I Mean Chefs No Disrespect

…by my tag line which implies that chefs are not normal. Oh there’s a bazillion normal chefs out there but being Chef, for me, was simply an excuse to remain in the comfort of the dysfunctional world I had been raised in. There I was, at fourteen years old, shy and starved for attention, and after my first week making sandwiches in a café on the beach, handed a beer and a joint and showered with compliments as to my speed and accuracy in the kitchen. Who wouldn’t want to stay in that cozy cocoon of camaraderie?

Sure, I could’ve treated those glorious summer months after ninth grade as the summer job that it was, a means to have money and the things that money can buy, like a plane trip off the island in a few years. I could have leap-frogged into a better summer job the following year, say as a receptionist at a doctor’s office, or a librarian’s assistant, or a car wash attendant. Bo-ring!

No, I craved the adrenalin rush of the kitchen, the soul-penetrating sound of metal on metal as Bob the breakfast cook banged his spatula on the stainless steel shelf, calling the waitresses into the kitchen to pick up their eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches. I was going to be like Bob someday and command a ship that was the kitchen.

So I did. There went the college-prep education. And my mom’s dream that I would go off to college somewhere, then return home to Maui, to do something for my “people.” I did go to college, for restaurant management. And I did return home a few times, to work in resort kitchens.

It was fun! There were long, adrenalin-filled hours which fed my psyche. All night party marathons to shake off the bugs of cooking stress. I traveled to a few countries with World’s Fairs. I commanded many ships, big and small. I have a string of broken relationships behind me.

Something happened after twenty years though. Or it started happening around year sixteen. In retrospect, I outgrew being Chef –– it been an adolescent dream. I didn’t respect myself or my job. At thirty, working in kitchens wasn’t fun anymore. I wasn’t partying, I was raising a daughter. My chef-muse had evaporated with the last hangover.

So I “got out,” as we say in chef parlance. I work daytime hours now, Monday through Friday. I eat out on weekends instead of Mondays. I have a wardrobe other than T-shirts and jeans. I have friends who are not “in the business.” I cook at home now. I’ve had therapy and have come to terms with my younger, destructive self. I feel normal now. Whatever the hell that is.

And I respect chefs and cooks immensely. I work with them to design their kitchens. I run into a cook now and then who used to work for me, wearing his white shirt, wrapping a pan of lasagna with a big box of Cling Film and I want to leap behind the line and hug him. I’m not sure why.

Mostly, I appreciate my past and all that I learned as a Chef. The organizational skills I use daily. The ease which I cook at home and for dinner parties. And my mentorship for friends and family as they pepper (pun intended) me with cooking questions. I feel like I’m leaving my mark on the world as these people, because of me, know how to make a butter sauce and roux, how to boil shrimp, sear meat and cook a fillet of fish. These are very respectful things and to those who do it daily, for a living, I commend you for it.

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