I received an email. Of a young pastry chef – L. – who was feeling like she didn’t belong to kitchens. We emailed back and forth. To me, there is nothing more magical than getting to do what I blindly love, and couldn’t even dream of a better place to be than in a too-hot, too-fast, too-stressful kitchen.
But it’s only fair to also talk about the other side.
When a daily job relies on boundary-less passion this much, the fine thread that keeps us going, that stretches far beyond strength we didn’t even know we had, can break.
Yes, we’ve all – one day – lost focus. And this is what I told L.: it’s ok. Because deep-inside, you can’t help but have this unreal lovestruck feeling hitting you every morning as you enter the kitchen.
I didn’t write this with the intention to discourage anyone or to bash any restaurant I’ve been lucky enough to work at (in fact, it’s all been just a dream; and if you don’t feel like it is, then maybe, your restaurant is not the one for you, it won’t mean you don’t belong to kitchens, not just to this one); but more as an encouragement. From me to you: shit happens, more often than not. And yet, I can still see you smile when you think you’re not.
Also, please excuse my French – ahem – naughty words. Just consider it a warm-up to the world you’ll soon be breathing.
At times, you’ll wonder why the fuck you’re doing this.
It will be a morning.
You’re setting up your section. Just like any other day. You slept for three hours. Just like any other day. You go in the veg/dairy/you-name-it-fridge and it’s world war seven in there. Just like any other day. You can’t overlook anything. Call it perfectionism, OCD, or care. And really, you don’t have the time. You never have the time, but you make it. Fridge is spotless again. Your never-ending mise-en-place list gets longer. Just like any other day. You have to call every supplier for second deliveries, as a d*ck put through the orders the night before. Just like any other day. Your chef casually rolls in. Just like any other day.
Except it’s not any other day.
Somehow you can’t take it anymore. You will cry. You will swear. You will become bitter.
And you will hate it.
For a second.
Because then, when the check machine starts its merry-go-round, you’re trapped. Willingly or not, desserts are gonna have to leave this pass.
And yes, some merry-go-rounds are scarier, harder, faster than others, but close your eyes and hold tight.
Sometimes, you will feel like it’s unfair. How you’re the first one in and the last out. And no-one seems to give a damn. How you’re the only one to clean the oven or the dry stores. Or worst, doing the stocktake or HACCP.
And really, you can take anything. The fights, the bollockings, the one-too-many joke.
But injustice? No.
And really, you have no choice but keep it quiet. Some things will never be different.
All the time, you will be tired. In fact, you don’t even want to do the maths. But I’ll do it for you.
You wake up at five thirty. Or at least, the first of your many alarms will go off.
You’re at the restaurant by seven. Get changed. Ironed jacket, ironed apron. Need I mention the trousers? One torchon hanging from your hips and another one neatly folded behind your back.
At ten past seven, you’re in the kitchen. A quick look at your mise-en-place list. First delivery comes in and disappears in an army of plastic crates hidden in the fridge. Coffee gets made. And also seems to disappear in a storm.
There is the prep. And the problems. Freezer stopped working. Or perhaps it’s the fridge, or the mixer. Five trays of bread-rolls got burnt. The dairy hasn’t arrived yet and it’s ten. Shit happens. More often than not.
Service happens too. It wakes you up. Makes you feel alive. Makes you connect as a team. As a family. Kitchen is cleaned down. Ready for another service.
You send the last desserts. It’s already half-past midnight.
Hot soapy water, more paper roll than you should use. Sanitiser. Then the floor. You scrub, you squeegee, you mop, you dry. Your turn the lights off. Together.
You get changed. Except this time, forget the iron. Jeans need washing and that t-shirt is more than just wrinkled.
You’re home by late one if you’re lucky. More two.
You stick whites in the machine. Laundry powder. Softener. 60°C. You shower and fall asleep with wet hair. It’s two thirty and your alarm goes off in three hours.
Have a good night.
At least, you have days off to look forward to. Except, you can forget about those too. Someone calls in sick. Someone walks out. Someone is on holidays. Someone, you, need to wake up.
Once a month, you’ll get paid. Don’t make a mistake. No, don’t. Never calculate your hourly wage. Under legal. Not that you care really. Because sooner or later you’ll find the answer to the question that’s been haunting you all day.
Why the fuck are you doing this? You can’t stay away. You learn. You grow up. Perhaps too fast. You love what you do.
I tend to sugar-coat almonds. Not words. You will feel broken. Once in a while. Kitchens are raw. Concentrates of life lessons.
Of course, there is this side. There will always be this side.
But just like there is a hidden world behind puddles, there is also one behind stainless steel. And it’s wonderful, and addictive, and you’ll never get enough of it.