“I realised I was forty and I felt my life had disappeared, I had almost vanished. Whilst the children were growing up, I had been a childminder and a gardener, but it wasn’t enough anymore. Not even close. I remember Googling most needed skills and up popped, chef. I can cook. It gave me my first idea.” shares Susan Davies, the Founder of Leigh-on-Sea Supper Club and Women on the Up
Her dream of cooking professionally was finally realised when she started working at Food by John Lawson and qualified as a chef from Westminster College in June 2019. In this interview Susan will share with you her journey, lessons learnt and tips how to make a successful career change.
Where do you come from and where are you based now?
I am a born and bred Essex girl, I grew up in Hornchurch and after travelling I settled in Leigh on Sea.
As a child did you have a dream job?
As a child I never had too much idea of what I wanted to do. I enjoyed being creative but actually I was fairly academic, and was always led in that direction. By the age of seventeen I was working in the City and trained as a ship broker. I was earning a good salary and assumed my career was established.
When and how did you discover your talents and direction for your dream job?
Since I was in my teens I have been a little obsessed with food! If I am honest until I had my children I wasn’t too interested in nutrition but I spent an awful lot of time calorie counting! When I had my first child my focus was understanding exactly what myself and my family was eating.
Once I had my first child it became apparent that I would have to be a full time mum or never see my child. Fourteen hours a day away from my baby was a deal breaker. Financially, things were tough, but I felt privileged to be at home. In 2000 after suffering recurrent miscarriages I had my son and again after heart ache my youngest daughter was born in 2008.
In retrospect, I realised I was forty and I felt my life had disappeared, I had almost vanished. 2012 was terrible. My daughter rebelled big time, my son had an appendicitis, my youngest collapsed and was hospitalised for 12 days with her first asthma attack. Something had to change.
Whilst the children were growing up, I had been a childminder and a gardener. I love my children dearly but it wasn’t enough anymore. Not even close. I remember Googling most needed skills and up popped, chef. I can cook.
It gave me my first idea. I started a new business Dish of the Day. We delivered hot, high quality food, to the elderly. The people that worked for me were genuinely the kindest and most caring, they went the extra mile every single day. It is the business I am the most proud of. We made a difference.
A two year retraining programme has left me in the position to start my new company and build a business. I run my monthly Supper Club at a beautiful design studio, in my home town of Leigh on Sea and cater for private dinners and celebrations. My new venture is combining cooking classes whilst providing delicious, creative meals in cohesion with a yoga retreat based in stunning Southern Spain.
Did you experience any challenges on your new journey and how did you overcome them?
After two years I wasn’t feeling fulfilled creatively in fact I was beginning to lose the love; my days were 12 hours long and often 7 days a week. At this point the universe heard me and an amazing chef John Lawson moved back to his home county of Essex to open a restaurant where the food was local, seasonal and most importantly good for our health. This concept fascinated me.
I sent an email, pretty much begging for a job and my lottery ticket came up. The most amazing opportunity came my way. I got to work with a chef who had learnt from the best, Raymond Blanc and Gordon Ramsey and he was going to teach me how to cook.
It was an amazing two year journey; at the same time I went to Westminster College, where they had me plucking pheasants, boiling crab and gutting rabbits. It was brilliant. I finished my course, with a Distinction Chef’s Diploma and won an award. My role at the restaurant had developed, I ran Sundays and had created my own dishes.
Work and life balance – what does it mean to you and how do you keep it?
These 2 years were life changing but I was shattered, my life/work balance had become difficult to maintain. From a stay at home mum my life was unrecognisable. If I’m honest my family hated it.
Whilst they were undeniably proud, they had had enough. I had to reassess. I was no longer at the restaurant. Gradually new things began to happen, I approached a friend who runs an art studio and she agreed to hold a monthly supper club, Leigh on Sea Supper Club was born! In such a short time its reputation has grown and we’ve had private work for parties, workshops and yoga retreats.
Also personally I’ve continued to grow. A three month life coach course completed, I’ve gained confidence in myself and my capabilities. I also feel passionate about ensuring all women have an opportunity to fulfil their dreams’ and potential. I’ve recently set up Women on the Up Facebook Group and we already have the Great Expectations Book Club where there is a focus on books that improve our positivity, mind set and happiness. Also the Walk and Talk club happens every month, where we can get together. I believe women need to care for themselves, make themselves a priority.
How did you deal with Covid and it’s impact on your career and business?
2020 has been a year of change for me. The first two months my business was growing steadily, but my youngest was poorly with asthma and missed great chunks of school.
At the end of February my husband and I decided to take the decision to drive to Spain to see if the warmer climate would help her get better. Thankfully it did, but lockdown happened a few weeks earlier in Spain and we had to quickly make the decision that the best thing to do was stay in Spain until the situation improved. Never did we believe it would take us over five months go make it back to the UK.
During that time there was no cooking business, but I learnt everything I could about marketing and running a business. I signed up for courses of email marketing, mailchimp, pinterest, affiliate marketing, Instagram, Canva you name it, I worked how it could help my business.
Which means now this autumn I have just sent out my first ever recipe e book – Eat Well Autumn Recipes to my wonderful followers on Instagram. I also send out weekly ‘News’ where I share recipes, advice and blogs on eating well and all our latest events.
This year hasn’t gone to plan at all, but it is not all bad. I was recently teaching some lovely people to bake bread, I wasn’t expecting that for 2020!
Any tips that you’d like to share with people thinking about their career change?
If you are considering a career change or starting your own business, decide first whether you will make a complete break from your current role/situation, or if you will detach yourself gradually. Most of us have financial commitments and by working on a new path whilst continuing with our present career it can give us some reassurance and ensure we that we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves in the beginning.
Research what you want to do, give yourself short term/midterm and long term goals; this is a great way to track the progress you are making. The time when things are tough (and they will come along – REMEMBER HOW FAR YOU HAVE COME, THE JOURNEY YOU’RE ON AND THAT FAILURES WILL OCCUR).
A time may come along when you will break all ties with your past employment but doing this when you are established will help reduce stress and anxieties in the early days, particularly until you begin bringing in income.
I can still sometimes feel terrified all that I have worked for might disappear. I push myself hard. I cook at least five days a week. I work on my businesses every day, the thing is: I love what I do.
Author: AdriAna Kosovska
Professional and certified coach & founder of ZERO TO DREAM JOB ACADEMY
I work with employees, managers and organisations that care about
Stress reduction | Talents and strengths development | Dream job