The business. Restaurants...up until now FOH (front of the house) but a passion for cooking, creating and being recognized for my meager efforts has landed me in the kitchen.
Outside responsibilities have kept me from culinary school so I'm doing it the hard way...learning as I go.
Apprenticing as a prep-cook under two very accomplished Chef's while working as a line cook under yet another inspiring executive Chef and friend.
In the business, and I'm afraid fast food doesn't count-they could be making mufflers for all the artistry involved-we who work professionally making other peoples food are a clannish bunch-a tribe of sorts.
We thrive in the heat; the flames, the military precision of a "rush"...with the language of a busy professional kitchen almost musical.
Orders yelled, responses short, "Yes Chef,"...
We are tattooed, with burn marks on our forearms, and knife scars in assorted places. Many in some sort of recovery as the business can take a toll,but most waiting with held breath for the after work "wind down" being alcohol, or other substances.
Some with families, many divorced, tempers short, expectations high that we can "hold the line" and not be placed "dans la merde" or "in the weeds" forcing the flow to an interrupted standstill.
It's like having a knife fight during a hurricane in a 120 degree submarine.
(Often guests want special variations as to what the menu items should be, having zero knowledge of the hours of back spasm, heat stroke inducing labor involved in first writing a menu and then preparing the items "as they are")...sure, feel free to throw a kink in the flow, without this, or this on the side or add this....sweet Jaysus...we truly do hate you.
But that is what we do. Most of us have tried to live "out there" but we always come back to it.
For the most part we are misfits, who understand the others in the tribe, tip generously when we get to dine out (often at places we can simply afford-rarely where we work) but critical to a fault. We could always do it a little bit better.
Two jobs are common-making food for you in one place, then another for the rest of you.
We are not paid exorbitant salaries-those of us in the trenches, and ends must be met.
But it's the life.
Tickets rapid firing into the kitchen-a ballet of organized chaos; fast moves and sharp knives, 500 degree ovens, open flames, crushing criticism for mistakes, but deep respect when it's done right.
Most of us have not had the luxury of culinary school and those of us who have, started in the trenches anyway- searing 40 lbs of chicken breast, trimming the same and slicing the chicken paper thin.
Twenty pounds of homemade potato salad, quarts of dressing made from scratch, flash freezing, washing pots and pans, sharpening knives (nothing worse than being cut with a dull knife-ugly, terrible wound) cleaning grills, using industrial degreaser that scars the skin and burns like hell when it does, sprained backs, hands useless for anything more than curling around a glass at the end of the shift, legs like rubber, knees shot from 14 hours on your feet on concrete- sure order something special, we are more than happy to remove the already mixed cranberries, one by one from your cranberry chicken salad.
At almost fifty years old it takes either clinical madness or deep passion to begin this career move. Which is it? Hard to say.
But I wouldn't have it any other way...
(This quote from Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk sums it up for me)
"Remember this. The people you are trying to step on, we're everyone you depend on. We're the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve you dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you're asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life.
"We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we'll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won't. And we're just learning this fact.
"So don't fuck with us..."