“The Recipe for a Good Line Cook.”
This is where you follow the white rabbit down a hole to seek some truth and answers. Much like when you google your horoscope or subconsciously agree to your fortune cookie thinking that it somehow can predict the outcome of your life.
Yet, the truths and answers I'm about to reveal aren't for the faint of heart. But then again if you've ever said the words " Yes, chef!" then it would appear that you have the constitution required to venture down said rabbit hole. And you also know that life can't be predicted or googled. You know how hard and real-life can be. In this way of life, there aren't any scripts or long enough cigarette breaks. Why is this? Well, that depends on who you ask, and when you ask them. Most people in this rabbit hole come across as deranged, demented, or just plain insane. When really, it's the exact opposite. They are survivors. How the hell is this possible you ask? For that, there are many many answers. But let's take a few and look at them.
When talking about survival, strength is something that one must have to move forward. But what many don't know, is that strength has many variations in use. Think about it. Who's stronger, a bodybuilder or a man that just lost his wife due to a car crash? A man that now has to raise a young daughter without a mother. Some of us cannot fathom what it would be like to lose a loved one. While others know that feeling all too well. Then again someone here is likely going to argue that the bodybuilder and the man are the exact people. That couldn't be farther from the truth. The point is that we all have lives to live. Why is it that we have to put down everyone else around us to succeed in life? We are all different. Accept it. Don't judge by pigment, lack of money, or physical disabilities. You don't know what battles someone is going through. Try lifting someone instead of pushing them down. Stop being an asshole. You're not perfect.
Know what's worse than a fellow line cook putting another peer down for a bitch ass reason? Corporate greed and all it's bullshit. Holy shit is it bad. It's like a fight to the top with napalm coated on the bottom of your shoes. Trying to run as fast as you can to the top before getting burned. Problem is, most people stuck in climbing that ladder doesn't realize that there's no way to not get burned. Do this to get this to only hurry up to wait. Hasn't anyone else noticed how many things in America do this? The whole hurry to wait for a situation. It seems to me like a bullshit ploy to manipulate someone into getting them to sacrifice actual hours of their lives for someone to benefit more. Wait, you want me to give you 60-70 hours of my life to you each week so that you can profit and I can barely pay my bills? Not to mention fuck the social life that I deemed so important before. Oh but wait, I'm paid well for the market? Don't make me laugh. Has anyone else noticed that we cook for a living always feel like our heads are going to explode? Damn near impossible deadlines, working in highly stressful situations and working without sleep have led some of us to seek the gentle embrace of something to confide in. Vices exist in this industry. And yet, the same corporations that pay for hours of our lives, are just waiting for you to slip up and fire you when you choose to use said vices. Ok Mr corporate joe, you need to smoke a joint and calm down. There's nothing wrong with a little weed and coffee. But there is something wrong with you condemning someone for putting forth 110% for you. All while you keep demanding more, yet give less and less. How is that not comparable to a form of slavery? So let me get this straight. I'm supposed to continue working non-stop, from sun up to sun down for you. All the while, you're taking all the credit for my work? Not to mention, you don't even acknowledge my work or sacrifices? This is how trust issues are created. I don't believe that I can find a better example of manipulation anywhere else.
Just trying to comprehend the corporate greed in the industry alone, is enough to my make own mental health come up with another lie to believe to live another day. Trust me when I say that you're not alone. I don't know how many days I've tried to take my problems, put them at the bottom of a whiskey, put the bottle to my head, and pulled the trigger. For a long time, this seemed to help. Yeah, there were days where I didn't want to wake up. And hoped I wouldn't. But I did. And sometimes I still don't even know why. Maybe it was to type this to you now? Maybe it was to continue to cook to find a new flavor. But those days with the bottle was years ago. Somehow I survived. Now I spend my days filling up my mind with a plethora of reasons as to why I do what I do. Cooking for me is bliss. The ability to create something from almost nothing. That's magic. Well, more science. But hey, let me have this one. I'm not hurting anyone. Know what IS hurting someone? The lack of people to talk to in this industry. Why the hell is it acceptable to keep your head down and not ask questions? Isn't the purpose of questions to find solutions? That seems like a halfway logical mantra honestly. Though, I must admit that there is such a thing as a dumb question. Maybe it's because you're keeping your head down too much, that you're not able to pay attention? Who knows. Well, I do. Would you like to know what isn't dumb and is pretty badass? Having the ability to admit when you need help or someone to talk to. Think about it. Kitchens are a place for the outcasts. No matter where you're from or going. We all come together behind the line and feed the masses. As a team. Face it, no matter how badass you are, you can't do it alone. It's about working as a team. And a team can only be respected by communication. Lack thereof will kill any line or kitchen almost immediately. This is partly why we have the show hell's kitchen. Anyone working in the industry watches that show and laughs. We find it funny due to the lack of communication, and watching the drama unfold and diss the industry we all bleed for daily. But imagine how it would feel to be on national television to cook for someone famous. But is that why we do what we do? For some, maybe. For the rest of us? Well, it's because of our passion. A passion that makes us feel like we aren't anything good at anything else.
