The restaurant industry is a strange beast and the question has always been “Did I turn out like this because of the Kitchen or did I just fit in the Kitchen because I was always like this?”. A lot of kids are getting in the game for the wrong reasons and don’t last for more than a few years after they graduate culinary school and see that the reality of life in the Kitchen is nothing like what they show on TV. The rest of us find a home and end up going through the various stages of metamorphosis or simply lose our minds in the process, sometimes both.
Stage 1 it’s just a job
You don’t care about food but your buddy needed help washing dishes and offers to pay in cash. It’s just part-time and the waitresses are cute. Shift drinks, free food and a culture highly tolerant of drug use only add to the appeal. Not to mention the fact that you don’t have to be at work until 5 pm means that you can sleep all day and not be late.
Stage 2: Cooking gets you laid.
You realize that your crush is fucking the Chef and it’s not because of his looks or personality. You start asking questions and helping with prep. This is when you start cooking at home for friends trying to replicate what you saw the cooks doing. Sleep is still a priority.
Stage 3: The heat is on.
Someone calls out and you get pulled on pantry or fryer. It’s hell and yet you get off on the rush. You leave the kitchen feeling high and eager to do it again. It doesn’t take long to learn the menu and the rhythm of the place. After a few weeks, you start to get cocky and think that you know way more than you do.
Stage 4: The wide world of food.
You’ve found your calling and buy your first set of knives and maybe even a jacket and a few books. You find a good Chef and start working doubles 6 days per week while also reading the classics. You get a notebook and start writing down every recipe, ratio, and idea you have. Coffee becomes your best friend. This is when you start hearing tickets ring in while you sleep yet you remain highly optimistic about the future.
Stage 5: Functionality dysfunctional
You’re now a walking chemical reaction. You don’t even think about it when you reach for a smoke when you wake up. Being tired or stressed is a sign of weakness you say and you beat yourself up for thinking that anything, including your own health, is more important than the Kitchen. Tunnel vision sets in and it doesn’t even register when your girlfriend walks out on you for being an asshole, she just doesn’t get it you tell yourself. You start drinking and or getting stoned at work in order to function. By this point you’ll be able to run a Kitchen but not very well since you’re running on fumes and taking it out on your guys daily.
Stage 6 burnout
You’ve seen it all and done it all and you know how fucked the industry and lifestyle are yet you don’t see a way out. You miss the good old days when you had fun cooking when it wasn’t about the ego. At this point, you hate everyone and everything for being a total idiot and not living up to your standards. You start looking at other options and career paths while doing next to nothing to pursue them since the Kitchen is all you know. This is called hitting the bottom.
Stage 7: Rebirth
Something happens and you snap. Some of us sadly, go over the edge and don’t come back while others of us are lucky enough to not get pulled over. Those of us who do survive it are changed. You’ve lost your mind and in turn, your ego as well. You’re not cooking to impress anyone, you’re doing it because it’s what you love to do. By some miracle, you find that spark that you had when you first set foot in the Kitchen and for the first time in years, you start cooking from the heart again. At this point, nothing else matters but the food.
Stay humble at all times and do everything you can to avoid the bullshit around stage five and six. Drink lots of water, get a few hobbies outside of the Kitchen and make sure, more than anything, that you have a good work/life balance if you’re trying to play the long game. A boss worth working for won’t ask you to miss seeing your favorite band, he’ll try to call and get you tickets.