Good evening, friends and neighbors.
We cooks exist outside of our natural habitat, you know.
We can breathe atmospheric air, are generally harmless unless provoked, and can even function in polite society.
Not necessarily that we LIKE it, of course… but we can.
Every now and then when I’m out in the city- usually downtown, but sometimes at bus stops or on the MAX, I’ll see one of us on their commute.
The first giveaway is a bag that looks vaguely like a knife roll- a long, overstuffed, and often dirty-looking bundle on a strap that contains cook’s tools of the trade. Their knives, of course- but sometimes other small tools, notebook, pens, some small supplies.
Once I see that bag, my suspicions are usually confirmed by their pants and shoes.
The uniform of a professional cook is varied, but pretty ubiquitous- baggy pants in an unusual pattern or color.
If it weren’t for the particular way they fall- wider at the thighs and knees, then narrowing slightly to the ankles- you’d think they were pajama pants. Pajama pants don’t always have extra thigh pockets for tools, notebooks, and pain meds though.
Then the shoes. Usually black. Often clogs or non-fabric sneakers, very comfy-looking as some restaurants don’t put cushiony non-slip matting behind the line. They are shoes no one would wear in public without good reason.
Some of us “Mr. Rogers” it- conscious of the fact that we step in some gross stuff over the course of the day and don’t always want to take that home, we stash our clogs in a locker at work and wear regular shoes in.
It’s a habit I initially picked up as an EMT, where if my boots had gunk caked in the soles, it wasn’t just gross- it was probably a biohazard.
When you become a professional cook, you become part of a community. A tribe. Like recognizes like, and if you can pull your weight and not be a dick, we’re glad to have you.
All the same, I don’t always reach out and strike up a conversation.
Besides the awkward, goofy social rules we all tend to follow without thinking too much, there’s the fact that they are a fellow cook- and I can only guess what kind of mood they’re in.
If they’re on their way in for their shift or have music playing on headphones, they might not want to be bothered. They’re in their own heads, trying to get “in the zone-” or actively not think about what the day will bring.
What if they’ve just finished up? They’re probably tired as hell, with paper-thin patience and not exactly feeling that a little chat with a stranger who- wait. He said he was a cook too? Why the f*** is he talking to me, then- he should know better!
And chatting when they are on the job… yeah, don’t even think about it.
That leaves the stereotypical “post-shift”- the finishing line of the end of the day. The guardian at the crossroads of the social and the professional.
Issues in our field with drinking and substance abuse aside (as much as possible, anyway,) it’s often less about the drink than the situation. The moment.
We’re cooks. All of us. We have this nightmare job that no one could do- WOULD do- but folks like us, and we just SURVIVED. Here’s our victory dance.
Given that my current shift means I need to find that “victory dance” at around 11 in the morning, it probably wouldn’t surprise you that I’ve been dialing down my alcohol intake as of late, opting instead for a tasty soda or a cup of tea when I get home.
Once a week or so, I try to make a point on my night off to visit old bars, the beer cart, and try to find some cooks out of our natural habitat.
You don’t realize how much you love being part of a tribe until you can’t find it anymore.