Sous Chef, I Know You

Sous Chef, I know you. Your life has changed. For a split second, the room stands still and in that one brief moment, I look down.

“There’s an asparagus peel on my shoe.” It’s an errant thought and I mentally swat it away and force myself to breathe. My executive chef points and my eyes follow the motion of his hands and see the embossed folder lying on his desk. It’s there on paper – the title, I mean – all neatly printed in bold font. I sign my name and he says ,“Congratulations, proud, good job, yada yada yada,” and all I’m thinking is “I need a drink.”

It came so quickly, Sous Chef … I know you can never be truly ready. I’ve spent years preparing for this one moment.

I’ve worked hard, then forced myself to work harder. I’ve endured the insults and absorbed the pain. I remember one night when I was working the grill. It was just before service, and we had more than a hundred reservations on the books. It didn’t help that our executive chef was anal about every little detail; we were all tense and our fear was palpable.

He strode over to my station and took a black truffle the size of a ducks’ egg and told me to shave some for service. I was nervous: the truffle slicer was razor sharp, and I sliced my palm open. I ran to the back with a kitchen rag wound tightly around my bleeding palm. Another cook had a few waterproof Band-Aids, and together we pasted them on, then used masking tape to bind my wound. We stuffed my aching hand into two latex gloves, and I went back to my station.

I’ve never called in sick, never told my chef no, never complained. I’ve kept my knives sharp and my uniform clean. I’ve  seen each challenge as an opportunity. I’ve nurtured my passion for cooking even at my darkest hour. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve never burned a bridge; I’ve  always made sure my next job was in a better kitchen.

Sous Chef, I know you realize the dream was the easiest part of this journey. It’s easy to imagine all the perks of the position: finally your name on a jacket, on the menu, the beautiful food, the adoration, the careers of cooks you’ll influence. What I didn’t see was the great responsibility that comes with the position. Suddenly, I’m expected to have all the answers. Now I’m the adult in the room; it’s my job to make the tough calls  – and whether that pill is  good or bad, I have to swallow all my choices. It’s a sobering thought to realize there’s no one else to turn to. I can’t kick the can down the road anymore; Sous Chef you are the can.

Sous Chef, I know you’ve been at work since six. The day is done, the cooks have gone, but there’s still work to do. Can’t go home till payroll’s finished.  There’s inventory, and the produce and meat order. Gotta think about specials for tomorrow; did I order everything I need.? My inbox is overflowing and I sift through all my email and respond to as many as I can. I’m connected, I’m always thinking about work:  my computer, my phone, my thoughts. I take it all in, sort it in my mind, and go in search of another cup of “the devils brew”.  It’s either coffee or Red Bull, and I’ll probably drink large amounts of both throughout the day.

Sous Chef, I know you finally begin to see the dedication it takes: the sacrifice, the strength of will to pull it all together even when everything seems to be going to hell. Thing is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m comfortable with my vices, I love what I do, I’m not afraid of the responsibility, working in my kitchen is my adrenaline rush. I live for it.

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Post Categories: Food for Thought
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  • Niki Dewar says:

    Soo happy and proud of you!! Your passion and drive is an inspiration! It reminds me to rise to life’s challenges and never give up!

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