“Chefs Like Their Lives Medium-Rare.”
I can feel the panic creeping up like a cold dark shadow bringing a sense of worry and a feeling of dread in tow while it makes its way toward me. With it, brings a feeling that would insinuate that Murphy's law is about to discover a patient zero. Though it seems to haunt those who pour all they have into what they do. This feeling isn't something new. It's been there for a long time now. And yet, the only time that I can feel it dissipate is when I create something from nothing by cooking food. While I understand that this comes from something in my past, I'm still unsure of what that is. Was it something someone said? Something I did or didn't do? My drug or alcohol abuse? Holy hell if it's stemming from that? If so, I'm in for a painfully transcendental ride in a car that's on fire, screaming down a highway so fast that everything passing by seems like a blur. All while hearing howling screams of terror as though I'm in a constant nightmare. But it would seem as though my eyes are wide open and I'm fully awake. And that this nightmare is playing in the background of this thing I call life. All I wanted from everything was someone to be proud of me or the things that I bled to accomplish. Instead, I'm met with constant feelings of dread and doubt divergent of a constant theme.
Most people either want to be loved or to be feared. As Machiavellian as that sounds, it's true. We all want to either be loved or feared in the kitchen. Sadly, some don't live long enough to see either come to fruition. While others continue to be feared by their drive led by their passion, they will go to great lengths to decimate anything and anyone in their way to pursue that said passion. Oh, how alone they must feel. Though they will never admit it, they are alone. For if a person is truly feared, they have no one close to them. So, what is it that an infamous person fear? Depression. That ugly fucker. How come it seems like it's always a constant battle uphill only to end up alone in your mind and staring at one possible outcome? And how come that constant outcome always seems to be ending your life? Well, most people look at the issue as being a bother to an outside world that doesn't understand them. And others just don't have the self-respect or self-love to deviate from self-harm.
Well, let's take a look at how the rest of the world views people in the kitchen. That perspective may shed some light on why we feel the way we do. I for one can openly admit that I'm sick of feeling this way. And it seems like anytime I meet someone new that is from the same line of work, they are often so shell shocked that it's hard to get a good conversation out of them. However, the silence says a lot more than words ever could. It would seem as though that level of emotions can't be properly quantified into words that would be able to describe what a person is feeling. The stagnation of our daily lives has caused many of us misunderstood culinarians to question our self-worth. The daily struggles of having to deal with the same type of ebb and flow of the kitchen would be enough to drive anyone insane. All for what? Terrible fucking pay blended with a dash of even worse working conditions served with a side of long hours accompanied by a large helping of no sleep. Only to be selfly remedied by addiction and whatever other vices we can create to help cope with what we are having to endure, all while there are those out in this world today that could care less about who we are and what we do. Shit, those same people would argue that we aren't considered skilled laborers. So, let me get this straight, you come into my restaurant, treat my staff like dogshit, hit on my servers while you have a wedding ring on your finger, get drunk, order your food, and then complain about it? All for what, a chance to seem like a big shot because you can't get it up anymore? Well, I can get it up, ask your, wife, she knows. She would definitely agree that what I did to her was skilled labor. But we aren't ready to talk about that, now are we? Oh, but don't worry bud, it doesn't take any skill whatsoever to cook. Anyone can do it. Except, not everyone can, and you fucking know this. Let's face it, idiots run the show now. And it doesn't take much to do what they do. It's all about who you know, isn't it? Well, the only way that I'd ever want to be part of your little, cool kid's club, is if you had secret decoder rings. Speaking of rings, your wife never took hers off while she was in my back storeroom. It would seem that being the only place in town with a good steak is a common mecca for an episode of the rich and shameless. So maybe don't be a dick, dick. And karma won't have her ugly way with you. Don't worry, I'll be tortured later by myself regret and loathing. So, we can call it even. It's doesn't matter that I may or may not have known that I was making your steak personally and decided to use toilet water to baste it. Juicy wasn't it? There's a meat in your mouth joke there somewhere. But I'll leave that for you to ponder.
