It’s day 14 of a Covid-19 voluntary lockdown. Aside from a trip to the grocery store and an isolated morning walk now and again, I have been a prisoner of my home. The same is true for my family in different parts of the Northeast. We communicate daily either by text or FaceTime – once per week via Zoom Meeting. The rest of the time is spent finding things to fill in the gaps. All of my consulting client work is on hold since they are closed and also on lockdown. It is starting to sink in – this is going to be a long road – hang on.
I stare out the front window on occasion and watch the sporadic cars go by on a once fairly busy road through town. I wonder – “Where are they going?” Do these drivers have a destination, are they healthcare essential workers, police on the way to a shift, firefighters, grocery store employees, pharmacists, government officials, or are they simply claustrophobic residents driving around town just to see something different? What are they missing most, where would they be today if not required to shelter in place? My how the world has changed over these past two weeks. How long will this last – will we return to normalcy or is this what we can expect for a season or more?
I miss the kitchen. I haven’t worked there in some time, but the four decades that I did have burned lasting memories into my subconscious. I remember the routine – I relish it now. I remember the crazy, dedicated, passionate people – I miss them always. I remember the organized chaos, the adrenaline, the stress, the uncertainty, the dinner rush, and the arguments with vendors – I miss all of that too.
The sounds of a morning kitchen coming to life – the buzz of compressors, the clank and whir of the exhaust fans, the driving staccato of knives hitting cutting boards, the sizzle of steaks on a char-grill, and the sound of fish searing in a sauté pan – these are sounds that stimulate all of the senses at once. I miss the bark of the expeditor, the demands of the service staff, the rough and tumble language of the line cooks, the sound of an occasional wine glass hitting the quarry tile floor and smashing into hundreds of pieces, and I even miss the ticking of the POS printer as order, after order adds to the anxiety of the cooks. What I truly miss is the smells of the kitchen: the smell of fresh brewed coffee, a veal stock simmering in the prep kitchen, bacon pulled from the oven, fresh baked artisan bread, the intoxicating aroma of steaks on a grill, and the constant background smell of onions and garlic – this can’t be replaced.
It’s funny how the intensity of the kitchen would allow every cook to forget, at least temporarily, all of the outside life challenges that they face. The kitchen was (is) a safe zone from life’s problems. At least when you are in the heat of it, you are able to concentrate on what is in front of you – this is comforting, and even with the pace of the kitchen, it feels safe.
Only those who live it will understand what I say. Only those individuals who find that the people of the kitchen are brothers and sisters will know that this place of “work” is really a safe place for them, a place where they find purpose, find like-minded individuals, and find the strength that is sometimes hidden behind those life challenges faced otherwise. This is where cooks and chefs belong and they know it. This is their home away from home, a place filled with craziness and confidence, a place where they can be comfortable in their own skin and proud of what they are able to do. I miss this.
Staring out the window – I wonder what other cooks and chefs across the country are doing right now. Without the pressure of absurd timelines, without the need to perform magic on a grill, in a pan, or plating on the line; and without the demands of a full dining room – what are these cooks and chefs doing right now?
The missing paycheck is looking over their shoulders, the empty refrigerator and pantry is gnawing at their conscience, and the uncertainty of tomorrow is very frightening – but, what they are likely most concerned with is the separation of team and missing a kitchen space that can no longer be their safe haven. I look out the window and wonder.
My time in the kitchen as a chef is long gone although my work continues as an active consultant, but when my business slows to a halt I turn my thoughts to cooks and chefs who depend on those kitchens to make them complete.
We all feel that this will end, we don’t know when, but we bide our time by thinking about a return to life as we knew it, life in our kitchen safe havens. If only we had an understanding of when. Looking out the window can be depressing, but hope springs eternal as they say, and that feeling that it will end and we will return keeps us going. When I see those cars driving by I wonder how many are filled with cooks and chefs coasting through town and waiting for the day to come when they can walk through those kitchen doors and hear, see, smell, touch and taste the life that they relish once again.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
The Day Will Come – Keep the Faith
Harvest America Ventures, LLC