When I was culinary school, I had a chef instructor who didn’t just teach pastry arts and baking- she also taught how to put them down and walk away.
When it came to cleanliness, Chef Chelius was the one who got me to compulsively clean my workspace. “Your table reflects your mind. If your table is messy, so is your mind. You can’t focus.”
She had absolutely no problem telling me, early on in my first class with her, that if I didn’t shape up I would be kicked out of the program, and my future as a baker would be shaky at best.
Clearly, I shaped up. A year or so after that conversation, I was in my third class with her. That was when she took a few moments at the beginning of lecture to tell everyone “When you go home, remember to GO HOME.”
Chef Chelius was a holy terror in the kitchen- but she also practiced violin, read, and enjoyed gardening. She encouraged us all to have friends and hobbies outside the kitchen. “If you don’t, your life will only be kitchen people, talking about kitchen things, and nothing else.”
I especially remember her describing a particular “ritual” she had when she got home. She used to make a lavender-scented sugar handscrub for herself. It was her finish line, so to speak- when she got home, hung up her uniform and used that scrub, that was it. She was scrubbing her hands of the day, and leaving it behind.
One of my favorite memories between us was during this same course. I had had a miserable day in the kitchen, and berated myself (as us young people do/did) publicly on Facebook. I had forgotten that Chef Chelius had friended me on there- and would read it.
The next day, she called me to her desk.
“You had a rough day yesterday, Matt.”
“Yes Chef, I’m sorry- today will be better.”
“I certainly hope so, it was an interesting status you posted.”
“…Oh. Um.. yes, Chef.”
“Matt, do you remember what I told you two years ago, standing over by the flour bins?”
“… Yes Chef- that if I didn’t shape up, I’d be out of the program.”
“Yes, Matt- and you’re still here. You’re going to get an ‘A’ in this class. You’re doing fine- it’s just food, Matt. Remember to go home.”
As I write this, I am sitting in the Horse Brass Pub, behind a short glass of Rauchbier Weizen- a creamy smoky tasting beer I am increasingly fond of. I am on Day 4 of nine-day work week, and I have been berating myself for the last two days or so for not working the way I feel I should be.
Not at the cafe- work has been rough for the last few days, but I feel confident in my accomplishments there and how I handle my shifts. It’s THIS- the blog, and being the BHB. I want it to be more a part of my future career, and I am frustrated- a lack of creativity, a lack of energy… just the feeling of lack.
“But your thoughts will soon be wandering the way they always do
When you’re riding sixteen hours and there’s nothing much to do
And you don’t feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through“
It is because I forget to “go home.”
Between baking at the cafe, and then coming home to research and write, I go from one office to another. There isn’t even a change of uniform to mark between the two (as I no longer have to wear a uniform at my current job.) There is nothing like Chef Chelius’s sugar scrub anymore- no ritual to mark the distinction between work and the rest of my life- simply because my life is increasingly wrapped up IN my work.
“Ah Here I am, on a road again
There I am, up on the stage
Here I go, playing the star again
There I go, turn the page“
That is maybe why I enjoy writing in cafes and bars the most. That may be why I can write this all down now- I am in the midst of my little Rauchbier Ritual. The “quitting time beer o’clock beer” as I call it on my Instagram. Sitting down and nursing a beer tells me that my time is my own again- to work or do whatever I please with.
Note to self: get a big wingback armchair, with armrests wide enough to support a cup of tea/whiskey. Tell Emily it is for mental health reasons.
“Later in the evening as you lie awake in bed
With the echoes from the amplifiers ringin’ in your head
You smoke the day’s last cigarette, remembering what she said…”
and of course-