Maybe it's the actions that we use to help offset the minds that cause us to spiral downward into a dark place. Or maybe it's the fact that we are feared, and because we are feared, we are repressed. And being repressed can only lead to pent up rage and aggression. I mean, take a look at our industry, how are we not supposed to feel like modern-day slaves? What makes another person think that they can control my life based on how much money they have compared to me? Those same people are the ones flocking to us to achieve what they can't. Well, your first issue began when you assumed, we were stupid. If you didn't need me, then why is my phone constantly blowing up from you calling me all the time? Can't you take a hint? I clearly won't work for you. I know my value and I refuse to drive an hour to work and an hour back, just to work for a wage that's only going to be misinterpreted and then I end up short-changed. Literally. So why don't you run your restaurant? Oh, that's right, you have to be out of work at 5 pm sharp so you can be a family man. You said that to me in the beginning too. What a piece of work. So, let me get this straight. You want me to come and bust my ass for you, running everything, killing myself, all while you can have a business and a family? So, you are going to pay me dogshit for hours of my life that I can't get back, only to keep me away from my family so that you can be with yours? No thank you. Sounds like you're the only one profiting from that. Hell, with people like that in our line of work, no wonder we have to deal with depression. You would feel the same way. So, you don't get to call anyone unskilled labor. It's my skills that you're seeking because you lack them. So, either pay for them or kick rocks. The choice isn't hard. But make it worth my time. I already have plenty of emotional issues to deal with, alongside the ever-growing popularity of people pretending to be able to do what I can do. Not to mention, the huge problem of people working a full-time job and still having to live in poverty. But we aren't ready to talk about that, are we? Or is it the fact that greed has led you to believe that you don't have to pay me what I'm worth? The fact is that as an employer, only you see it as a transaction. You pay me for doing a job, that's it. When in reality, you're paying for hours of my life. Time away from my family. And a lack of having a social life.
Could it be that not having an adequate social life is the real reason that depression runs rampant in our industry? Many could argue against that, using our nightlife at the local bar or pub as a prime example. But that's where it starts to get fuzzy. Sort of like that night where you woke up in a ditch in front of your house with no recollection as to how you got there. But hey, you almost made it home, so let's give you some kind of credit. I for one, don't believe that drinking after a shift, constitutes a social life. More of a remedy to an overly stressful work environment. It's not until after that we realize that the alcohol causes us to dive down farther into the abyss and become lost to a world that barely knows we exist. But we are alive, we are proud, we are the underdogs. And we are all damn good at what we do. Well, most of us anyway. One would go as far as to say that we push everyone else away emotionally, to put our all in what we do. I for one can confirm this to be true. Most of my life, I pushed plenty of people away. For reasons that I don't even recall anymore. Which is sad, there were a lot of amazing people I've met along the way in becoming the person I am today. There are days where I wonder what some of them are doing. Then out of nowhere, I tend to ruin it. I know that they may or may not remember me. But in my head, I always assume that they do, and they just start talking shit about me. Maybe that's my subconscious telling me that I used to be toxic. And how true that is. But it's through those trials and tribulations on my way back to a reality that I've found to be profitable for me now, that I realized that I have a great deal to make up for. Trust me when I say that no one else knows this more than myself. Whoever came up with the saying that we all are our own biggest critics, wasn't lying. It's not so much doubt that causes this for me, it's the fear of rejection of my peers. But at the same time, I yearn for this with every plate I send out. That way I can learn from my craft to help myself evolve into a better, more well-rounded cook. We will have to see what I've learned over my years from being on the line. Have you ever seen the motions and movements on a busy and smooth flowing line, on a line with a rail full of tickets and a full house? Imagine if you were a swirling hurricane contained inside a glass room and you're on the outside looking at it trying to make sense of it all. Seems impossible, doesn't it? I can assure you that it's not. Good cooks can jump in and start moving at the same rate of speed. Chefs can watch from the outside looking in and can run the whole thing, all at once, in their minds. This is called running the pass. You trust the storm of the line to execute each dish. And most do, with such precision, it's unparalleled by anything in nature. But every storm needs to be controlled. That's the nature of the beast. Welcome to the mind of a cook.
