IF there was anyone who believed in the saying ‘Age is just a number’ the most, it would be Tahisha Whyte who didn’t allow her stage in life to deter her from starting her career journey.
Forty-five-year-old Whyte from Padmore District in Red Hills, St Andrew, who began studying to become a chef four years ago, admitted that hairdressing was her first love.
After leaving Dunoon Technical High School, she had her eyes set on continuing her studies at Leon’s School of Beauty Culture, but was discouraged from being enrolled there.
“I was told not to go there because those things (hairdressing) were for people who do not have any brain, so I applied to the former Jamaican Institute of Management and Production,” she told Career & Education.
“I was doing a business administration course and after a while I stopped because I didn’t really have any love for it. My real love was hairdressing. I basically stayed home for the last 20 years not doing anything — not going to school, not working,” she said.
Cooking, she added, was one of her many passions but it was after she began assisting her aunt with her catering service that her love for culinary arts solidified.
“I always liked cooking because I love food, and when my aunt has catering, she would come and say, ‘Tahisha, come help mi nuh’ and mi realise say I really enjoyed cooking. No matter what I’m cooking, no matter how small it is, I ensure that it is nice, because I like nice food and I also realised I loved baking...it wasn’t really something I loved but something that loved me,” she said.
With much encouragement from her relatives, Whyte decided to pursue her studies to become a chef in 2018.
She did a commis chef course from 2018 to 2019 at the Boulevard Baptist Skills Training Centre, topping her class with a 90 per cent average, as the second oldest student.
She moved on to do a diploma in chef de partie which she completed in 2020 and then copped a certificate from the American Culinary Federation in February which allowed her to be classified as a certified culinarian.
Whyte is currently finishing up her chef de patisserie programme at Heart College of Hospitality Services in Runaway Bay, St Ann, which she expects to complete in December.
“I remember when I just decided to go back to school and had to do an assessment exam and I got over 90 per cent and an administrator was saying based on the results, she was wondering what went wrong, why am I just coming back to school at 41. I told her that life happens and my thing is, as long as you have life and health, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always achieve your goals. Then she wished me well,” she said.
That wasn’t the only time her age sparked concern.
Recalling another incident, she said, “I was going to school with a lot of people who were way younger than me, some who had just finished high school. I remember a former classmate looked at me and said, ‘But look pon her too nuh, she shouldn’t be in school now, she shoulda done school long time’. It really got to me because I was wondering if these people knew where I was coming from. It turned out that same girl came around and asked me for help with her work.”
But Whyte, who has 26 and seven-year-old daughters and a 21-year-old son, has not been daunted by the remarks of others, as she aims to achieve success.
“I travel three days per week from home to school in Runaway Bay. I am not even looking at the cost or distance, what I’m looking at is what I’m learning and how I am building on my skill as I go along with my family members and kids as my big supporters,” she said.
“I am not afraid of failing, I am afraid of not trying. Many people are afraid to step out there, not me. I’m afraid of not trying because with failure you learn and you can go back and do better, but not trying means you gave up already,” she added.
Whyte’s oldest daughter, Prescilla Stokes, was overjoyed about her mother’s determination.
“I don’t think I can find the words to tell you how proud I am of her, honestly. She is strong, passionate about what she does, she is so caring, always there for others,” she said.
Sharing some of the dishes prepared by her mother which she enjoys, Stokes said, “Her oven jerk chicken is to die for, potato wedges, cheesecake — everything she cooks, I don’t think I have a favourite to choose from.”
Stokes also wishes that in the next five years her mother will open her restaurant.
It is Whyte’s desire to have her own business too.
“I started then COVID-19 came and I put it on pause but I am planning to revamp and start back my catering company. That’s my end goal.”