitely like something that I would really enjoy, but also, I was thinking why? Why do we need a module on this?
The day of the first class no one really knew what to expect. We were all in full uniform, in one of the practical kitchens, so we presumed we’d be cooking. The class started by listening to calming music and closing our eyes. A very weird experience at the beginning, but they asked us to ‘trust the process’. Next, we brought our attention to our breathing, thinking about the things we were doing that day, and how we were feeling. It was a strange process and not like any other module I had every studied.
As the class went on, we began to do some Qigong exercises. I’d never heard of Qigong before. When we first started doing them, I thought, “this class is crazy”, “this must be a joke, like we’re never going to need this”, “it’s so weird”.
My God did my opinion change!
WEEK 2 OF THE MINDFUL KITCHEN: GETTING INTO IT
Week two came and I loved it.
At the beginning of every class we would anonymously write how we were feeling; how our day was, things we were stressed over, what was going on in our lives, if there was something bothering us. Our lecturer would ring a bell to begin and another bell to stop. You do not stop writing until the bell rings.
It was amazing.
The fact that the book was anonymous, there was no name, only you knowing which book was yours. I was so reassuring. You could write anything you wanted, anything you were feeling, and no one knew it was you. You could write down any bad feelings you had that day and somehow it felt as though someone was there taking away your burden. You were free from that pain or inconvenience, it was incredible.
TAKING THINGS SLOW
Each class was so relaxing, there was no rush to anything we were doing. The aura of the room every time we began was amazing and the energy we had after each class ended was incredible. We would do the exercises to release good endorphins into our bodies and remove the bad ones. It started to become a class where we could be free. There was physically no right or wrong way to do any of the tasks we were given. We were free to execute the tasks however we interpreted the brief.
We were encouraged to each see things differently and to let our creativity flow. Allow ourselves time to think about the task or the dish we were executing. Every time we completed a task, we would think about each step separately and we would do them in a slower manner, completely different to how things would typically be in the industry.
We began to look deeper into the ingredients and the produce we were using. Breaking away from doing only what we know or what we are used to, exploring new techniques and styles. We began using waste products as actual ingredients and taking ourselves out of our comfort zone to discover so many amazing things you can do as a chef. Cooking in different ways and using ingredients that we were previously neglecting because we were used to not using them or because society says we can’t use can’t cook in that way or stick to what you know. It opened up a whole new world and way of thinking for us.
We looked at role play situations that can happen in the industry and how mental health and physical health can sometimes be neglected within the hospitality industry.
Saying things like “I don’t have time to eat” or “I’m too busy” become the norm, and a lot people end up turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with the stress of the crazy hours and the heavy work load. We addressed different situations like these and learned new methods of preventing them.
Chefs need to understand that as much as we are working in a very fast moving and ever developing industry, and we spend most of our days looking after customers and ensuring the best for them that we need to take a look at ourselves and ensure the best for ourselves as well. Self-care is so important, and we often neglect it. So much so that we often reach a point where our body gives up. You’ve spent so long burning the candle at both ends that your body gives in, It’s something that you’ve worked so hard for and spent so long working at, then all of a sudden you can no longer do it.
We get one body; we need to look after it.
TAKING CARE OF OURSELVES
This is something that I now have truly started to take on board more seriously. I can admit myself that in the past I have worked those extra few hours because I felt bad, or I said I didn’t mind but would go home with my feet burning and my mind working on overdrive to a point where I can’t sleep for hours.
This module has taught me that there comes a time where you need to shut off and focus on yourself.
I no longer try to plate up 2/3 dockets at a time to try and get them out quickly, but not at my best of ability. I would hate for someone to complain, feeling as if the chef was just slapping up anything to get it out quick. I think this is what sometimes tends to happen. I now focus on each dish individually and on the small details that I might have missed before. I enjoy working and studying to be a chef and I love the buzz and the adrenaline that it gives me, but that comes hand in hand with minding myself.
WHAT THE MINDFUL KITCHEN HAS TAUGHT ME
The mindful kitchen has given me the boost that I needed to bring myself back to my own mind when I get flustered or worked up. It has given me the knowledge I need to share this idea and maybe have an impact on someone else’s way of thinking in a kitchen
I think that this is something that all culinary arts courses should introduce, and I definitely think that it is something that should be introduced to the wider industry. It would really help many chefs that are overwhelmed right now. I do feel as though it’s becoming more and more a part of chef’s thinking.
I think this module has really opened my eyes and encouraged me to be more mindful of things people are going through, or feelings that other people have. No one is wrong or careless, they may just struggle to see things how other people see them or are simple demoralized and exhausted and need time to restore themselves and reenergize which is so important.
Through the mindful kitchen I have learned so much! It is through the great work of both Annette Sweeney and Denise Murray, their dedication and considerable amount of knowledge and care for their students is amazing. I would like to thank them for their great advice, and the immense amount of confidence that they have restored in us as students as well as the care and effort that they put into developing this module.
I know that the lessons I have learned from this module I will incorporate not only into my college and work life, but also into my personal life and my life going forward.