"If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world."
On Fridays I make sure I’m extra prepared before walking into work. I double check there’s a pair of sharpies in my satchel, make sure I’ve saved my favorite work shirt for the weekend, and have my watch latched to my burn-scarred wrist to track ticket times. That’s my Friday ritual.
Except I have Friday off today – a rare occurrence no doubt for someone in the restaurant industry, and instead of my favorite black v-neck I’m putting on my charcoal suit for the first time in over five months. Stiff dress shoes have replaced my well worn, patchy but comfortable Nikes. I feel a lot more stuffy – both physically and figuratively – than when I’m wearing my frayed pair of Levi’s and the black v-neck.
I was a campus tour guide in college – one of those elitists whose blind, obnoxiously unwavering adoration for their school made us either the most charismatic or most insufferable person in the room. Ones who invite you to a reunion celebration on a weekend, something I found mortally inconvenient until I remembered 99% of the population has weekends off. When I put on a black chef’s jacket for the first time I felt a certain kind of confidence and assurance. Putting on the suit jacket made me feel more like a phony, and I couldn’t help but think how much more comfortable I would be hiding behind an apron as I walked out the door.
Each stage of your life is accompanied by a series of questions you’re constantly being asked. Junior High: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” High School: “What do you want to study?” College: “What are you going to do?” Post-grad: “So what do you do?”
This was my first cocktail mixer of real life, where I’d finally ask and be asked that last question. Armed with a glass of wine as a social lubricant, I heard people proudly proclaim, “Senior manager at this consulting firm. Structural engineer! International marketing professional based in Switzerland! Diplomatic Security Engineering Officer! And you?”
“Line– uh, pastry chef?”
Okay, so I lied a bit. First of all, most people don’t know the difference between a line cook or a chef. All chefs are line cooks, but not all line cooks are chefs. A chef is the commander in chief of the kitchen, planning menus, dealing with restaurant owners, and firing the drunk dishwasher. The line cook is merely his or her humble follower, executing visions and menu items. But if you tell people, “I’m a line cook”, they’ll respond with, “So like a chef?”
Explaining all of the above is awkward and shitty cocktail hour conversation. So I sell my soul and for the sake of convenience, but to also keep up with five word long job titles, I just say “Line cook and pastry chef.” I wasn't expecting the heaps of praise that followed.
“That’s so awesome!”
“I’m glad you’re doing what you love!”
“I wish I was brave enough to follow my passion!”
“You’re such an example!”
I tried telling them how much it actually sucks, missing holidays and family events, but for some reason no one would believe it. All night long as I was trying to eat overdone filet mignon with dried out new potatoes people seemed to view my career like a Disney storybook, waiting for the part when I become a Food Network star.
“Do you think people ever romanticize your career?” I asked The Chef the next day.
“All the damn time,” she laughed.
I don’t want you to think my life consists of me bitching and moaning about how unsure I am about what I’m doing. I love my job – I wake up and get to do exactly what I want to do, which is cook. I’m not going on any vacations to Hawaii anytime soon, but I can make rent and occasionally feed an addiction to gyros, Ben & Jerry’s, and California burritos. I’m happy, but I don’t consider myself brave, or courageous. I’m stupid really. I took a perfectly usable degree and sent it through the meat grinder and become a line cook. A happy, but still very dubious line cook.