Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. – Mark Twain
Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent most of my free time cooking. And over the last 10 months, I’ve actually been getting paid to do so. Which is cool. I mean, I have a regular job, just like you (although, I enjoy mine a lot more than most folks do), but for now, cooking is something I do on the side, so it’s nice to have a little extra going into the savings (because I don’t have an investment portfolio, nor am I likely to win the lottery anytime soon…), but it’s never been about the money. It can’t be. Because nobody gets rich working in a kitchen. You have to do it for other reasons.
You have to love it.
You have to need it.
Because a kitchen is the worst boyfriend you will ever have. It will only call when it needs something. It will forget about you the second you are out of sight. It will never ask how you are doing, and it won’t go out of it’s way for you. The kitchen does not care if you aren’t feeling well, had a fight with a stranger on the subway, are worried you can’t pay the rent. If you want in, you have to go with what’s on offer. No substitutions. And in general, it’s a pretty good time. When it’s good, the kitchen smells right, moves fast, talks dirty, and buys the drinks.
And you better be able to keep the fuck up. Follow the rules. Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times.
And nobody will call you “Chef” until you’ve earned it. There are plenty of other, better, chefs who’ve written about newly minted cooks expecting high pay, praise, and titles before they even get their first stain on their jacket. And I agree with all of them. Sure, I went to culinary school, because I’m not 19 and I don’t have time to come up through the ranks, but I went in knowing that unless I could pay for it outright, could do it in addition to my regular (more than full-time) job, and was willing to work for free on nights and weekends for a significant length of time afterwards, it wouldn’t do a damn thing for me.
Because, unless you are willing to offer yourself simply for the opportunity to keep learning, there’s no point. Unless you can respect the fact that the kitchen offering you the chance to learn is a business, with a tight profit margin that does not have time or product or customers to waste, you will not be invited back. If you are unwilling to wash dishes, clean the walk-in, rotate inventory, do prep until your knees weep, work through the inevitable burns and cuts, and never ever ever miss a service, you aren’t ready.
Until you feel your posture/attitude change when you button the top button of your jacket, you should just. stay. home.
So why do it?
Because I get to work with some amazing chefs, who I truly respect in the kitchen, who have taught and continue to teach me, daily. Because these same people now respect me enough to solicit my opinion. Because plates come back from the front of house cleaner than clean. Because I can have some small sway in the way someone remembers a day, or event, or experience. Because I love the “A-Ha!” moment when I figure something out. Because what I cook makes people smile/makes them moan/satisfies them.
Because it takes me to places like this:
With surprises like this:
And just before service, it looks like this:
And on the way home, you and your favorite kitchen partner pull off the highway in a tiny farming town to see two (surprise) trannys with a truckload of cherries for $1 a pound. And they taste exactly like you *remember* cherries tasting. So you buy 20 pounds. And you put some up with bourbon. And a few with absinthe. And the rest becomes this:
And all is right in the world.