Suffering in the food world is worn as a badge of honor by many. I think most are taught that the industry is one that leads to pain and hardship in return for some grand reward or accomplishment over time. The idea that pain and endurance of poor lifestyle is as entwined as the passion for food is something that I have come to recognize as a problem with the industry, specifically restaurant culture. For so long the norm has been for people to endure poor working conditions, low wages and a lack of a healthy existence outside of work. Is this what you started cooking for?
I examine the why a lot. Why do I enjoy cooking? Why did I go to culinary school? What drove me to restaurants? What drove me out of restaurants? Many will have a quick remark as to why this point is unimportant and a form of weakness. Others will share that this is the way the industry has always been, filled with tough realities and very hard conditions of work. But what I have found is that many people like myself entered the industry with a love and respect for the craft. We entered willing to put in the work, to suffer the pain of the kitchen and to fight daily to put good food in the window in hopes of being recognized for the sacrifice and hard work.
The pandemic shifted my mindset into being more self-aware and honestly more selfish for my well being. Pre-pandemic I was willing to do the 80 hour work weeks. Hell, if I got a week that didn’t require 6 days or required less than 65 hours I was pumped. I was willing to miss out on family functions: birthdays, holidays, get-togethers. I was willing to follow without question, entrusting the person leading me. But not anymore.
If you have followed me or the brand for some time this is not a new message. And honestly many of you may have even more arduous experiences than me. But what I aim to do is to keep this conversation moving forward. My goal is to make it ok to realize that some are not happy in that lifestyle and that there is no shame in needing a break. Actually, there is no shame in wanting a solid work schedule with good pay and time away to spend time how you see fit.
I got into cooking because I loved food. It was enjoyable. It wasn’t a task, it wasn’t a job. It was my hobby, one of the few things I feel I am really good at. I wanted to own a restaurant since I was 15. I had dreams of being known as one of the best Chefs in the world, running one of the most acclaimed restaurants to have ever existed. I realized over the years that this is probably one of the furthest wants I have now.
Reaching to be the best is admirable. I respect it. I want to be the best at something. There is an idea that we are all the best at being ourselves, so therefore it is just a matter of funneling our own niche talent into something great that expresses who we are. For Lebron James it’s basketball and for Grant Achatz it is highly involved and precise fine dining experiences. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be great. Who wants to be average? But I wonder and think about at what cost am I willing to go to seek someone else telling me I am good.
I got into food because I loved to feed people. It is that simple. I loved feeding someone a double cheeseburger working at Wendy’s just as much as I loved using my JB Prince tweezers to lay nasturtium down on salmon tartare to be sent out as part of a tasting. For me it is that last part, feeding people, that drives me. It’s why I like media. I get to “feed” the minds of those who partake in this brand. Pushing for the best was turning me into a hostile, bitter person. My decisions were based on chasing after someone else’s validation.
And what is the best in cooking? A beautifully plated dish of uni is another person’s nightmare. We are in a subjective field. We do not have standards across what is the best such as sports or other fields of creativity. Some see a diner as the best: great food at a great price. Some see Taco Bell as the best: a cult-like community craving after the next big Dorito taco launch. And some see Eleven Madison Park as the best: a temple of food that borderlines on the supernatural in regards to talent.
The pressure of trying to be the best based on what one sector of the industry was supposed to tell me made me unhappy. I no longer loved "the grind". I wanted food that was more approachable. Why did every plate need to cause so much stress when going out the window? Was the chive flower really needed in regards to a garnish? Will they even notice the difference if the carrots I cut were a little too big? For me, I was losing what I had held dear. I was losing the passion to feed others.
My career switch out of fine dining led me to lead restaurants. I was good at it and served food with high standards in a great environment. But the food was approachable. You can have high standards in every job in the industry. And I want to put my best self into everything I do. When the pandemic hit I left restaurants entirely and now work in other sectors of the industry.
I love restaurants. I believe everyone in food should work in a restaurant if they ever get the opportunity. You learn valuable skills and are able to make great relationships and create an amazing work ethic. But for me, restaurants did not meet the goal of feeding people the way I wanted. That plus the pressure and the unhealthy lifestyle made me reconsider.
I want food to be enjoyable. When I cook for people I want to be focused yet prideful. I do not want anxiety tearing down my confidence, making me question every move. I do not want to worry if the tweezered microgreens are sitting just right. I want to make or help develop solid meals that the everyday person can eat. I want to help change our discussions on what we should eat as a society. And I want to manage in the business of food and continue to learn all of the ways food makes it onto everyone’s plate.
I encourage everyone to set goals and follow them. I also encourage us all to have the humility to reset our goals if needed. What I have found is that leaning into what feels right and not what others think is the way has led to happiness and a healthy lifestyle. My time at restaurants caused anxiety at the thought of food, whereas now feel motivation and joy. Where before cooking meant no time for myself, I now have the time to live life on my terms. And where before I dreaded the idea of progress due to the eternal grind of being behind a stove, I now embrace and hope for the most progress in order to reach goals and affect change in the way I want.
Know your why in food. Take time to listen to what makes you happy. When you find it, push after it without hesitation. The most terrifying idea for me is the cook who never tried a new path their whole career based on the one fact that they may be judged. I do not play in that game anymore. I love food, I love creating media around restaurants and I love food management and recipe development. What do you love? Why do you tie the apron or put on the toque? Find your why and do not look back.