Break Time

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

It never feels like there’s enough hours in the day.

The days when I could feel content crashing out on my bed till late afternoon, gaming or watching cartoons are long over. Since getting my body into a shape that, to be blunt, I WANT to do things with, I’ve had way more energy and interest in life than I ever had before.
That can sometimes be a curse, though. When my interests are pulled between homebrewing, writing, playing guitar, gaming (still kept that up a bit), reading, and exercise, I find myself unable to be satisfied with a day where I feel I didn’t accomplish something. Simply put, I’ve lost the ability to enjoy a lazy day- much to the frustration of my wife.

Well, it beats just spending all day in the kitchen, right?
Back when I was in school, one of my instructors, Chef Chelius, would try to remind us to “go home.” To leave the kitchen in the kitchen and find ways not to take work home with us. “You don’t want to just have friends who are cooks. All you will talk about is work!”
A few years later, at the casino, Karen asked me to remember that my time is limited, and how I use it will be based on my priorities. “If you watch interviews with people who are THE BEST at anything, you’ll find that they devoted every minute of every day to that thing- and consequently, they are REALLY boring. They can’t carry a conversation about anything other than THAT thing, that they know and do better than everyone else. That is the trade-off, Matt. You can be the best- but it will mean walking away from everything else.”

As it stands, here in Portland, the vast majority of my friends work in the restaurant business to some degree. Fortunately, most of us also have varied interests that we can enjoy and discuss that DON’T involve butter, gluten free, production, and why that top convection oven is FUBAR but we keep using it.
Victoria loves camping and hiking. Chris is a music nut. Gwen is heavy into gaming and is the DM of our Dungeons and Dragons group. Bryan is a homebrewer and loves to fish. We all have things that let us take our aprons off, set down our knives for a minute, and walk away into something else that sets our souls alight.

The Black Hat Baker with his homebrew meads

Besides- cheap alcohol!

Pros know that working in a kitchen can drain you- physically, mentally, and emotionally. The idea of free time, much less using that time to do something that’s not eating or sleeping is laughable. I can’t speak for every other cook, but I can tell you that having these hobbies- time-intensive as some can be- do something wonderful for us. They calm us down after work, or wake us up before it. They let us release the emotions that kitchen life forces us to keep in check. For some, they remind us that our bodies exist, and can do things besides crank out food. They make us feel free, and remind us that- while we are happy to feed people- we do not live to work. We work to live- and these are the things that make life worth living.

To write this post, I made a very general and unscientific appeal on a Facebook chef group, asking simply whether the folks on the group had non-culinary hobbies, and what they were. There were a few folks who came up with answers like “With what time?” or “Doesn’t exist- there is ONLY the job.”

 Many many more, however, offered a list of the things that give them peace once the whites are off, the knives are away, and they are their own again.

 “Playing trumpet”
“Traveling”

Cycling and playing the ukelele”
Riding my motorcycle”
Woodworking”
“Lead singer in a rock band”

Gardening”
Fishing, hunting, and darts”
Jiu Jitsu, swimming, writing, and traveling”
Dancing, camping”
“Shooting and making crafts from the shell casings.”
“Building and displaying Lego Star Wars ships.”
“Crocheting”

Golf”

You get the idea. You might notice a familiar theme in some of these, and one that I’ve mentioned before- arts and physical activity, mostly ones that get them outside.
Cooks are passionate people, and that passion can transcend multiple forms. Nearly every musician my wife knows is fascinated by food. In the cafe, the single most common things that gets the entire kitchen arguing and talking are music and books. These are the things that help you let your guard down and breath deep, finding something exciting in this world for you and you alone. It might lead to a drastic change in your quality of life- and not just by lowering your blood pressure.

In his study “The Strength of Weak Ties,” Mark Granovetter studied social networking and found that it is through connections made by “weak ties”,i.e. people we don’t have very close associations with- running friends, drinking buddies, frequent acquaintances, etc- that the greatest passage of information of ideas, information, and opportunities are made. Networks of exclusively “strong ties”- direct business or family relations, for example- tend to swim in their own pools of ideas and communique. It is through the weak ties of their members that these strong networks interact. In short, the next great opportunity for you MAY come from your boss, or a family member. It is more likely, however, to come from a guy your see at open mics who has a buddy looking to fill a position.

It’s great to have a career. It’s fantastic to LOVE that career, and be knowledgeable and passionate about it- but there is more to the world than that one field. Try to find something outside of your day job that you don’t mind sinking some time into- something that relaxes you, or energizes you, or even just lets you vent. At worst, you found a new way to relax and learn something. At best, new worlds can open up to you.

Stay Classy,