Monday, August 15, 2011

Cleaning Out the Fridge: Out With the Old, In With the New

As my One-Year-in-New-Haven anniversary approaches I find myself comparing my experiences over the past year to the goals I had in mind for myself professionally (hence the "cleaning out the fridge" metaphor).  When I moved here I was bright-eyed and hopeful, determined to get a job in a kitchen and learn all there is to know about cooking.  Then within a year I would be going to Culinary school somewhere for 18 months, then off into the wide world of food writing.  It makes me to smile to think how sure I was of my path and my timeline.  Not that I'm laughing at myself, but happy that my headstrong nature has brought me to the understanding I have today.  No one could change my mind about wanting to be a chef/food writer, taking the tough and roundabout way to my dream job.  I'm glad they didn't.  If I hadn't had all the experiences of this past year, I wouldn't have the slightest clue what it is I wanted or where I was going in life.  As if many 23 year olds do!  In short, I think looking back is a very important part of moving forward.  Let's just say I'm ready for a new beginning.

At the start of my time in New Haven, after I settled in sufficiently, I started my job search.  I can sum that process up in a word: "cute."  "Here comes this girly-looking blond with the strong belief that she should get hired working in a professional kitchen, without any real experience and still get paid."  That probably what most the people thought when I applied to work in their restaurant.  I must have given a few people the laughs they needed.  I was totally clueless as to how hard it is to get any chef to want you in their kitchen, especially reputable chefs running New Haven culinary institutions.  Eventually after several chefs promised me a chance then never called again, I realized I would have to aim a little lower.  So I took a job as a hostess in a nice restaurant, with the hope that they would eventually help with my kitchen aspirations.  After about 5 months of long days, getting roped into jobs I didn't apply for (food runner) and impatience, I finally bugged the Chef enough to let me shadow or "stagiare" in the kitchen.  I learned a lot of simple things about the kitchen- the work ethic, what it means to be at the bottom of the ladder, etc.  I also fell love with the intensity of a night in the kitchen; prep, the mad rush and the sigh of relief/accomplishment after it was all over.  It was FUN.  After a few weeks "stag-ing" (stah-zhing) I knew it was time to move forward and do this kitchen thing full time.

Fortunately enough, an ex co-worker had moved on as well and offered me an opportunity in an opening restaurant as a REAL LIVE COOK!  It was like everything I had worked though- the crappy hostess job, running food- had paid off and the real deal was finally at my fingertips.  This brings us to the job around which my last few posts are centered.  What a ride.  First, getting paid for practically playing with food for a living to grueling hours and countless frustrations.  Then, the ultimate setback.  Last week I lost my job.  There are the obvious reasons for being upset, but the thing that really disappointed me was I had toughed it out through all the crap only to get let go.  I'm sure it was obvious from my last post that I wasn't very happy there, but I kept on because I knew I was a part of a team that needed me.  We were such a small kitchen that no one could afford to back down because it would affect us all.  It's not like New York where you lose an employee and you have someone in their place in an hour.  Finding a good fit was tough and I couldn't let the rest of the kitchen down just because I had had enough.  Even when we finally found some guys to help take the load off, I didn't quit.  It seems I didn't have to.  From a business perspective, cheaper labor is better and I was the more expensive option.  It is very disappointing when you realize the people you respect don't have respect for you.  At first I was embarrassed and really let down, thinking that maybe I wasn't on the right track after all.  Maybe this dream I had been working toward for almost a year wasn't meant to be.  Then I realized that it wasn't the dream that was wrong, it was the direction I was taking to get there.
I understand now after looking back over my hard-headed path toward pursuing my love of food and writing that I love to cook, but doing so in a professional kitchen is not the way to express it.  For me, at least.  If the past gives us insight to our future, it's telling me to be a little easier on myself, do what I love, which is cook and write, and to do so at home for the people I love :)

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