I forget what Micheal J. Fox's catch phrase from the Back to the Future franchise is, but if it's: "Holy shit this guy's fucking stupid! Make up your mind you fuckface, dumbcock, jerk off idiot!!!" Then I couldn't help but feel as if he was talking about me sometimes.
I'm pretty sure it wasn't, but who knows?
After a long, travel-filled summer off I returned to America (don't worry, I realize I haven't written about Spain yet) to Hurricane Irene bearing down on us (so many batteries and what to do with all of this duct tape!), and a text message from my former boss asking if I'd be interested in cooking at the restaurant that I'd been waiting all summer for to open.
We had discussed the potential of me cooking there earlier this year when I was in a less jet-laggy/sharper state of mind, and (without laughing even!) I politely declined, opting instead for the far-less-hours/considerably-more-money position of waiting tables.
I was fully determined to never venture into the back of the house ever again for anything other than a quart container to drink water out of.
So of course this time when I was asked, I immediately said yes.
If you gave me a million dollars for a good explanation why, I couldn't give you one. I just know that I said yes.
Maybe it was the jet lag speaking, or the long stony summer I just had made me "forget" my initial determinations, but part of me also just figures that if the universe comes calling that obviously, and that unexpectedly, sometimes you just say "yes" and see where it takes you.
I'm now in the middle of my second week of training/running the Garde Manger station and I still can't tell you I'm completely sold on this being a good idea.
Reckless abandon aside I still can't wrap my mind around the long hours of back breaking, mind numbing, soul shatteringly humbling (see: embarrassing) work for the same (slightly more than before, but still less than half of what I was making, and not even in the ball park of potential from being a waiter will be) money.
And yet I'm content in many ways as well.
It's true that I see the waiters come in 5-6 hours after I do, yawn, drink some Blue Bottle iced coffee, complain about how much fun they had the night before, and then do maybe 15 minutes of set up before family meal is served and they sit down and eat for 45 minutes before service starts.
And it's true that at this point in my day I'm still scrambling to get everything done on my prep list after 6 hours, hurriedly trying to set up my station, panicking that I forgot some small piece of mise en place that will bring the wrath of the chef down on me and ruin everyones good night (like happened the other night with some mushroom powder), all the while scarfing down whatever small amount of food I can fit into a quart container and shoving it into my face while washing it down with my second (or third!) pint container filled with extra strong coffee with my second (or third!) handful of advil so I don't fall down on the line from hunger/exhaustion/or pain respectively.
Yet, I look at them and feel not one bit of regret, or "that could be me" wistfulness.
Maybe it's still early in this little experiment and it will grow into a full fledged case of buyers remorse, or maybe I'll get better at cooking to the point of not constantly feeling inadequate and years too old for this crap.
I doubt I'll ever feel comfortable to point of not feeling like I'm going to fuck everything up and cause that strange quite that comes over the kitchen when one guy on the line is in the shits and taking it hardcore up the ass from the chef. At the last kitchen I worked in I would get yelled at, at this place it's an open kitchen so the chef's fury has to be calm and quiet, which is almost worse.
Don't get me wrong. I know, and everyone on the line knows that I'm the new guy. They know that I'm part time, old, fat, have two kids, and am vastly inexperienced, so all things considered, everyone has been great, especially the chef, about teaching me and bringing me up to their standard.
It's just also true that I'm slower than I should be, I'm messy at times, and I get flustered and lose my focus.
I knew that from last time I cooked.
These weaknesses are the very reasons I'm here.
I don't want to be slow.
I don't want to be messy, and I sure as hell don't want to get flustered and lose focus like some idiot that can't handle the pressure of their job.
I want the pressure.
I want to learn.
I hate feeling like I tried something and failed at it, and despite the cushy hours and more money, I already know how to do the front of the house stuff.
There's no challenge in it.
It seems more and more empty and hollow the older I get no matter how good the money is.
I may hurt at the end of the night like I never have before, and I may get knocked down and humbled 20 times a night, but I want to keep getting up a little bit better than I was the time before.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that cooking or being a chef isn't my future.
