I add the finishing garnish to my client’s cranberry and orange glazed chicken thighs. A mountain of dirty dishes leers at me from the sink — the second mountain for this personal chef client, fourth mountain for the day — when her adorable, trumpet-toting middle schooler saunters into the palatial kitchen from the equally palacial three-car garage.
“I’ve decided I want to be a chef,” they proclaim, plopping onto a seat at the island, their bags and instrument clattering to the counter.
“That so?” I retort as their head bobbles up and down, a grin stretching across their face. I glance at mom, who makes it through the door looking as any mom does at the end of a long day. Whether she sports chef shoes or peep-toe pumps, all moms wear the same expression around 5 PM — beat.
The pharmaceutical rep stops in her tracks and smiles at me through gritted teeth. I read her loud and clear. Tell my child it isn’t a good idea. Tell them about the long, late hours, the low wages, and the back-breaking work. Tell them to consider law school, or medical school, or anything else.
The truth is, she isn’t wrong. The culinary and hospitality industry can wear a person down to a grizzled pulp, but this moment has me asking myself big questions. Does the bare-bones response in the high-powered mom’s eyes help her child examine the plan for their own future in a meaningful way? Is it the response I needed, or wanted, when I initially chose culinary school? Is it what I would say to my own children if either of them made a similar declaration?
But the underlying truth that bubbles to the surface after a long simmer is more nuanced. This decision requires more questions and more thought.
“What is your why?” I ask. The youth’s brow twists, quizzically in return.
What is your reason for this goal? When the nights are long, the pay is low, and the work will put arthritis in your knees and ankles by age thirty-six, what is the thing that stirs in your belly and makes you want to keep going? What makes you look down at your tattered and scarred fingers and say, yes, I’ll do this again, for one more day?
If dreams of chefy-stardom are in your eyes, that particular outcome may be at the very end of a long and arduous road. It may be an outcome which never materializes.
Recently, I heard a suggestion that it’s better to live for the journey rather than the outcome. So what on this journey toward being a chef will bring you joy?
Maybe the fire inside you is stoked by the idea of teaching others to feed themselves through easy-to-follow recipes that produce consistent, mouthwatering results. The thought of fabricating gorgeous pieces of edible artwork that not only delight the eyes, but also dazzle the taste buds might bring a sizzle to your soul. Perhaps the simple act of caring and nurturing others through delicious food is all it takes to bring you back to the cutting board.
These are all suggestions, but perhaps they inspire your drive. Your why may be percolating deep in your heart and has yet to come to the surface, but you just know it’s there. You know something is drawing you toward this life. Sometimes, it’s as important to follow your gut and trust your instincts as it is to make choices based on facts and data. Sometimes facts and data can lead to analysis paralysis — the phenomenon that occurs when too much thinking halts forward momentum. If that happens, take a deep breath and remember no one has all the answers and at times a leap of faith is necessary, though scary.
As you give more thought to your “Why?” remember, it is the thing that must act as your buoy, keeping your head above water when you face debt, a struggling economy, staff turnover, difficulties with supply chain, lack of sleep, arthritis in your knees, and wounds on your hands. Your “why?” must keep you coming back every day.
Consider, too, what you may leave behind or push to a later time in choosing to become a chef. Do you want to have a family? How will they fit into the late hours of restaurant life? Do you, like me, aspire to multiple careers? Is it possible to, simultaneously, pursue both? Can your two passions work together? What steps could you take, what doors and windows will you open, to allow a dual-passion journey?
For me, my why for writing (as well as yoga) is the same as my why for cooking. That is, in part, how I know I’m on the right track.
“Well, I like to eat…I dunno, chef. What’s your why?” The teen’s eyes are full of curiosity.
Ah, thank you for asking, Dear One. My pursuit is to help others along their journey in this present life by feeding, loving, and caring for their bodies and minds and teaching them to feed, love, and care for themselves as well. I do this by cooking for people in their busy seasons of life. Everyone has them — a baby is born, a diagnosis is received, a new job, a new home, families merge, a loss is felt. When I can be of service by making sure bellies are full, my cup overflows. When I can share the knowledge and experience I’ve gleaned from years of cooking and life lessons, I feel I’ve added to the stream of life. And I feel immense gratitude when given the chance to hear another persons story and the honor of retelling it. Storytelling, through words and food, is my gift which allows connections to be made and this human experience to be truly felt.
No, I will not tell this precious soul to choose another passion. I will encourage them to fully examine the ones they choose. To make clear-eyed, clear-minded decisions, and to consider all possibilities, even the unknowns, on their journey. And should I run into them in the industry many years in the future, I will be their biggest cheerleader, aside from their peep-toe pump wearing mom, of course.
2 thoughts on “To Be A Chef…”
Your food looks beautiful & delicious.
Your writing is decriptive & thoughtful.
I love the purposeful way you proceed through life.
Aww ☺️ Thanks, Mom!