Three years ago Samantha Levett made the “terrifying” decision to drop out of a Masters degree and become an apprentice chef.
Ms Levett, who grew up in St Clair, was in the midst of writing her chemistry and psychology thesis when it all got too much.
“My mum said that I didn’t really seem happy,” she said.
“Whenever I was stressed or upset about uni I would go home and bake a cake or cook for my family. So I thought that was what I should do.
“It was always what made me happy.”
That was in 2014 and now she’s been named Apprentice of the Year in Commercial Cookery at TAFE NSW’s Student Excellence Awards.
It was always her passion but Ms Levett never thought she could make a career out of cooking.
“My family were really academic,” she said. “[Cooking] wasn’t really something that was seen as important.
“I was always pushed to do maths, science and English at school.
“But when I was struggling at uni, mum said, ‘If cooking makes you happy then go for it’.”
Ms Levett promptly applied for an apprentice position as a chef at The Star in Pyrmont and the rest is history.
“It was actually so terrifying [to leave uni],” she said. “But it’s probably been the best experience of my life.
“I definitely think that there’s a perception where uni is seen as the logical choice when you leave school. But I think TAFE provides an incredible learning experience.
“The thing about being afraid is that everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
Reflecting on her award, the St Marys Senior High School alumni said she never saw it coming.
“It was actually pretty amazing to win,” Ms Levett said.
“I didn’t expect it at all. I got the email saying I’d won but I didn’t apply. My teachers were so excited, they had put me up for it.
“I definitely couldn’t have reached my potential without them.”