Professioning a Pick
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
(to Eschew the Devil I Knew, Pt. I)
I don't think I got into chefery for quite the same reasons other chefs tend to claim: I did it, because I was trying to save my relationship at the time. I'd been without work for ages by that point and we weren't living together anymore. I'd gotten a job at one of the corporate fast food joints and started earning a paycheck again, and when I was approached regarding the potential for management, I decided I should actually get serious about food. That's when I decided to become a chef. I figured it was an actual career path (one that didn't require college education, at that) and that since this wasn't the first time I'd been approached by an employer who thought I might be interested in moving up the ranks, maybe I was some kind of "good at it" when it came to working with food. And although the relationship ultimately failed, I've stuck with food ever since.
Because of those under whom I found myself working, for me the keys to true chefery were knowledge, experience, and mastery of both sweet and savory. Tasting is crucial, and so is mise en place. We did eat, don't get me wrong on that: I was introduced to so many foods, and I experimented at home with so many more almost every single night of the week. Looking back on it and ignoring all the bad parts, it plays like a continual feast stretching at least two years straight. It wants to be described as some kind of glorious but somewhere along the way I started getting tired of the questions. When I'm getting in the zone, no matter the task at hand, nothing else matters and any interruption is an annoyance at best if not a complete outrage.
When I'm in the kitchen, this is usually the underlying cause of any dislike or issue with a customer's modified ticket or some server's explanation as to why the customer is unhappy. In the moment, I simply don't care. All I want to know is what the customer wants instead; because then it can be added to the dozens of other dishes the kitchen is working on at the same time, and hopefully it will come out faster than some of the others because hopefully there's enough collective space, working equipment, common sense and overall ability preparing the food tonight and all of us are running on muscle memory.
In the precious time I had outside the kitchen, everything still seemed to revolve around food. What's your favorite dish? Where's your favorite place to eat? What's your favorite food show? Who's your favorite chef? What's your signature dish? Where have you worked? What's your favorite thing to cook?
But I was in the zone all the time, whether at home or at work; and when I'm in the zone, the answers to those questions don't matter. Small talk doesn't matter. What matters, is getting the job done. Get it done, get it done right, and move on to the next dish because know there's always going to be another fucking order. It's literally never-ending.
If not preparing food, then learning about food; teaching others about food was never really on the agenda, per se. Here I was, trying to be a chef and feeling like I'm so far behind because everyone else around me just seems to know so much. Double-time all the time because I have got to catch up!
The sentiment became, that if you really want to know, then do as I've done and look it up. Make it yourself. Get a job in the kitchen and figure it out, because I don't have time to stop.
Despite knowing that the title of chef was only a relatively relative term with a fair amount of bullshit attached, it also seemed a statement of dedication and commitment when appropriately bestowed or otherwise earned. When I decided to get serious about cooking, coupled with that idea were no notions of formal study or apprenticeship (and I still think the qualification of a culinary degree means very little next to a dearth of real-world experience), I just decided that I needed to be the best--whatever that meant--because I had to earn it.
Therefore it's never quite been about the consumer, and it's never quite been about the particular concept or building or even a singular group of people. It's not the communal nature of sharing food with others, or the love (or hate) that goes into each dish; it's not the caring for others that I've ever really cared about. I'm selfish, and I've always only wanted to cook for my own edification: Not exactly for purpose of eating, but in pursuit of knowledge, experience, and mastery. I have stayed so long in food because my goal has been to climb the ladder; to continue my research whilst having no worry of waste because people are buying or otherwise consuming the end product; and because when I've been down on my luck it's generally proven easier to get in the swing of things when I give the devil I already know another go-round.