Where do I begin.
The best kind of people in the world, workers all, salt of the earth.
No other industry puts together a more diverse group of individuals, from all corners of the world, with so many languages spoken, where the only acceptable result is perfection. The bond is formed through clarified butter, sweat and the knowing that a well executed meal is a job well done. Nothing in this world feels as good as slicing into a properly rested duck breast. You rise together, slog through the day together, fight the good fight and then, celebrate over small victories with shots of Jameson chased down with the local beer du jour, and a real team is formed. These lifers have the same stories, the same experiences, the same internal and external scars they carry around with them like tales of days gone by. Some covered by a well placed tattoo, some covered by substance abuse and avoidance. You love every minute of it, but some know there's no future in being a line cook. There are no old line cooks. Most get out before they get old. Not the lifers though.
They are many and sometimes they are dangerous.
Your day starts when you're coherent enough to make it out the door, say about 10:30 am, because if you wake up in the single digits, you didn't get enough sleep. Sure, you may be working for free until your scheduled start at 2pm, but the demands of the job require you coming in early. If you don't do it, they will surely find someone else who will. They remind you of that every day. But you're working with the finest caviar and white truffles from Alba. Does it bother you? Only if you think about it. More important things are on your mind; are the veg properly blanched, is the bordelaise sauce reduced enough? How often am I going to hear "Joshua, where is my quail?" over the expo mic, as she slams her hand on the stainless steel pass. Your boss is mean as fuck. Her cooking is flawless, effortless, she makes it look easy. It's worth all the shit. Best job in the world. You love the adrenaline, and nothing is forever, right?
You want Sweet potato foam to look like soft serve ice cream in a sage ice cream cone for 400 people? I'm your chef.
You want me to cook turkeys 30 at a time starting at 3am in the rotating deck oven for two hours, and keep filling that oven till 3pm? I live for that shit.
Your saucier called off and now you need to work service? The line is the best part of the job, let me show you how its done.
You work when everyone's at play, you're sober when everyone is drunk, you're off work while the rest of civilization is working.
The greatest feeling in the world.
You know what I'm talking about. The best drug in the world; adrenaline. It starts right after family meal, final touches on your mise en place, mounting the sauces and then the blood starts pumping. First customers walk in and the flames start jumping. You think, the earlier the better, a full house early generally makes for a smooth night. In a full restaurant you can only turn the tables one at a time. As the night goes on, there is a spring in the waiters step, the music gets pumping and you find your groove. Nothing like a Saturday night, if you can make it successfully through this, anything is possible. The dance, as it may be called, is the careful choreography between individuals dodging between the flames. Plating perfection nightly, while the sane people dine.
No one gets out in one piece.
The life expectancy of your run-of-the-mill culinary school grad is about 5 years, if they go to work in restaurants at all. Some go straight to R&D or some other hospitality industry off shoot where they never even sniff the aroma of a professional kitchen.
Some culinary grads take sous chef jobs right out of culinary school. Someone once told them that this was a great way to make a living and they were stupid enough to believe it, then they realized that their shit did stink and it was harder than it looked, so they quit. Some people graduate culinary school with an inflated sense of self. No one told them to go right to work for someone who is out of their league, think Eric Ripert. Nothing humbles an ego like working with a master of their craft.
In some respects it's the schools' fault. It is complete bullshit that grads paid $80k to go to school and are then expected to be financially stable while making minimum wage, or the same pay the person next to them makes but doesn't have the crippling debt.
Most, the smart ones anyhow, realize that the life of a line cook is not a long-term way to make a living, and suspect that they are never going to be David Chang. So they quit all together. Some go back to school, some find another way to put food on the table, but they leave with some phenomenal life skills and some great memories.
Then there are the lifers. The men and women who go to work every day and find joy in feeding others. Maybe they don't cook on the line anymore, but no one, I mean no one can produce more consistently and efficiently than the lifers. They laugh as you struggle with the steam jacket kettle that has a mind of its own. They make the repetitive look effortless as they roll spring roll after spring roll while you watch in awe.
Some lifers take the role of middle management, think Exec Sous. But there are only so many BEO meetings one can attend before the love for the industry gets sucked out of you. These lifers get the joy of being in the trenches with the team, generally with other lifers, during the big production days. They get joy out of lowering your food cost, while still putting out amazing food. They get the biggest kick over producing just enough lettuce for the five weddings they had on Saturday night. Their jollies are gotten by different means than the old days, but they take it where they can get it in this business.
The cream of the lifers get cushy Exec Chef jobs in Hawaii on private yachts. Yes, it's still hard work but you're in Hawaii motherfucker. Lighten up.
In the hospitality business, as in life, it's easy in, but not always an easy out.
Until next week,