This post has a different tone than my previous posts- no recipes, no "yummy," no sugar coating my pursuit and love of a culinary career. I have new things to share, so if you're expecting a recipe for cold cucumber soup, find it somewhere else.
Unfortunately, it has become a bad habit of mine to go weeks without writing. Maybe it's because I have been hesitant to put what I have to share on "paper." In truth, the majority of the reason I haven't written is because I've been BUSY, exhausted and just plain lazy on my days off of work. A small sliver of me hasn't wanted to share my first real foray into the food business because what I have to say isn't all positive. The reality of being a young woman in the food business is tough sometimes- here's what I have to say about it so far.
The last time I shared my experiences in the kitchen, I was working in what was basically a test kitchen; testing recipes, doing tastings, designing menus, etc. I was having a ball. I was getting a chance to assert myself as a cook in a REAL kitchen with other professional cooks. There was something new to learn every day not only from the other people in the kitchen, but from myself. Knife skills, dish composition, plating- you name it, I was getting better at it everyday. It was encouraging to say the least.
As opening week drew near, the question of staffing became a concern. We were a kitchen staff of 5 manning a restaurant with seating for 150. Things were looking grim. Doubting our skill level, the owners brought in well reputed chef with a mind to change things up. This is one thing that really gets under my skin: just because you have money does NOT mean you know how to run a restaurant. The owners of this restaurant where I work "bring as much value to a kitchen as rotten onions" (thanks, Mom). Can you imagine throwing out a staff along with a menu a week before opening? Unless you live in New York and have the resources, I'd say that's a recipe for disaster. They didn't fire us, but it was made clear that was not beyond possibility. Needless to say, the atmosphere in the kitchen was tense and negative. Nothing was good enough. I would make lobster salad, it didn't have enough mayo. I would make it again- what was I trying to do?! Choke them?! Add more mayo, idiot! When every one's job is on the line, nothing is good enough. This I could understand, but it got old really quickly.
At the last minute (a mere 5 days before opening night) we hired a new head chef, one capable, positive and a good leader. A brief wave of relief passed over me. For days I was dreading a phone call bearing news that I had been fired because of my complete lack of experience. With our new chef I felt comforted knowing I had a competent and forgiving shepherd leading me into the scary world of an opening restaurant. We had a menu. We had a crew. We had a dishwasher. We were ready to take on the crowds.
Opening night was great- we were busy but on top of things. Nothing got out of hand and we managed to make a good impression on the friends and family that showed up to support our hard work. We knew we had done well, but we knew we needed to get ready for word to get out. What we didn't realize was that word gets out fast in a small, rural community in Connecticut. The next night we did 400 covers in a space that, as I mentioned before, only seats 150 people at a time. For our neck of the woods, that's a lot. In the kitchen, it's a shitstorm of epic proportions. We didn't have the food prep to support the demand on the kitchen. We didn't have tickets telling us what orders were coming in and when they were ordered. We were failing in a BIG way. The elaborate menu we created to lure in customers ended up overwhelming our tiny kitchen and ill equipped staff. No matter how much we prepped during the day, we blew through it and then some at night.
You're thinking, the restaurant is busy, how is this a bad thing? We still only had 6 people on kitchen staff for 12-14 hour days 7 days a week. I also happen to live 45 minutes away from where I work. So my days began at 7:30 AM, on the road by 8:15, in an apron from 9-11:30 PM, home by 12:30 and asleep at 12:45. Forgive me for a moment: my feet hurt, I was hungry, I was sweaty, I was so tired, I hadn't seen my boyfriend in days. I was at my wit's end. The night I did see my boyfriend I had a total meltdown, complete with blubbering, swearing off the restaurant and renouncing my desire to go to culinary school. At that point, at that pace and for the assholes whom I was working for, it was not worth it. Not one bit. My wise boyfriend reasoned with me to wait it out, see how a normal schedule after opening week would be and see if I still wanted to give up. It was a fair suggestion. So I put on my tough girl face, slapped on some foot bandages and went back in there and stuck it out when I thought I couldn't take it anymore. I took more shit from irrational restaurant owners, I under dressed and overdressed salads, I gritted my teeth while I did lazy coworkers' prep work and I got through it.
I AM WOMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In spite of all this venting, I have to admit that I enjoy many luxuries that the typical starting garde manger cook does not. I work mostly day shifts with two days off a week (Friday and Saturday, shwing!). I work with people I enjoy spending time with and learn from every day. My boss and friend who hired me reminds me all the time, "After all this is over, you'll be such a badass." And I do feel like even more of a badass every day. Even though I feel like I've accomplished something life changing for taking on this profession and sticking with it, it's hard not to doubt myself sometimes. At the end of the day I know I absolutely do not want to spend my career behind the line in a kitchen. It's fast-paced, exciting and wonderful at times, but my passion is the food, not the bullshit that comes with operating a restaurant. Then again, you have to wade through the bullshit to get to the gold.