my weird year
this year’s most recurring theme on the peach has to be my confusion with my personal trajectory. i had very different ideas for myself one year ago than i do now. for starters, i was done with professional cooking. i’d set new years eve as my final day ever behind the stoves, and then went about student life and all the crap that goes with it. three days into january i had accepted a part time job cooking asian street food. after all, it made the most sense financially to get paid as much as possible while hitting the books. the first few months of my new journey were spent going through the first two stages of grief: a bit of denial, and plenty of anger.
i felt angry about the way i was treated as i left the old job - my work was instantly subject to a different kind of scrutiny once i had given 6 weeks notice. if i made a mistake, it wasn’t a human one, it was the failings of a burnt out line cook that simply didn’t care to do things right. perception is everything, and i suppose it’s natural to push away something that either appears poisonous, or doesn’t want to be a part of your team any longer. it’s an emotional thing to work in a kitchen, even more so to run one. to leave one can be the most emotional thing, and feelings are often hurt. mine were hurt, definitely, and i probably hurt theirs. over the course of a year i had transitioned from a knowledge hungry and enthusiastic line cook, to an embittered and spiteful one. when i started to be treated like one, it exasperated an already substantial problem. i should have quit the day i gave 6 weeks notice, or just toughed it out. it probably would have been fine either way.
working in a casual place while going to school was probably a bad idea. it kept me anchored to an industry that i was dying to escape. if you can believe it to be true, i was, as a line cook, hooked on the money. more believably, i was hooked on the work. the most important thing about this time was that i was working with people who cared about people more than about food. that isn’t to say that food didn’t count, but it wasn’t everything, and the team was well bonded when i walked in, and remains that way now that i’m long gone. atmosphere contributes to the product, as i had always suspected. i also became painfully aware that things aren’t always better somewhere else, but just different, and that at certain stages in life, it takes a very specific kind of different to be just right. when i started in victoria, the restaurant i worked in was perfect for me. when i was tired and sad, the casual asian place was ideal. i did well in school and did enough to get by at work, and by may i was on my way back to vancouver.
the plan was to get into sfu and plug away at a communications degree. i had been accepted, but in order to enter in a comfortable way, i told myself that i should make a little bit of money before jumping headlong into a four year program. it made sense then, that i try my hand at cooking in hotels. i knew only what i had heard according to kitchen lore: the cooks in hotels are highly paid and under worked, the exact formula i was looking for. given my mental state, i thought that i could deal with the shortcomings of institutional cooking. i endured a foolishly long interview/hiring process only to discover that, even as a wounded and hate filled cook, that i cared too much about the craft to use it in a way that went against my personal constitution. i’ve written at length about the specifics, but it was approximately here that i knew that i wasn’t all the way finished with cooking properly. i quit, for the first time in my life, without having a plan for afterwards.
craigslist is a mixed bag of bullshit cook jobs, but it is the way i usually find my way into a good job. word of mouth is good too, but i barely knew anyone in the city and was being really passive about my search. this passivity manifested in lethargy and a general uselessness that probably didn’t do much in the way of impressing my girlfriend. that was the lowest of the lows or the peak of the shit heap, depending on how you look at it. and then i found an ad from my current employer, so i sent a resume in and very quickly found myself having a chat with the executive chef of the company, as well as one of the chefs de cuisine. interviews are a funny thing; it’s usually two way sales pitch with each side explaining their own virtues and desires. i did little to oversell myself and tried to be both candid and honest about my goals. i said i would choose writer over chef, any day of the week, and that a life in the industry was not my ultimate goal. i thought i presented myself as a written off amc pacer, but apparently they saw something of worth that just needed a bit of help to get back on the right path. i did some work in a couple of the kitchen, and ultimately had the choice of where i would work. i took the job that did the least to disrupt the life i was hoping to have; full time days in a small restaurant with a small staff of nice and talented people. it was the smartest thing that i could have done, and perhaps the most important decision i have made in my cooking career. it didn’t feel like it at the time, but it was.
i wasn’t hoping for easy, i just knew that i couldn’t handle crazy. the night shift is home to the latter in most kitchens, and if i had signed up for it right away, i’d be getting ready for my second semester at sfu. no question. i did get a taste of the crazy though, but more importantly, i found that there are people out there that cope with it the same way i do. a dinner rush was challenging and pressured, but calm and organized. i kept expecting something to crack, but it never did. this was encouraging. i had given up on the possibility of this kind of environment coexisting with good food, yet there it was.
by the end of the first month i was postponing my education indefinitely, deciding instead to stay put and see what happens. after spending the first part of the year twirling about in a state of confused panic, i felt it would be better just to stay grounded and assess the situation from a sturdy place. then it all started to come back. the bitterness loosened its grip on me, and i quickly found myself approaching the job with passion as opposed to reluctance. opportunities for creativity were presenting themselves on a regular basis, something i hadn’t been faced with in years, so i jumped on it. things were going well. really well. and it was just when i was planning on telling the powers that be that i’d be interested in something more than a line cooking job that they approached me. there wasn’t any discussion of where, and the when was pretty vague. two months later, things became pretty clear.
a chat with the bosses in late november resulted in one of those “impossible to refuse” offers; a sous chef job at the largest restaurant in the company. i had been over this situation in my mind dozens of times in my career, but the actual experience was much less celebratory and more solemn than i had imagined. i knew, immediately, that what was coming was going to be much harder than being a line cook. i also knew that i was ready to take it on, so i did, and i am.
with one full month of the job behind me, i’ve already experienced the restaurant at its busiest and craziest. there have been 7 and 8 day stretches, complete with 14 hour days, and now i’m on the last day of a 5 day mini vacation. it all feels so unlikely, but i’ve come to expect that from life. the opportunity at hand is so good that i don’t feel wistful towards the path i am now leaving behind.
it has been a weird, but good, year.