I don't love it as much as I thought I would going into culinary school.
There's passion there, but it pales in comparison to the passion I have for writing.
I look at my chef, and I look at the guys that I work with, and I admire them more than I do any other position in the restaurant industry, and there are many, many lessons that I want to learn from them, but I don't look at them and long to be one of them.
What I do look at and long for is the discipline and the organization that it takes to be a good cook or chef.
That's what I want, but for my writing .
If I can learn to have the two biggest things that have been obstacles for me my entire life in the kitchen, then I know I can bring them into my writing as well.
I want is to be a kick ass writer on par with the levels of ass kick-ness I've seen in some of the chefs I've worked with, and the only way to do that is to excel at every level until you eventually reach the top.
There are a million people that call themselves "chefs" in the world, but there is only one Andrew Carmelini, only one Riad Nasr, one Lee Hanson, one Ignacio Mattos, etcetera, etcetera, down the list of great chefs that we know the names of (but that I haven't worked for personally in their kitchens).
And it's the same thing with writers.
There's always room in the world for great writers, and there's always room in the world for great chefs, but you can't fake being great, you have to earn it the hard way.
You can try by going on a TV show and skipping steps, or by calling in favors from daddy, or college buddies, and make a decent living from it, but you can't skip steps if you want to be great. You might sell a book, or open a restaurant, but you'll never have the respect of your peers.
For every "Top" "Chef" with a failed no-star restaurant, there's a guy putting in the hours behind the stove and honing his skills and palate to become the next 2-3 star chef that despite the years and years and years of hard work, seems to come from nowhere.
There the old saying that you can't teach talent, and that's certainly as true in the kitchen and the literary world as it is anywhere else. But all the talent in the world doesn't get you anywhere without the discipline and organization to do something with it.
There have been too many cases of talent squandered to ever think you can just get by on talent alone.
That's a trap I don't want to be stuck in anymore.
Conversely there have been thousands of cases of less talented people that worked hard and are disciplined and organized making it way further then their talent alone should have brought them.
So if at 35 it hurts more than it would have at 20, so be it!
It's ultimately my fault anyways.
No one forced me to constantly take the easy way through life. No one ever needed to tell me that I was undisciplined with no plan, I knew it, and yet year after year I did nothing about it but complain that it wasn't fair that less talented people were doing what I wanted to be doing for a living.
No one's ever needed to tell me I had the talent to do it, I've always been extremely confident in anything I was doing. Stand up comedy, sketch writing, sitcom writing, improv, short stories, novels, food blogging, waiting tables, cooking, restaurant management... All of it. I know I have the talent to be as great as I want to be, but (much like the length of my posts will speak to) I've never combined the talent with the discipline or organization it takes to really do anything with it.
So fuck it, my feet hurt. Who cares?
Who gives a fuck if my feelings get hurt because for the first time in my life I'm not better than everyone else just by being there?
No one else on the line feels bad for me that I get yelled at because my salads don't look as nice as they need to be to be served in a 3 star restaurant because I need to make salads that look good enough to be served in a 3 star restaurant! All the food knowledge in the world isn't going to help me pick up 10-15 salads a pick without busting my ass and learning to be fast AND disciplined and that takes being organized.
So let me learn.
I wish I could go back in time and learn it when I was younger, but obviously I can't. So short of that I need to strap my boots on tighter, accept that it's going to hurt, and go do it.
I can't promise myself that it'll all be worth it one day when I'm rich and famous and colleges and bookstores are begging me to come do appearance's and book signings, but I can promise myself that none of those things even have a possibility of happening with out learning some hard lessons, and fast.
So the hours and the money are better in the front of the house. So what?
Name one famous waiter.
That's what I thought.
So, again, if you need me, I'll be in the kitchen getting my ass kicked, because that's exactly what I need to be doing right now.
Pray for me that I get it right this time...
I'll need all the help I can get.
Until next time my fleetingly fewer and fewer friends...
Unti next time.