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.
It’s been a while since I was in the “park blocks” of SE Portland. The stretch of greenery in the Culture District is home to a number of museums and venues before it terminates at Portland State University (and, on Saturdays, the PSU Farmers Market.)
Wednesday evening, I was beating feet up the sidewalk, past fresh-air takers and statues in the park. Like a Saturday morning, I was making my way toward the food… a display of Oregon’s artisans, and the produce of this foodie wonderland.
Unlike those Saturday mornings though, I’m not dashing toward the market. I’m making my way toward a museum… and I’m eating to feed others.
Some time back, I asked a group of professionals what movies about kitchen life got it “right,” and which ones really REALLY got it wrong.
“Waiting” and “No Reservations” were among the “don’t mention that movie in my presence” list, but there was one movie that everyone- and I mean everyone- claimed hit the nail on the head: Jon Favreau’s 2014 father/son megahit, Chef.
Whether it was the sweet story of a busy chef trying to keep a relationship with his son, that same chef bucking a demanding owner and going into business for himself, or just the gobs and GOBS of on-location foodporn, Chef struck a chord with every pro I met who’d seen it.
When my mother saw the movie for the first time, she said, “See Matt? That looks fun, and not that hard! You could do that!”
Thanks for the vote of confidence Mom, but as cool as it looks- running a food truck is NOT exactly the “easy mode” of the food world.
I get to work these days before dawn. As I walk in, the first order of business is checking the oven to make sure the settings are right.
Next, the days first load of croissants- waiting patiently in the proof box since the night before. They need to be in the oven in 30 minutes.
They aren’t ready. Small and sticky still. Crap… that’s not right.
A quick look at the control panel on the box confirms my fears. They’re gonna be late.
Right- time for Plan B. The cookies have time to go in.
Wait… that doesn’t look right. Why is the oven temperature tanking? Ugh… ok. Back on track, make up the time later.
The new wholesale management system is messed up. No one to call to check numbers for retail. Dammit… ok, just fudge the numbers. Wholesale is accounted for, I can bake more for the store later if needed.
The piping tip I need is missing. Use a similar one and change technique to compensate.
Not enough sheet pans- the other stores haven’t been sending them back. Rummage around and condense. There’s gotta be stuff to layer.
Not long ago, I decided I was going to go on a bit of an Eastern Philosophy bender and read all the texts I could get my hands on.
It may have been my state of mind at the time, or just a desire to spend more time reading interesting stuff and less time trawling social media.
In the past, I’d read and re-read several Buddhist texts- a couple sutras, the Dhammapada, and the Buddhacarita. I’ve also previously read (and love referring back to) the Tao Te Ching and Dogen’s “Tenzo Kyokun.”
In this latest push, however, I decided I was going to tackle some of the more well-known works: Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, and Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure.”
It was… a lot, and it got me thinking-
“Why do we look to books on war for lessons on life?”
In sounds cheesy and ridiculous, but up on the wall behind my desk at home- the one I’m sitting at right now, in the shade of Miss Cleo’s cat tree- is a sectioned pegboard.
I don’t use it to organize my day- I have apps and reminders for that. Nor is it a “visionboard”- something where you tack up all the things you dream of one day making a reality. A neat idea, to be sure- but it feels a little hollow.
Instead, I have it sectioned in four. The first is called “Good Vibes.” It’s got memories of things that- duh- make me feel good. Mostly it’s reminders of cool moments in my life- the menu from my first Chaine dinner, a thank-you note from one of my patients back when I was a nurse, letters from distant friends.
The last is called “Failures.” Don’t be surprised- Stephen King used to collect all of this rejection letters from publishers. Michael Faraday used to do same thing with failed experiments, a reminder of the lesson he learned and to stay humble. It could probably have more on it- the sad thing is that most of my rejections came in the form of “form” letters… so less-than-rife with feedback.
In fact, there’s only one thing up on that board right now. I make sure it’s completely visible at all times. It’s a black-and-silver debit card- thoroughly magnetized and wiped, for a closed account, and with the thumbtack pounded right through the strip to be sure.
It reads “Black Hat Baker, LLC.”
Here’s a story about how to dream, fall short, f*** up, and work with what’s left.