There has been a recent trend in public conversation and social media toward more transparency about the struggles of the service industry lifestyle and its effects on us as professionals and individuals. It's a trend I feel is decades overdue- there is so much they don't reveal in the pamphlets about kitchen culture when you make the decision to follow its path.
A large percentage of the industry's population quickly find themselves sucked into the seemingly inevitable pitfalls of lifestyle that render our stressful work more palatable, or at least survivable. The toughness and fortitude required for tackling even the basic feats of a shift, much less climbing the professional rungs of a kitchen exhaust us on every level. Most of us just want to quiet the beasts of the job, duck the low hanging fruits of slowly building despair toward people because of the way our particular microcosm displays them, over and over and over.
We don't want to hate people. We love you. We love to feed you and make you happy. It's why most of us keep showing up...
But my personal experience in the industry makes recognition of all of this even harder, because my deep love of what I do is from a slightly different vantage point. This is about to become more personal than usual, so settle in.
Unlike most of the cooks I have worked with and learned from, I lived an entire adult life outside the industry. Like them, and most of you, I have known pain and loss. Mine is no more or less important than anyone else's. It has had nothing to do with anyone's rights being violated, or with my dissatisfaction over things not going my way. It does not require me to check my privilege. But it was, and sometimes still is, deeply profound.
I tried to mute it all for a while, mostly by desperately wanting to drink until I no longer existed. It didn't stick, as I am ultimately just not wired for it.
Other substances have never held any appeal for me. When I am injured or have aches and pains, I rarely take so much as a Tylenol to alleviate it, not because I want to suffer, but because numbing the pain means I can't feel its improvement. Monitoring healing is important. So, as usual, I took a more immersive path.
I threw myself, flagellantly, into the trials of kitchen life. I clawed my way through every hardship, setback and beatdown the industry can toss into the eye of an ass kicking shift.
Most nights I went home, spent money and time I didn't have to learn and polish skills, studied history, cuisines and methods. I dug my fingers into farm soil and endured harsh, daily skepticism. I spent half my paycheck to park 14 blocks from work, then lurch into something that always made me feel useful, productive. I learned more about my freshly chosen hell of a life and my new self than I could possibly prepare to know.
But I was still alive.
And eventually I was thriving. Hopeful. From those roots have run great, hearty tendrils of immeasurable joy at the job, the art, the zen and comfort of recipes, prep, the fare of changing seasons- I feel it even in my sleep.
It is no longer just a survival tactic. It has evolved into a full blown revival of real happiness.
I cook because food is the true religion of the South. Because it is one of my major love languages.
I cook because it saved my life.