Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From the beginning...

Bare with me as I try to speed through this to bring us all to the present day.

Last year, through a series of fortunate events, I was introduced to the Executive Chef of the kitchen where I am now on staff. At the time, I was struggling with the decision whether or not to leave my current office job, a job that was financially rewarding, for a life as a professional cook.

Passion and eagerness to learn were my only assets, having no other professional kitchen experience. Sure I watched The Food Network 24-7 and even picked up a few things, and sure my friends and family raved about my cooking and joked that I should open my own restaurant, but they're supposed to, right? They're my friends and family. I didn't want to be like one of those people on American or Canadian Idol thinking they can sing only because they were encouraged by their loved ones. They should have a show "So you think you can cook," I bet it would get lots of ratings. But I digress...

My intention behind meeting the Exec. Chef was to learn about some of the challenges of the trade, let him know where I was at on my current career path, and of my desire to join the ranks. Imagine my surprise when after five minutes of meeting me and seeing some minuscule food photos of my cooking on my ipod he suggested I come to his kitchen and "check it out." That suggestion was followed by "how much were you hoping to make?" My immediate thought? It was "oh my god, this guy is going to actually pay me?" I was handed an application and tax form, so I guess "checking it out" in his terms meant "yes, you have the job you didn't even apply for." I guess it helped that it was his Jr. Sous-Chef who introduced us. I started the following Monday.

Under the guidance of my friend (yes, the Jr. Sous) I learned the ropes. Proper knife handling, our kitchen's closing procedures, rotating, D10-ing, how to clean squid and so on. By the way, cleaning squid must be everyone's least favourite job because to this day I am the one who does it 90% of the time. Something about putting your hand in that rubbery squid and pulling out the snot-like stuff and the spine. You get used to it after a while though.

I spent last summer working two jobs (yes, declared both incomes to them tax folks). Insurance adjuster by day, line cook/dishwasher by night. Between the two jobs I was working 7 days a week, totalling about 70 hours. I was arriving home near midnight, dogtired, but thoroughly happy. Fed, too. I was constantly grazing, couldn't help myself. How I didn't gain 20 lbs that summer and fall, I don't know.

The kitchen closed for the season at the end of November and I am not lying when I say that for three long winter months I thought of little else aside from that kitchen. How much I loved it, how very stress-free it was and how I would love nothing more than to be cooking, full time. Financially, quitting my job to become a cook was an insane idea. Having recently purchased a home where making the mortgage payment required my income remain the same, I lost many a sleep over crunching numbers. Every morning and every night, the same questions were present at our dinner table. "What do you think I should do?" "Can we afford it?" "What happens if you lose your job?" It was like Groundhog day. My partner of five years has what feels like infinite patience for me, how else could we have survived 3 months of the same discussion? Until one day Jen said "I think you have to do this. The question is not 'are you going to do it', but 'how are we going to do it?'

And so in February, legs trembling and hands shaking, I walked in to my manager's office, opened my mouth and ... no words came out. Tried again and finally managed a weak "I'm here to resign." Once I got that out, the rest was easy and, as they say, history.

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