There is a strain of sub-culture that is common to almost every physical field of work- masochism and martyrdom.
When I was an EMT, it was common to hear the older guys compare stories of calls they’d been on- heroic things they’d done, crazy stuff they’ve seen, and so on. Even more common were stories of injuries.
“… shredded the tendons in this elbow.”
“… ripped apart both knees.”
“… my back sounded like popcorn.”
And so on- folks comparing and bragging about “cutting their teeth”, “taking their lumps.” Physical proof of their toughness, and that they’d been there, done that.
Let’s face it- the culinary world has always had its arms open to the freaks, misfits, rebels, and weirdos. If you’ve got passion, it doesn’t matter if it’s a healthy love or a full-blown psychosis- just point it at the food, and try not to kill anyone.
These were the rockstars of my little world. They were famous. They did what they loved, and screw the naysayers.
They were misfits and rebels, like me.
Not just shine. I wanted to wear it like a badge.
I wanted to transform it into a tank, and smash through everything and everyone that made me feel worthless before.
I wanted to rub it in the face of the whole world and yell, “SEE THIS?! YOU SEE THIS S**T?! THIS IS WHO I AM, MOTHERF***ERS, SO BITE ME!”
A rockstar lifestyle, with gourmet food.
All part of the life, I was told. This crazy rockstar life.
I’d mentioned Hunter S. Thompson earlier- here’s a bit of his wisdom: “The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”
Cooks and bakers are artists, and artists are passionate people. We seize upon things at a very deep, visceral level. Often, it can lead to genius and ecstasy.
Sometimes, madness and isolation.
Sometimes, somewhere much darker.
I have read articles by chefs and other culinary professionals who’ve lost friends to the madness, via drugs and alcohol, or who have permanently crippled themselves in an effort to “cut their teeth” and “earn their stripes.”
I’ve been among them, looking down at burns and cuts on my arms and hands with a sort of pride- like they were my own “red badges of courage.”
My friends, this is not the way to go.
Your body- your life- is the best tool you have in your kitchen- and you can’t just go out and get a new one when it breaks. You can’t create and provide for people if you’re too strung out to work.
I have unhealthy habits, and I own them. I drink regularly, though rarely to excess. I used to be a caffeine addict.I also used to be overweight, and in danger of becoming diabetic.
On the other hand, I also exercise regularly. I eat healthier and have lost weight.
Most importantly, I check myself constantly to know when I’m getting too deep- when I need to take a breath and walk away for a moment.
I look forward to a life in culinary- and I’d like it to be as long as possible.
If you see a friend going towards the darkness, don’t let them slide.
There are plenty of geniuses in the graveyard, and as I was taught (ironically) in EMT school- “No one needs a dead hero.”