The Chester Chef opens up about his challenges with Mental Health, and how he has found his purpose in the kitchen …

I asked my good friend The Chester Chef to write a blog piece about his recent experience of the cooking challenge I asked him to help me with in partnership with Nicol Hughes Foodservice – and here is what he wrote … good job I had my tissues handy when I read this for the first time!

‘Five weeks ago, I was asked by the wonderful Izzy Grey if I’d like to participate in a “little” challenge in partnership with Nicol Hughes Foodservices. At first I was like “What? Why me? There are plenty more established chefs out there better than me. Ahh you’ve asked them and they’ve declined I’m the last resort. I’ve only been a chef since October 2019.” This is what my metal heath issues do to me.

For years I have suffered with depression and mental health issues. Ever since my professional football career ended abruptly by a bad decision by myself, and a serious knee injury, I have struggled to find another purpose in life. Until now.

Seven months ago, by a chance meeting, I was given the opportunity to start work in the kitchen at The Suburbs by Kingdom Thenga. After years of working in the hospitality industry, and the fact that I had recently been assaulted by a customer behind the bar I was running, my confidence in tatters and a 9-year-old daughter to think about, it was time I set my myself a new challenge.

Kingdom gave me the opportunity to start working in his kitchen. He said he didn’t want a head chef, everyone is equal and it would help him if I would join the team. At first, I’m not going to lie, it was the scariest few weeks of my entire life. Massively out of my comfort zone, stressing every day, having anxiety attacks I wondered what the hell I had done, but it turns out it was the best decision I ever made.

As I learnt the menu and got comfortable in making the dishes, my confidence grew. With this increased confidence, I started experimenting with dishes, trying to enhance them visually and taste wise. Some worked some didn’t, but I was learning. Within 4 months I became head chef, devised a Valentines weekend menu, the new Spring/Summer menu and I had finally found a job that made me feel like a professional footballer again.

Then Covid19 struck. The business closed and I was furloughed. Wondering what to do with myself, stuck in the house shielding as my fiancée is high risk due to her having asthma. Slowly getting more and more attached to my bed, as that’s the only place I wanted to be, even though I knew that that was the place I had my darkest thoughts. I knew I had to do something, but couldn’t find the motivation to do so, and then came the call.

Izzy asked if I’d like to help her with a “little” challenge. After thinking all the bad thoughts I had initially, I realised that this was the motivation that I needed. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I couldn’t feel any worse than what I was feeling, so I accepted the challenge. With something to focus on and the thought of not wanting to let my friend down, I threw myself into the task at hand. Cooking in my own kitchen, with restaurant quality goods, left to my own devices to experiment and create food for everyone to enjoy. Presenting ready made meals in an aesthetically pleasing way, creating something out of nothing and staring to enjoy life. Over the past 4 weeks I’ve finally began to start finding my purpose and believing in myself again. I’m not saying that all my troubles have disappeared and that my mental heath issues are over. All I’m saying is that finding something you truly believe in, that makes you feel good about yourself, may help you through your dark bad days a little better and make them happen a little less often.’

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