I am going to be 34 in July. I have been baking for about nine years after being a Nurse’s Aide, an EMT, and various positions at a Boy Scout summer camp (Health Officer, Trading Post Clerk, and counselor for seven merit badges.)
I also used to be very overweight. I lost 110 lbs about 6 years ago, and I have more or less maintained it (I gained back 15 over the last year. Depression is a hell of a drug.)
The folks I work with are about my age. This post is about us- the folks that make the pastries you love, and what this industry does to you. If you’re a student, take this as a warning. Start an exercise regimen now, invest in some good shoes, and eat your veggies.
My eyes pop open into the dark of our pre-dawn bedroom. No haziness yet, no sleep fog, just a quiet “oh goddammit” as I roll over and check the time. Tapping the bedside table is enough motion for my Apple Watch to wake itself up and inform me that I’m half an hour ahead of my 4:30 am alarm. I groan, grab my phone, and resolve to keep myself up by catching up on the latest news.
Tiptoeing around the apartment trying not to wake my wife, and enduring the loud pesterings of a bratty cat who has taken VERY quickly to being fed in the early morning.
Gotta eat breakfast, meditate, and get cleaned up. Gonna need all the goodwill I can gather, because God forbid people go without their croissants in a pandemic.
The worlds of food and classical music don’t always intersect- beyond the artistry and passion of their respective devotees, that is. When my wife (a piano teacher) and I discuss our work with each other, one of us is usually on “home turf.” I’m a professional baker and she loves to cook, or she’s expounding on an obscure piece of music and I know a couple big names. That’s marriage for you, though- we don’t “complete” each other, but we do find ways to be complete together.
In that sense, we often discuss ideas like discipline, teaching methods, leadership (in the context of our workplaces,) and the artistic aspects of what we’ve built our lives around.
And one thing that we agree on wholeheartedly is that talent doesn’t mean a damn thing.
It’s the people that can make or break a job for someone.
We’re social creatures, and if we must spend a third of our days and half our waking hours in the same place, doing the same (or similar) activities with the same people- especially if that place is cramped, hot, and busy- we prefereither to be around people we like, or left alone.
Working with and around people you like and respect can help you hang on, even in a miserable job- and a great job won’t be enough to keep you around if there’s people making it a living hell.
If you’re lucky enough to have a team of people you like and admire personally as well as professionally, there’s no reason you shouldn’t want to go out and have fun with them! If you do though, it’s best to remember to leave work at work.
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.