Everything seemed to be in order at the end of service. Jake’s station was spotless, his knives were cared for and locked up, his dirty uniform replaced by jeans and a sweatshirt, and his prep list for tomorrow was on his clipboard. Time to unwind.
Jake was never attracted to the drug culture that some of his fellow cooks subscribed to, but he had, over the years, acquired a taste for really good wines and craft beer. He always seemed to wind up at his favorite late-night café after work to enjoy a drink or two (or sometimes more). As Jake was leaving the restaurant, his fellow cook on apps (her name was Sara) asked if she could tag along. “Sure” was his immediate response. He would always wind up mingling with cooks from other restaurants so one more from his shop would be just fine. The Café was his social outlet, his only social outlet.
While walking the five blocks to his favorite after hours establishment Jake thought to himself: “Why did Sara want to tag along? His experience was never positive when it came to relationships built on co-workers. Is this what was starting to happen?” Sara was pleasant, high energy, attractive and really competent as a cook. In the 10 minutes it took to walk to the Café he discovered that she was 27 (Jake was 31), had dropped out of college as a history major because it was just too boring, had grown up in a restaurant family so knew kitchens from the age of 10, and had been cooking again for the past three years. She loved the intensity of line work more than anything and shared Jake’s love of great wine.
In the Café, Jake was immediately welcomed by cooks from a handful of other local restaurants, all sharing stories of the night’s drama behind the line. Sara immediately fit in with her outgoing personality and mastery of the conversation subject matter. One cook turned to her and asked: “so what do you think of Jake’s art?” She had no idea what he was talking about, but quickly learned as he pointed out the three paintings of Jake’s hanging on the Café walls. “Wow, this must be Jake’s great secret, no one at PLATE knows that he paints”! The work, in her opinion was quite good and colorful depicting scenes of nature (the absence of people in the work was very noticeable). She was impressed and smiled when she looked Jake’s way.
Jake passively admitted that he had enjoyed painting, but no longer had the time. The only canvas that he had touched in the past eight years was a plate in whatever restaurant he was working. Food, after all, is the ultimate art form that appeals to every human sense.
While Sara was joking with other cooks in the bar Jake surveyed the room and made a mental note of the artistic sub-culture of kitchen workers. There were musicians, writers, other painters, a goldsmith, world traveler vagabonds, intellectual college dropouts and even a poet. He wondered, as he did most nights, why these folks wound up in the kitchen and if the trade tends to attract frustrated artists.
Everyone in the room shared a passion for quiet self-expression. In a mix of their own kind, these culinary pirates were extremely outgoing and full of self-confidence. In the presence of people from outside this sub-culture, they would shut down and become the social introverts that seemed to have no interest in interaction. These folks were strange for sure.
Jake was on his third glass of David Bruce Pinot Noir (every time he turned around someone had bought him another) and was now carrying on a pleasant discussion with Sara (drinking Sangiovese) about the complexities of social media as an art form. Jake had put aside the polenta issue for the time being, but it would no doubt return to his conscious mind in the morning. Tomorrow was another day, busier than Friday and full of challenges just as unique as the ones he experienced today. He made a mental note to go home soon and get a good night’s sleep. He would once again make every attempt to exercise in the morning and build up his stamina for a night on the line.
In between conversations with Sara and his friends Jake wondered if he could make a go of a real relationship with her. He instantly liked Sara but feared the consequences of a relationship at work. Maybe he was just destined to be single like most of his colleagues. Relationships and the job of line cook seemed to be something that was unrealistic.
Two more glasses of wine and Jake hailed a cab for Sara and paid the driver to get her home safe. He walked the additional seven blocks to his apartment and crashed at around 3 a.m. The 11 a.m. alarm came as a shock. Jake reached for another cigarette, clicked a K-cup in his Keurig coffee maker, stared at Robin Meade on HLN News and realized that exercise was again out of the question. First things first – he needed to shower, shave and get to work by 12:30 to get ready for the Saturday rush. The cycle of life for a line cook continues.
Thanks for reading this mini series on the life of a line cook. I would assume that many who took the time to read these passages have experienced the life cycle of a line cook first hand. To you, I tip my hat. Line cooks are the backbone of the kitchen, but they oftentimes live a life that is consumed by the craft and the energy it takes to make it all work. For those who read the series and have not had the pleasure of working in a professional kitchen I hope that you have a better understanding of what it takes to present that plate of beautiful, well-prepared, flavorful food in your local restaurant.
My intent is to use this theme (including Jake) as the basis for my next book – publishing date to be determined. ☺ In the meantime, you may find my first piece of partial fiction to be amusing. In the Shadow of Cooks is available through amazon.com. A nice gift for a food friend this Christmas.