You walk through those kitchen doors one more time, straighten your white coat, roll up the sleeves and tie on a starched white apron. A quick adjust on that skull cap, wash your hands, and slide a cutting board in place. Your knives are always sharp, but you run the blades down a steel just the same, sanitize the edge and line up your station for another day of work. You address everything like a surgeon ready for the operating table knowing that all items have a place, and everything must be in its place. This is how a professional begins, this is how you were trained, this is how you pay respect to the profession that you have chosen.
Sure, there are cooks who have not been given the opportunity to learn the proper way to work, the established steps that define proper cooking technique, or know the history behind the job and the foods that you are about to prepare – but you do. You feel fortunate, even though not every aspect of the job is glamorous or even exciting; you know that everything is important in the long run. Now it’s time to get to work.
Some people just don’t know. You shake off those comments from last night’s meeting with a few friends outside of the restaurant business, friends who shared those years in high school or college: an engineer, a forever student finishing medical school, an accountant, and a teacher. It was that biting comment, the condescending one that portrayed “pity” on you for not pursing a “real career”. The arrogance, the tasteless jokes, the lack of understanding about what a cook or a chef does.
“When are you going to get a real job, one with a promising future?”
How dare they demean the career that you have chosen. It’s the same misunderstanding that is evident in how your parents still shake their heads and wonder why you are wasting your time. It really starts to wear on you. At times you are hurt and other times angry as hell. Screw them! But then there are those moments when you wonder if they are right. It’s hard to focus and get started on the mountain of work in front of you. You try to shake it off, but the feeling keeps eating away at your psyche. You set down your knives, wash your hands again, grab a cup of coffee and knock on the chef’s office door.
“Chef, can I talk with you for a moment?”
The chef, a man you respect, a person in his late forties who has a long history of working in some spectacular restaurants, a person who seems to have it together – removes his glasses, sets them on the desk and says:
“Have a seat, what’s up?”
You close the door, settle into a chair, take off your hat and sigh.
“Chef, what am I doing here?”
You proceed to tell him the whole story. Your stress, questioning your decision to become a cook, wonder as to how long it will take to reach the position that he holds, lack of support and understanding from your friends and family, and sudden lack of confidence as a result. The chef listens intently, nods on occasion, takes a sip of his coffee and clears his throat. After a long minute he looks me in the eye and begins:
“Let me tell you a few things that I think are important. What you are feeling right now is real and how you sift through those feelings will determine where you go from here and how you will view your personal value.
Every hard-working person has a moment of doubt. They doubt their abilities, their choices, and their direction. Like most people I know – they want to make a difference. It is part of the grand design, that part that questions: ‘why am I here?’ I had that moment a long time ago, and there are still occasions when I look in a mirror and re-address those concerns.
Let me tell you this: cooking is one of the noblest professions on the planet. It allows the cook to satisfy one of the most basic needs – hunger, but at the same time it is one of the most significant expressions of caring and sharing that any person can offer. Cooking is a line of communication that opens your heart and soul to others, a chance to share in the culture and traditions that are part of your background, and a way to say – here is a part of me. Cooking is important and cooks are essential to society. Beyond this, a professional cook is a highly intelligent ambassador of a profession that requires an understanding of history, psychology, math, science, and an appreciation for the human spirit. There are few other professions that are so comprehensive. As an art form, cooking appeals to every human sense: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste – what other art form can boast this?
For those who falsely label what you do as less than significant – invite them to join you in our kitchen for a day. Have them tie on an apron and just watch the motion, accuracy, intensity, passion, and art and have them feel the heat, the sore muscles, and the impending danger around every corner. Make sure that they watch the poetry of motion on the line during service; the orchestration by the expeditor, the chain of command that requires a ‘yes chef’ response, and the meticulous detail as each cook assembles a dish with the finesse of a promising painter. I guarantee that their dialogue will change – they simply do not understand the heart and soul of the cook, the ‘all-in’ mentality that is required of every person who knows that this profession has chosen them.
I want you to think about this. You have it all – the desire, the passion, the skill, and the commitment to make a difference – one plate at a time and don’t ever let anyone take that away from you. Question what you do – it is natural and important, but know that cooking is a joy, a gift, and a calling. You have it.”
I lifted my head, smiled, adjusted my hat, shook the chef’s hand, and said: “thank you.” Time to get back to work in the kitchen – the place where I am meant to be.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
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