“The Point of No Return”
Upon picking up your first knife. A curiosity that you will find out, will never be filled.
What can you do with this newfound curiosity? Will it make you rich? Will you find what you need to succeed? Will you be left behind in the world as it continues to turn around you? Will you be rich? Well, if you like the sound of any of this, then maybe put the knife right back down on the counter. Such a thing is the idea of being a cook. Some of us dream of it and some of us fall into it. Though it seems like the lifers are the real deal, the ones who know what it takes. What it takes to step to the line. Which should now be called the point of no return. For it would seem that anyone who has ever come to the line, hasn't left to do anything else. Why is this though?
One of the ideas least talked about in the food industry is that it's a place for all levels of perfectionists to congregate. This is usually done using alcohol. Which can make you some of the best friends you've ever had. And create some of the worst friends you never knew you didn't have. But why is it that in this line of work, we find ourselves running ourselves to death in anything that we do? Take for example drinking, many people don't know when to quit. And it eventually kills them in one way or another. A sad truth. But truth nonetheless. We all had that one family member that couldn't be bothered to do anything with the family unless it involved drinking. And then at the end of the evening, they are one of the last ones standing trying to figure out why everyone else is lying on the floor, passed out. Did they do this to feel good, while you did it to try and solve your problems? And how come you aren't passed out in the same way? You drank so much more than they did. They barely touched anything. Shit, they must have been tired? But you know deep down that's not the answer. But you're going to tell yourself that because you don't have a problem. The sad part is that as a perfectionist, you push yourself in everything you do. Complaining, judging, and criticizing yourself every step of the way too. Why are you so hard on yourself? You don't know. But you always have been. But you've never really been able to calm it down. So you've just ignored it. But it only became worse. Which ended up making you perfect for the kitchen. Cooking is this thing where it doesn't matter who you are, that first day either makes you scared, or excited. Both feelings are great, but only one will win in the end. Which one, is up to what you learn. Some people don't and they phase out. And some people do, and they prosper. And then, some are extremists and burn out because they couldn't respect the kitchen gods. The rules are simple. Always create, never destroy. A very simple idea. That, when abused, can lead to some very depressing and scary times.
But how do I make my dreams a reality, if I can't test the boundaries and do my own thing? Well, it's all about perception. You test the kitchen gods and karma constantly without fear of repercussions. You lack composure. Your passion is there. But you don't know how to channel it. And that's why you keep failing left and right. At least that's what you think. Truth is, you just keep missing the lesson in your mistakes. You must not have ever felt the emotional pain from embarrassment or humiliation. And until you've felt the continual sting and tinge of pain like that, you're never going to learn. Sacrifice. That's one thing that is very real to the kitchen gods. Ask them some time, you all have been meaning to have a chat. I've seen you hitting on the hostess. That's a mistake that you don't need to make. And you're well on your way to making it. Trust me, kid, she doesn't love you the way she says she does. She's working on her nursing degree, and you're working to be sous. Two very amazing things in the world. But both professions have a great deal of time on the job. So you'd never see her. And let's face it, doctors make a lot more money than chefs. Oh, it's not about the money, it's about love. Well, love only goes so far. And no one will love you as the kitchen will. It's a powerful thing. So much energy. It can give you the best of days, and the worst of nights. The kitchen is the most truthful of lies. And it takes an OG to know what I'm talking about. If you are confused, then sling a few more plates and it'll come to you. But ask yourself why it is that people in the kitchen are so quick on their feet. Not to mention the ability to react to conditions and situations so rapidly. It's a beautiful scene to capture when it happens. You know exactly what I mean by this. That moment you forgot to pull the duck because the owners told you to watch cost, and it's not selling. So you just planned on 86'ing it tonight to help save on cost. Well, the worst-case scenario just happened, the owner and his family walked in, and guess who ordered the duck? And guess what isn't thawed, let alone ready. Yeah, the ability to grab a frozen duck breast, and thaw it, prep it, and execute an entree promptly. That's the beautiful scene I'm talking about. Quick on your feet and worried about losing your job at the same time. Magic bitch. That's what that is. Well, that and the kitchen gods testing your bitch ass. But guess who complimented that dish? That's right, that same owner that told you to watch costs. But hey, now you're on cloud nine. A prime example of the best days, and worst nights.
