The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (sometimes).
Life is not very balanced is it? Is it just being 27 and not quite figuring it out yet, or maybe it’s just that hard sometimes to get back on your feet after you’ve been laid off. Yesterday I was slicing Coppa. 700 slices into it and I wasn’t even bored. I’ve heard horror stories of a roomful of potatoes… maybe that guy meant a bucket and a lot os exageration. Today as I was peeling salsify I though would get bored of this if given a bucket plus to peel? No…I used to really like cleaning calamari. What would take 3 hours the first time was 1 hour next time. Same with pizza dough. It was at a bar downtown. It was transitioning from a nightclub, into a restaurant. In the day a full French/ Mediterranean restaurant and at night transforming into a loud dance club. 2 months into it bye bye chef–so his sous became the head honcho and I became her part-time left arm (you catch this joke?). Oh yeah, I worked the bar shift after my days at the museum. So that meant loads of apps and bar items, like fries.
Days were spent working at a museum and at night I ran outta work to become a cocktail waitress. I was stable enough to give up the cocktail shift, if the new chef would give the non culinary grad a chance. She did–and this would my novice first start. I learned a couple of things; what a walk in was (know i know…), bain–marie , a hotel pan, a sheet pan, how to pull pizza dough, how to clean calamari, how to clean up the kitchen, how to toss in a bowl with just a flick of the arm.
Some bad some good.
Well balance…with the good comes the bad. The good and the bad and of course the ugly… the sharp knife–the bad cut–and the horrible scar, the bottom of the barrel and rising to the top through the muck in the middle. Satisfaction… am I ever going to see it?
These past couple of months, I have been fortunate to have met some interesting people along the way. Usually they have given up something to be in the kitchen. Especially the ones that decided to pursue cooking. Stories include but are not limited to; one person graduating from Cornell and who steered away from his major, the other person was an engineer, another Univ. of Boulder Grad turned Architect, people with their M.A’s, MfA’s PhD”s, painters, sculpters, an ex hotel manager, a luxury goods and retail manager, one guy even refused the financial help of his wealthy family ( I would try to negotiate with the rents‘ ). All these individuals now work in the kitchen as staff or Chef or Owner.
I didn’t give up much I just got laid off (hope that didn’t sound bitter), and of course I’m not bitter. A pastry cook relayed an experience to me of a time when she decided 10 years after she graduating from college that she wanted to give up her lucrative career to attend baking school. It was so nice to see her lift her head up high and say,”You know when you wake up everyday and are happy to be doing what your doing it’s not so bad…” Doesn’t that sound so cliche? I mean it is but, it’s a common anthem for people like her. She did also tell me that if she knew what was to come that she would not have paid all that money to culinary school. See with good the bad.
Two chefs that I have worked with really helped me gain the confidence to be thrown in a kitchen, my mentors. I told them this and one guy replied, “Well I wish I would have steered you away from that path”. I think he meant it jokingly. This same Chef told me a story about how when he was first apprenticing, his chef had decided that from out of nowhere he was the victim–so with a stabbing point of a finger and the brutal image of and red stained bucket, the whole tub of tomato sauce was poured all over him, in the walk-in. I still laugh when I think of this story.
See, thats the great thing about this all. I love hearing some of these stories of what people have gone through for cooking. One of my favorite pictorials and spreads in a magazine was the Gourmet magazine PARIS volume. An Argentinian woman began cooking at 30 and has gained world wide recognition for her food. She states that she stayed in Paris because she fell in love with a boy. How charming. I like hearing stories about how food captures a bit or a whole lot of somebody’s heart.
I knew someone who connected the warm and amazing food of their childhood, and associating that with some of the greatest moments of their life. Comparing the fresh pasta that their mother made or recalling what East Coast pizza tastes like. I know many people will always feel that it was their “mothers” something that was so good (don’t laugh), I mean I’ve heard people say “My mom made the best this…” or that. And, it’s true. My mom made the best eggrolls, and noodle soups HANDS DOWN!!
Another Chef told me a great story of persistency and about his first restaurant gig. At 30 he discovered that he wanted to cook. He learned to cook because “I missed my mom’s cooking and I had to cook for myself”. He had been a regular at the restaurant for years but decided that that wasn’t enough. He bugged a particular chef who would later become his mentor about working in the kitchen. “Absolutely not” or “Are you sure?” his mentor would say. Pointless to mention but to make for better writing, persistency worked out for him–4 months of it. One day he opens up the daily paper and “Oh Look” that same restaurant was calling for kitchen help. So the chef gave him his chance and he worked his way up, and now he owns one of my favorite places here in the city.
My parents talked me out of going to a trade school for cooking, so I decided that Art History was my best bet. I still use my college degree, when I talk about art; surrealism to post modernists. The people that i’ve met have really helped me realize that you don’t always have to go to culinary school. This idea was a great factor to me to never dive into cooking. But this time I was persistent.
Food connects me when I am away from my mother and my father. When this happens I like to explore the Vietnamese cuisine around town, but as always, nothing compares to mamma’s clean good cookin’.