"A Creative Introspection into Cynicism in the Kitchen."
Let’s say you are driving down the highway one day, heading to work. When suddenly everything around you poofs in a flash and you are surrounded by a whole new world and car. What would you do? Wouldn’t you freak the fuck out? Anyone would, and you know it. So, don’t try and act tough and lie here. Who hurt you? Anyway, there are chefs out there that this happens too often. Whether it’s changing their style of cooking or coming back to the industry after a few years away. In all honesty, this is known as a shock. And this shock isn’t always good for some people in a kitchen. Think about it, we are surrounded by things that can hurt someone if not kill them. All the knives, fire, gas, chemicals, hot oil, etc., can really make someone’s day worse if they are careful. And if you add not being familiar with the cuisine or a mental health issue, what happens? Well, I wouldn’t think that it would be good. But this goes to show what we as kitchen workers go through. Mind you, these are extreme examples to use, but now you can see the severity of the situation in front of your face. And what it could do.
Is there anything that we can do to help alleviate this? Well, I can't answer this. Here's why. Every situation is different and has to be looked at differently. So how shitty of me would it be if I just generalized all situations together and made everyone become the exact same in my mind? Fuck, that sounds like removing the flavor from life. Let's face it, if you really think about it you can look at a person and think of a flavor associated with them. Like, say for example your best friend of 20 years. You two have had some ups and downs, but at the end of the day, this person has still been there. That person may be classified as a salty-sweet person. Or a lemon. Or something sour. You get the point. Thanks for making me have to make an example and make myself look dumb. That was rad. Moving on, my point still stands. I'm not going to turn everyone into the exact same person in my mind. I wouldn't want to be looked at that way to anyone else. I've had enough of being judged for shit that I didn't do. But sadly, it comes with the lifestyle. Which as I was saying before, can change in the blink of an eye. One minute you're slinging plates at a diner in Detroit, and the next thing you know, you're working for one of the most well-known places in another part of the United States. And this type of life shocks you whether you feel it or not. See, a great number of us out in this vast industry has dealt with so much bullshit regularly, that we have become more tolerant to change.
I can remember a few times in my life where this has happened. And if I didn't go with the flow of things, I would have drowned for sure. I was working at a small place just on the outskirts of the major city where I lived. It was about a 30-minute drive to work each day. Which I loved. But soon learned to hate. You wouldn't think that something so peaceful could become something that's such a pain in the ass. Just spend one winter driving on the roads on during a Michigan winter, and you can drive anywhere else in the world. They are the worst. That sir is no understatement. Thirty minutes of this can feel like hours. Then having to do that twice a day starts to make you want to pick a tree on the side of the road and aim right for it. But the job made up for it in ways. I got free chef coats, so that's nice. But I had to help pay for towels. Now that's a tough trade-off for some people. I feel like there are some people out there that would pick the latter of the two. In addition to coats, we got a free meal, an extra smoke break (because the owner's wife smoked and she didn't like smoking alone.), and the pay wasn't bad for the area. Hell, it paid a few dollars more than the inner-city jobs, and you didn't have to deal with the drunken homeless population of that particular downtown area. I used to give leftover food to a few homeless dudes in return for cleaning up and keeping our back alley clean and tidy. They loved that trade-off. And it worked out for us really well. One night we sat with them in the alley and had a meal out Styrofoam containers. That's when I found out that they were ex-military. Which made me feel terrible. So, I went inside and bought them a beer each. I felt it was the least I could do. They went on to continue cleaning that same spot long after I left. Which made me crack a small grin years later. I miss those dudes. No matter what, they were always upbeat. This reminds me of a good number of the line monsters I've worked with in the past. Absolute beasts on the line. So much so, that I feared to grab the wrong tongs. I'm only joking. Of course, I grabbed the wrong tongs on purpose, what the fuck were they going to do about it? All they'd have to do is ask for them back politely and they can have them. Whether or not English was the language chosen for the day, was the real question. Although, I can say with the utmost certainty that people named Ray do not like this. It doesn't matter why you did it. You could have accidentally grabbed them, they all looked the same, fuck you, Ray. this dude literally screamed at a new cook to the point where the new guy left crying a few minutes after. Now, while I don't condone behavior like this, I have to say that the new guy did kind of have it coming. those two hated each other and didn't care who knew. Everyone knew. But still screaming at someone for a full 20 mins while being 3 inches from them, is insane. My man, you aren't a drill sergeant. Calm the fuck down. Ray wasn't even good on the line, the only reason he was there, was to give people some days off here and there. The guy couldn't even stay out of jail. So that's probably why he projected the way he did. Shit man, I was homeless for like a month during the summer one year when I was younger. Apparently, when you get hammered and sleep with the landlord's daughter, they get mad and kick you out. So that was fun. Funny thing is, it was good at all. So, I'm thinking that she got mad about it, or could tell that I wasn't vibing it. And that's why all of this went down the way it did. Many of you will say that he can't do that etc., etc. Thing is, we never had an actual contract. I just kept paying him to rent until they kicked me out for not enjoying sex with their daughter. That's kinda fucked. But hey, such is life. So, I slept in my car for the most part. A few friends tried to get me to move in with them. But I wasn't feeling it. Though I did grab showers and eat there sometimes. I had the money for a new place, but I guess I was just kind of down on myself about everything. Drinking alone in the back of my car on a backroad pull off if actually pretty fun. Though I had to make sure that my laptop had the latest movies and shows downloaded. I didn't really see the downside. But then I got really sick one night and realized that I needed my own place. Being sick in the middle of nowhere, sick as hell, while it's thunder lighting outside, is not a place where you want to be. I swear I kept seeing shit and hearing shit. I was going insane. And then I passed out and almost immediately it was morning and I found myself at the closest gas station getting a coffee when I saw a posting for a place. I called on it and got it within an hour. See how fast that changed? And if I had not been raised by the kitchen, I wouldn't ever think would be possible. But we kitchen monsters are a rare breed. You can tell the ones who are lifers from the ones who are just doing it until something better comes along. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. I'm just saying that this lifestyle isn't for everyone. But for the ones who got chosen by this lifestyle, I applaud you. This life is far from easy. And it's only getting tougher. You have my utmost respect, and hell one day I'd love to shake your hands and thank you. Until then, you're just going to keep reading my kitchen rants, raves, and ramblings. And wishing that I'd stop writing or get to the point. But hey, you still read it didn't you? Thanks for that. It's good to know that someone is listening. You've done your one good deed for the day. You're good to go now.
Rodney Lienhart is a Chef formerly of McKenzie, TN but is now working and residing in Lansing, MI area. Starting at the young age of 7 years old. He worked his way through the ranks in his mom's kitchen in the hills of Tennessee. With a background in nouvelle and southern cuisine, he uses what he knows to learn more about what he doesn't. When he isn't putting a flame on a sauté pan, he can be found reading and researching about what makes people tick. A massive overindulgence in psychology has led him here to share what he has witnessed in his experiences. You can follow his story and insight into the world of cooking food @chef_rodney_117 on Instagram.