I have been out of restaurants for over 2 years now. I am sure you can imagine one of the reasons that forced me out. And no, the irony of running a blog named Line Cook Thoughts while not actively cooking on the line anymore does not escape me. But we can chat more on that later.
Over the past few years I have experimented with and found where I love to be in the food industry. A blend of culinary ops, R&D and business management has been the new place I call home. I will also say my mental and physical health are the best they have been. I eat well, get eight hours of sleep and even utilize a personal trainer!
On top of that I have weekends off. I can be bored on a Saturday night and actually make plans to see friends. When loved ones become ill I can call off work and go to see them without being reprimanded. I have enough energy to think about other things in life such as a 401k, relationships and so much more. The moments, albeit small, that I craved I now have.
But there is a place in my heart that still calls out. There is that voice in the back of my mind that creeps in, saying I do not deserve this. I was never meant for this. This lifestyle, this luxury of time and personal freedom. To actually have a corporate holiday off.
I was never meant to enjoy this. I started cooking at the age of 15 and by 22 was managing restaurants. My path was set. I was burnt out but I had worked so hard and the cost of leaving for me was too great. I was unhappy, my personal life was unraveling and my mental health was slowly falling a part. But I could not give up what I worked so hard to gain. It would take a worldwide event to knock me out.
And it did just that.
So in reflecting on days gone by and the new life I lead I tend to look back with joy of all things. Of those hard, gritty nights on Saturday when I fucked up the demi. Or when I burned the lobster bisque for New Year's Eve. When I accidentally ordered 20 cases of potatoes instead of two. And I somewhat miss them.
I still cook now. And I do work in a job that is fulfilling, hard and rewarding. It is contained to offer balance and I am forever grateful for that. But I couldn't help but send the message to my former self on what I loved, what I miss from the chaos that is restaurants. Mainly because it will not happen again. Challenges await me, but not behind the line. So I therefore share the following.
I miss the cool, crisp sip of water out of a deli container filled with ice, condensation dripping down my hand as I gulp half of it in the blistering heat of the kitchen. Particles of dust floating in it and still I drink, the urge of thirst overcoming any fear of what else could be in my water.
I miss the flow state of a dinner rush. Of working at break neck speed. Dressing salads, wiping plates and searing steaks. Changing gloves, only to have them rip and catch you up in the process. Making you get the new pair. An army of tickets, folded down the center and lined up straight on the pass. The enemy waiting to be taken down.
I miss the prep times. Overestimating the few hours I have to get my list done, only to fall behind and sprint within the last 30 minutes to make sure everything is finalized for service. Listening to music (or arguing over what to listen to) while peeling a 50 lb bag of potatoes.
I miss the cosmetic damages. The cuts and the burns and the scrapes and general uncomfortabiity that comes with kitchen work. Squeezing a cut finger as hard as possible, applying a bandage and finger cot and getting back into the work. Finding reasons to soothe the burnt part of your hand by touching cold water or the cold inside door of the walk-in fridge.
I miss the after action report. Sitting on the curb and chatting with my friends after the dinner rush. Later on as a manager walking home through the streets of Chicago late at night, cold wind blowing in my face, literally cooling me off from the night I had.
I find there are many things in life that warrant your ability to have longing or the opportunity to miss something. I have found that it is some of the toughest times in the kitchen that I look back on with fondness. It is merely our ability to remember more of the negative that makes this happen yet I still do cherish the tough memories.
For me, cooking has always been the act that makes me feel alive. Food is what I love to spend my time working on. And while my roles have shifted that passion still burns. But there is the rush, the chaos of the kitchen environment I often find myself reflecting on, sad that the time is up but also grateful for the new chapter.
There are many things I miss about restaurant work. This could have been a novel if I wanted to dig into the topic further. But for now I share a few items.
I have immense respect for restaurant workers. For those still battling it out on the line and showing the world what food can truly be. That is why I continue this work, for those in food have lessons to teach. And also for the gratitude I have after spending years in their shoes.