So why continue to give your all to an industry that will only chew you up and spit you out when given the chance? Ever had a really hot girlfriend and found out that she's cheating on you? Hearing that made you angry and sad at the same time, didn't it? But you still took her back or hooked up with her again, didn't you? Yeah, the same thing with a cook and the lifestyle. The only difference is that cooking is all we know. But sometimes we enjoy the pain of the hurt. It shows us that we are only human. Although, I had no idea that a human could hold so much booze and cocaine in themselves at one time. Some people might call that a bender, we who cook for a living and the like call it a Tuesday night. Ever had a nose bleed that won't stop, and so then the fear of dying kicks in but you still have to make it to your shift? Yeah, better make it stop, because you can't afford to call off work. And the chef will call you a weak little bitch for calling off no matter the day. Oh, don't ever do something like that on a weekend. You will never live it down. It's seen as disrespectful unless you have kids. Even then it's iffy. It depends on how good you are in good with the chef. Any good one will grant you mercy to spend time with loved ones. I did when I wore the toke. I'll be honest, I took bribes though. Free snow is free snow. And who doesn't love free drugs? Speaking of bribes, why is it that I'm always offered things in return to helping other chefs with why they have staffing problems? Now hang on a second, I don't mind helping out. But at the same time, why the hell can't you do it? That's the real issue here. Maybe that's the issue. Boom, problem solved. It took me a fraction of the time as I thought it was going to. But saying that isn't how you get your ice cream at the end. These are always set up where you get paid after you've given your advice. So now you have to lead the chef or owner to it themselves. Make them believe that they had an epiphany or some shit. When all you need to do is stop showing up to work hammered and sleeping with the servers behind their line cook boyfriend's back. And then going to that very same line cook and pretending to be best friends. That's usually the issue. But you can't just say that. In that case, you have to think quickly, as to get out of this without backlash and with that pot of gold. So maybe advise him to pick another server? Or even better, stop sleeping with the help.
Just imagine having to deal with that kind of Jerry Springer bullshit every day you go into work. Why do people create situations like that? Oh, I'm by far no saint. I've done it, you've done it, we all have done it. Lying isn't going to get us anywhere here. Admitting your mistakes and learning from them, however, is a good way to move past this. So, light a joint, raise it and rejoice in the fact that we aren't douchebags anymore. Well, I'm not anymore. At least not on purpose. But hey old habits die hard, don't they? What I don't understand is being a why be a piece of shit? It doesn't get me anywhere. Just losing everything and almost dying. But hey, that's a good topic of discussion for another time. But for the record, dying isn't fun. It's cold and painful and tastes like the driest thing you've ever eaten. No flavor, just a dryness in your mouth and it hurts when you move it soon after. I don't recommend it to anyone. So maybe don't mix cocaine and booze into your regular diet? Better yet, just smoke weed. You can't overdose on weed. And worst case you'll eat those extra yogurts in the fridge. Which, let's face it, is better for you than fifty percent of the things that you put into your body at this current point in time. Speaking of time, you may want to figure this all out sooner rather than later. It gets so much better! And that's what you have to live for. So, stop trying to live, and start living. It all starts with curbing what you feed into that monster that we call depression. The more progress you make, the less it has to feed off of. Progress is progress, no matter the speed. Etch that into your mind. Now, set cruise control and enjoy the drive. You'll get there when you get there.
Rodney Lienhart is a Chef formerly of McKenzie, TN but is now working and residing in the 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 Southern, Italian, French, and Nouvelle cuisines, 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. Make sure to keep a close eye one his videos coming out soon. In these videos, he will be closely working with Wayhot sauce and Krystilion CBD on future recipes and concepts. You can follow his story and insight into the world of cooking food and adding the health benefits of CBD to his dishes on Facebook also on Instagram @chef_rodney_117