I have long since accepted that the only folks who can really appreciate the difference between kitchen work and other careers (or even other service industry careers) is people who have worked them.
There are a number of factors at work in a professional kitchen setting that “traditional” career advice simply does not apply easily to.
“If this job isn’t working out, why don’t you just quit?”
“Why can’t you move to another part of the kitchen?”
“[Staffing problem] isn’t your concern- don’t worry about it.”
In addition, the rate of turnover in service industry jobs is historically higher. Whereas an ordinary white-collar position can expect a shelf-life of about two years on a given employee, kitchens regularly see a given position get filled again after anywhere between 6 and 18 months.
Depending on your goals in the industry, a series of short stints can either be seen as expected or career suicide- no one wants to hire someone with an admitted track-record of being a short-timer. In the kitchen, a series of two-year stints is nearly “Unicorn” level of rare and desirable.
This being said, if someone quits a position in the kitchen, they aren’t doing it randomly.ESPECIALLY if only after a few months.
In the last few months, I’ve developed a new tradition. After my therapy appointments, I wander down the street to my old cafe. There, my friend Madeline is usually on the espresso machine. She makes me my favorite coffee drink (a cafe conmiel, essentially a latte with honey and cinnamon syrup,) then I sit down to write… something.
I’m gonna get sappy for a second and tell you about my first date with my wife. We knew we wanted to go out for dinner and a movie, and were tossing around ideas for local restaurants. We settled on a decent Italian place in the area, but the conversation first went like this:
Me: “Well, there’s a bunch of places near the theater. Fridays, Applebees…” Emily: “Ugh, no. Let’s go to this place instead.” Me: “Oh thank God.”
According to Emily, that was the moment she knew we would work out in one way or another- she loved food, she loved eating good food, and wanted someone she could nerd out about it with.
Three years into being married, and that’s still one of our favorite indulgences- going to restaurants and being nerds.
I’m finally attending to my side work, and not a moment too soon. It’s starting to get a bit too real out here.
For reference, “side work” in this case doesn’t mean I just decided to start cleaning down my tables, scrubbing floors, and organizing the walk-in in the bakery. That’s an expectation of kitchen life. I use the idea of “side work” as a metaphor for self-care. The stuff that isn’t necessarily anyone’s job, but it needs to get done or things get pretty gross pretty fast.
In everyday life, “side work” is things like making dentist appointments, cleaning your house, balancing your check book… and in my case, getting myself back in front of a psychologist.
Lately, my stress levels have been a bit higher than usual. A large contract is coming the way of my bakery, and my team is central to completing it. Over the time we’ve had to prepare, there’s been delays, meetings, and higher priorities left and right. Then, in the final week we have to prepare- we don’t have enough ingredients, and won’t till the end of the week.
I’m frustrated, I’m stressed, I tried to avoid this situation happening. In the end, it’s going to be me working extra hours trying to make the deadline- and I’m more pissed about not making the deadline than I am the extra work.
Jay was a troubled kid. He was eager to please and seemed interested in the work. That’s what got my boss to hire him on to be my new assistant. He’d been a food runner and dishwasher since his teens, but never really had a cooking position. As far as baking went, “Well, sometimes I used to help my folks.”
He’d had some trouble with the law, and his living situation was not the best, but he didn’t like bringing that up at work. Jay was there to work, to learn, and to get the job done. I took him on, taught him as much as I could, and gave him all the support possible.
Within a month, I was looking for another assistant.