Jessie Dagg is no stranger to working hard to accomplish her goals. The petite, blonde, blue-eyed 20-something left school in Year 10 to chase her dream of becoming an award- winning chef.
We asked Jessie what it takes to live your dream.
Her answer? Hard work!
Leaving school early
Jessie had never liked school and spent her days there feeling miserable until her Home Economics teacher suggested she leave school early for TAFE, to study for a certificate in hospitality.
After getting the all-clear from her parents, Jessie took the leap. Her dad had also left school early to learn a trade, although her mum took some convincing. Their only condition was that she get a full-time job.
“It was definitely daunting... but I’m glad that I did it. I’d never change it for the world,” Jessie said.
Jessie made sure she set goals and worked hard to achieve them, not wanting to sit on the couch all day.
“Before you leave school you need to have a rough idea of what you want to do – set yourself some goals,” she said.
Jessie was an apprentice chef for three years. She worked in a variety of cafés and restaurants, learning as much as she could.
Jessie entered her first competition after she saw an ad in a magazine. She said her results from that competition are not worth mentioning, but it was a good lesson in what the judges look for.
Then a teacher at TAFE told her about Worldskills, an international organisation that creates competitions to showcase the talents of young people in vocational education.
She won a Gold Medal at the 2011 Regional Worldskills Competition and a Bronze Medal at the 2012 National Worldskills Competition. After this Jessie travelled with Worldskills from Germany to France to Shanghai, competing and cooking across the world!
“Competitions were brutal, but I loved them,” she says.
Competitions meant hours of practice and scrutiny of everything from her cooking techniques to cleanliness and recycling.
Highs and Lows of working in the hospitality industry
Along with the travel and glory, being an award-winning chef can be pretty tough too. Jessie said she often worked 18-hour days.
“When you get home you still can’t sleep for hours because your mind is racing and your feet are aching,” she said.
And while she loves being a chef, Jessie didn’t want to fall into the partying stereotype that often comes with the territory.
“You’re a night owl because of the hours you work. [People] drink a lot of Red Bull, a lot of alcohol.
“It’s very hard to not be part of that crowd. It was a good thing I was only 16 or 17 at the time - so I had an excuse to not go into that scene,” she said.
While delighting customers is the aim of the game, sometimes that can be another challenge.
“The customer is always right. It’s as simple as that. Even if they’re not right, they’re right! Even if it makes you a little angry, or a lot angry, you just have to please them,” she said.
How does she think the industry has left its mark?
“The long hours and the tough mentality… I think it changed me a lot. I’m a bit of a harder person. I would say I’m definitely stronger, but I think I put up a bit of a hard front, and that’s really hard to break down,” she said.
Jessie has had to learn to really believe in herself, and stand up for herself in a male-dominated trade.
“I’m just as capable, if not more capable, than some of the boys. I’ve learned to go with the flow a lot better, but that wasn’t easy for me,” she says.
Dream-chasing tips and tricks
After the competitions and travel, Jessie’s health suffered and she was forced to take a break from her career, but she looks forward to getting stuck in again one day.
“On Sundays I always try to have a couple of hours in the kitchen. It’s like a stress-release for me. Even when I was cheffing I would still cook for myself. I can kinda just do my thing and don’t have to worry about anything else for a while.”
Jessie’s advice for dream-chasers?
“Being scared and unsure is a good thing. You can never be 100% sure of anything you do in life. There are always going to be pros and cons, but if you want something so badly, you won’t let anything get in your way.”
“Work hard. You’re probably going to get knocked down a lot, but get back up and prove the doubters wrong. Be confident in your ability. Try to find people in your life who are going to support you, no matter what you do.”
And her advice on cooking?
“Sharp knives are very important. If you don’t have them it makes your day very long!”
And we couldn’t let Jessie get away without finding out what her favourite breakfast food is - mushrooms, avocado, poached or scrambled eggs, bacon and sourdough! Yep, we’ll have what she’s having!
by Brooke Duncan
Photos courtesy of WorldSkills Australia.