In the kitchen, it's all about perception. Well, that and not letting everyone else know how nice you are. See, even though we pretend to be rugged, mean, and really, all we are are depressed empty assholes looking for a family. Many of us find our ways into a kitchen because of losses in our lives. And that proves that we are just a band of misfits. Some of us are lost, and some of us become saved by a love we found in the kitchen, that we stay to help the next generation. And it's that love that draws others in. That kind of love doesn't stay in the kitchen. That shit permeates around you wherever you go. Look around you. Everyone sucks, and everything outside the kitchen is stupid. But you know that when you get back on shift, you'll feel alive. That's because you were directly taught how to use control. And in the kitchen, you can control everything. And you learn to trust others around you. Whereas, in the world outside, that can't be said. Why are you worried about the outside world? I feel like the same reason we worry about the outside world beyond a kitchen is the same reason we set timers for bacon. We know how fucking long it takes to make bacon. We've all done it a million times. But you always set one. Why? Because shit happens. Even when you think it can't and you have a handle of everything going on. Murphy's law bitch. Guess who just burnt their bacon? But by setting a timer, you can control the cooking process. So if we know that it takes 15 minutes to bake, we are setting that timer for 8 minutes because that oven has a mind of its own. Not all kitchens are created equal though. Some ovens are better than others. But hey, and the oven is an oven. You should know how to use an oven by now. Again, not all kitchens are created equal. So set your timer. Do your thing. Don't burn your fucking bacon. Also, stop worrying about why your neighbor likes to park over the sidewalk like an asshole. Talking to them about it doesn't help. So next time you see him, strike up a conversation real fast. But before words are exchanged, set a timer. And make sure he sees you do it. This will incite confusion. And possibly a little fear. When asked why you set a timer. Just steamroll what he asked, and explain that he shouldn't park on the sidewalk like a jackass. By then the timer should have gone off. And ding ding ding, you are now done being nice. Walk the fuck away like a badass. Watch, he won't do that shit anymore. The confusion about the reason for your time, it's the application to the process, and the fear of repercussions of his actions will perplex him to the point of compliance. So there it is. Problem solved. Your generalized anxiety disorder is now remedied by a kitchen timer. Holy shit wouldn't you love it if that were the solution? Hell, try it and let me know what happens.
But what kind of person does something like that? A person raised by the kitchen, that's who. But why though? If you have to ask why then you haven't ever worked in a kitchen. There's a certain lifestyle that us loners and true misfits have. See we misfits grew up always knowing that the chef is right. And that's the absolute truth. Oh, believe me when I say that people will always question the chef. That shit happens all the time. But what someone has to realize is that the chef is always right. They are the person in charge. And they have gotten to where they are by blood sweat and tears. See, the kitchen gods take your blood, sweat, and tears and exchange them for the experience. That's probably why people on our line of work love video games so much. It's leveling up in real life. Which is rad? But that's not the point of it at all. It's about passion, sacrifice, and consistency. These three things all too common sacrifices to the kitchen gods. And they are always asked from cooks and chefs all the time. And we don't bitch about it. We just give and take when we can. Which is more than you can say about other jobs out there? I grew up with my dad doing everything he could to keep a roof over our heads. We were not rich by any means. My mom worked in the restaurant, which was located in the middle of the country and back hills of Tennessee. So it's safe to say that we didn't hit huge ass numbers all the time. So he worked another full-time job to keep my mom's passion and dreams alive and well. Talk about passion, consistency, and sacrifice, I'm not sure if I could find a better example. Though he will never admit to being a chef. How humble. But I get it now. And I try to say thank you with every plate I send out. It's almost like my parents got told by a time traveler that I'd be a cook when I grew up. And so they molded me into one. Which kind of blessing and a curse at the same time. I guess I should be thankful for it. But what if I wanted to be a stand-up comedian or a doctor? What then?
