I wrote a little piece of flash fiction yesterday about working in a kitchen. It was not autobiographical in the strictest sense, but I took a lot of inspiration from my own experiences. I spent over twenty years working in restaurants doing every job imaginable. I started out in fast food, went on to washing dishes in casual dining and worked my way up to running my own kitchen. I have supervised small staffs in bistros, been the owners’ go to gal more than once, and even got to call my self head chef even though I never earned a culinary degree.
It is hard work, make no mistake. Even in the winter the heat in a kitchen is unbearable, and it is often not much better in the dining area unless you are talking about a really nice restaurant, or if the dining area is large enough that it is actually freezing in the winter. You deal with impatient people all day long and your presentation, even in casual dining, has to be spot on, because, of course those three seconds before people start shoving it in they want to look at a visual masterpiece.
All that said, though, it can be rewarding work. Just the fact that you are working hard and can hold your head up saying you can survive in a job that consistently rates as one of the most stressful in psychology studies (that is both front and back of house, by the way) can give you an ego boost. If you are fortunate enough to work in a trendy establishment, and I have been, you can honestly claim to be an artist. Again, that is true both in the front and back of house. Most of my time has been in the kitchen, but there is an art to mollifying people paying for the right to act like a three-year old.
You can make enemies, to be sure, working in restaurants, but you can also make lifelong friends. Even if you go years without seeing each other, running into a co-worker from restaurants past is like encountering an old war buddy. “Yeah, we survived that place,” you tell each other. You work hard, and you party harder, the stress of the job requires the latter. It lends itself to bad decision-making, but oh the fun you have, and the friendships you solidify, when you are making those bad choices. The regulars that love you, do so for years, and if you are worth even a little, as a cook or a server, you can run into one or two of them, begging you to come back to their favorite haunt. Even if they are shining you on, it still puts a smile on your face.
I am not sure if I want to go back to that work. While there is a different kind of stress in the uncertainty of my current job, there is the satisfaction of knowing I am fighting the good fight. Also, while I might be able to, I am not sure if I want to test myself in that environment again. Maybe I will not have a choice. There is every possibility I may end up making soups and sauces again. There are certainly worse fates, and worse people to be spending your evenings with.
- The Underground Gourmands (arundhatbasu.wordpress.com)
- Can I Meet The Chef Please (eatingmodern.blogspot.com)
- The new gig (a happy peon in a kitchen) (gretchenteer.wordpress.com)
- Startup makes hiring a private chef easy, affordable (bites.today.com)