But what happens when you can't even find the mental strength to lift yourself out of bed so that you can go do 900 covers in 3 hours? You break down. You think it's not possible. You begin over-thinking/ over-analyzing. You're already starting to think that you're going to fail. That there isn't a way to get this done. It's this type of mentality that stops some of us. Why is this? Well, for that there are many answers. Shit, even lack thereof in some cases. We may not ever get to know what the true catalytic issue is. What's causing the problem. What starts the self-defeat even before you've rolled out of bed. Depression, anxiety, stress. Three main ingredients that anyone who cooks always starts within their mornings. A shitty mirepoix if you ask me. Well, how can we get rid of these? Booze, pills, the gym, blowing lines, a long drive, a hot shower? These are all things that some of us reach for a quick fix. But are they solving the issues, or just providing bandaids that we are going to have to rip off later on? Has anyone tried talking to someone? Well, they must have because therapists are a thing. But wait, "I can't afford health insurance, or don't have it. And without changing that I can't talk to anyone," Well, I'm, sure that you don't work in the kitchen alone. If that is the case, you have social media. Speak up, speak out. You'll announce when you bought those new jordans or got that car you had your eye on for a while. But you won't reach out to someone to talk about your mental health? Maybe it's just me, but I feel like my mental health is worth more than your knock off J's, or that shitty ass hot red mustang that doesn't have a second gear and is about to catch fire because you're missing half the dash panel. But hey, it was a steal, right? I'd much rather talk to Sara down on the cold line about her mom being in the hospital. Because in the end, I'll sleep much more comfortably knowing that my team has my back.
So why is it that we can't talk to each other about our feelings? Is it because it's not deemed "strong"? Somehow that shit doesn't make sense to me. We all know that we all know the issue is pride. Well, what exactly is pride? Pride is defined as a pleasure or satisfaction from one's achievements. So how the hell does that stop us from talking to others when we need to vent or ask for an opinion about something? It would make more sense to move pride to the end of the sentence. Rather someone should take pride in reaching out and talking about what's going on in their heads. Doing this would prove that one is strong both mentally and emotionally. It's like having a surprise fifty top walk in right after you just tried to close 5 mins early. Anyone that has ever been in this position, knows that is it sucks. And that no matter what, it's going to have to happen. But there are two types of people in this line of work. People who smile, and take it head-on. Handle the situation without hesitation. And people who can't handle the last-minute stress, and crumble.
The kitchen is a prime example of flight or fight. I'm convinced that Freud wrote that exact line while watching the cooks on the line at the Cafe Landtmann. It takes a special person to step up to the task of feeding the masses. Knowing damn well that there is going to be someone you aren't going to be able to please. That seems like shitty odds to me. But then again, I'm one of those lost souls. I'm the one who takes a deep breath during the calm before the storm. For it's the storm that we go chasing after, right? Trying to see the biggest and the worst. Which completely perplexes us when we look at why we do what we do? Then why do we do what we do? Because we like mental torment? Is it the long hours? What about the lack of social life? Maybe the addiction to stress? Whatever the reason, we do it. And we either do it well or fail. Far too often we are forced to pick one and keep going. Talk about duress.
So how do we fix it? How do we stop from breaking down in the shower every night after-service? We talk about it. We trust in the others that we have shared a line with. Now, don't get me wrong, some of you can't be trusted. But that's on you and only you. But you're a prime example in this case. When working on a line with someone, you learn to trust their timing and rely on them for their part. So if you can do that, you should be able to ask how they are doing. Build that bond, build that family up. That's true gangsta shit right there. That's true strength. That's the shit that our parents couldn't accomplish. They couldn't put pride aside for mental health. They just tried to ignore problems, hoping they'd just go away. Well, news flash, they don't. Much like us in the industry. We don't ever go away. We stand the test of time. Only to be tested time and time again. And now, we know that we can speak up and speak out. Which means, that we are stronger and smarter. A true threat to people to don't moving forward. This is where the true culinary gangsters learn and adapt and move forward. And where you begin to learn what you can be, and where it will lead you. That is pride. Like I said, put pride at the end of the sentence. Work towards it. We already know that lifting that chef knife every day is one of the most undervalued careers out there. It is also one of the most stressful ones out there. But if we know how to deal with the stress, then we can become unstoppable and teach the other industries how it's done. How many times have you heard about how hard it would be to do what you do? And you respond with a shoulder shrug and a half-grin. Feeling empty while flashback to a certain time on the line that crushed you. You don't want to tell anyone that? Well, you didn't die. So why not brag about that instead of your new tv? I dare you to brag about it. That's worth so much more, for so much less.
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 into the world of cooking food @ chef_rodney_117 on Instagram.