Truth is, I wouldn't ask for anything else. This lifestyle has been good to me and it's been fucking terrible. But isn't that just life overall though? We are born, we learn and grow, well some of us, and then somehow we die. But if living to die doesn't sound fun. But dying to live though, now that's where the real fun starts. And that fun for me was whiskey. Now whiskey was so much fun. I remember back when I had to have it almost hourly. I ran off of it. If I didn't or couldn't have whiskey, I would ruin everything around me to gain access to it. I lived for that shit. Little did I know that the end to my problems, wasn't at the end of the bottle like I had hoped all along. But I always felt that if I didn't have that beautiful brown, pungent, oak-aged, sailors wet dream, I would feel like I was dying. And that's not a good feeling. So in my mind, it was wake up, drink, have a smoke, another drink, get ready for work, go to work, start prep, have a drink, service, have a drink, close, have a drink, then drink until I fall asleep. This was a serious problem. But hey, it's only killing me, right? Wrong. Little did I know, that with each glass I raised in good spirits, I inched closer and closer to the worst life choices I could have ever made. However, one thing stayed the same. My passion for food. And with it came the opportunity to drink. So what's the downside? The downside was that I was slowly killing myself mentally. My drinking was so bad that when I moved from an old apartment to a condo across town, I cleared out over one hundred empty fifths. I saw the issue then. And still, I ignored it. I feel like maybe people around me could have seen it as well, but they didn't do anything. Fuck, some of them manipulated and extorted me. But I had no way of knowing that. I was blinded by alcoholism. And at the end of the day, I got to cook and drink, so what was the issue? The issue is that the human body can't keep up with that style and pace of life. There were a few nights that I woke up in the emergency room with no idea how I got there. The police had found me drunk, passed out on a bench somewhere, and brought me in. I never got in any trouble though. They must have seen the chef coat on and thought to give me a break. I wish they wouldn't have. I needed to learn my lesson. I very clearly wasn't doing it on my own. It wasn't until years later when my second daughter was announced to be coming into the world, that I put down the bottle for good. For the longest time, I could remember why, but couldn't recall the day. But now, a few years later, I can recall it decently well. And the most important thing that sticks out, it's the bonfire I had in my backyard. I always loved fire. It's part of the reason I'm passionate about cooking. How amazing is it to have something living, yet no heartbeat. Thinking about how close that is to industry life. How often do we feel alive without a heartbeat? One too many if you ask me. But the flames that day were different. They seemed to burn brighter and with more vigor. It's like it was trying to speak to me. I'm not religious. I've seen shit that no god would allow. And have done stuff that would bar me from both heaven and hell. But the fire was speaking to me. It's like everything else in the world stood still, and I could only see and hear the flames. The crackling was the most peaceful thing I've ever heard. And for once in my life, I was calm. I felt like I could breathe. I still felt.
Fast forward a few years, and here I am still doing the same things with my life. Being a loser I mean. But all without the need for booze. I feel that sometimes we cook to learn shit the hard way. This is due to the cynical nature of a cook's life. We don't just believe everything. The shit that we have seen, seems far worse than anything else in front of us. So we choose to not believe something unless it can immediately be validated. Like a shot of whiskey, or snorting a rail. Whereas, take retirement for example. Most of us don't believe in it because we don't ever think we will be alive long enough to do so. I can personally attest to this one. I thought for sure I'd be dead by 30. I'm fucking glad I'm not, but I did not plan to be alive right now. and that's made me start to look further down the road a bit more. There's no looking back now. I've reached the point of no return.
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 saute 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 to the world of cooking food @chef_rodney_117 on instagram.