"Wearing a Chef's Coat Doesn't Make You Into A Chef"
Does wearing a diaper make you a baby? No. it does not. There are people that absolutely have to wear diapers for medical reasons. And I’m sure that being called a baby for something that they can’t control, isn’t a fun time for them. Be more considerate, asshole. That being said, there are chefs who have to wear chef coats. Even if they don’t want to. And it seems to me that it’s a higher amount of those kinds of chefs that end up succeeding more at their craft later on down the road. Well, what about the other chefs that do it in half the time? Ok, let me be candidly clear here in saying that it is possible. However, highly unlikely someone could in fact become a chef faster than normal. Well, what is a normal timeframe to become a chef? Now that’s a great question with a very unattainable answer it would seem. Some believe it takes years upon years, and some believe it’s a role you learn from two years of school. For some people that may be convincing. I am not one of those people. See, I think that there are tons of things that only time can teach you. And in order to learn those things, you have to invest the time. That’s the only way. There’s no way around it.
People on the outside of this lifestyle have no idea the mental strain that someone who cooks has to endure. It can be very brutal at times. All for what, a paycheck? Or is it for the passion? Shit, either way, it’s hardcore. And shows the nature of the beast. It’s true nature at its core. There is no chill. An easy day is a prep day. And days off are almost unheard of sometimes. Oh but that social life has to be the best part? What social life? Trying to fit a beer or a joint at the end of the day? I’m not sure I’d call that social life. You can if you want. There are those who call that therapy. And those people are insane and make a lot of terrible choices. Like, texting your ex at four am because you’re drunk and alone. That being said, how does know when you’re mentally ready to be a chef? Well, you’ll know when you know. Which is not something that can be said in most other lines of work. For example, you can’t just say that if you’re trying to become a doctor. If that’s how it happened for you and you became a doctor, I’m not letting you touch me. Well, buy me dinner first and we will see. I’ll take a free steak. Mind you, I’m very picky so you may not get lucky.
A chef’s mentality can’t be measured by the amount of time it takes one to become a chef. It’s defined by what that said chef does. There are too many people out here now trying to turn 65 years of education into something that only takes them 6 to 5 years to learn. Now take a look at the numbers there. They are not even close to being the same. And in my opinion, it’s too fast, too quick. You don’t have time to learn shit. Why do people do this? That’s a very good way to get burnt out fast. Is this because of a
personal goal? Because that’s insane. I’d rather have someone that knows what they are doing making my steak. Medium rare is a lovely lovely thing. But why do people try and make a craft with endless limits, and make it into something that they feel they can
confine? Is it a lack of money to live? Or is it gaslighting from employers? You know what I’m talking about. The people who open places for whatever reason, and then lure people in the industry with hopes and dreams. Only for you to find out later that they can’t or won’t do half of what they had promised. Which leads more and more people down the road. Don’t get me wrong, there are good owners out there. Much like there are good chefs out there. But let’s be honest here, the good ones are and far in-
between. Why do you think that our craft is always hiring? Good people will stay in good places. That much is known. And pretty straight forward. But it’s the places where you are overworked and underpaid that get heard about much more frequently. It is rare
these days to find a place where you are paid well and taken care of. Yes, there will be many of you that disagree with me here. And you’re welcome to your opinions. I just think that if you’ve never been in a situation where your bills are due, and your employer
shorts your check. Or shit, even worse, just doesn’t pay you. Yeah, it’s happening. These are things that some people in our line of work have to deal with. This is why you always hear of people that do what we do surviving in most movies. Deep blue sea for example. Dude kills a shark for eating his bird. Guess what that dude did? That’s right, a fucking cook. Not to mention I just read an article going around on the internet about a cook rescued from a sunken ship. Three days he spent down there. Three fucking days. I wanna shake that man’s hand.
I came up with a theory about why people try and rush to become a chef. They want to be the best at what they do. And for some people, this actually happens. Others, well, not so much. I’ve seen people on the fast track to success get to the top. Trust me when I say that they know what the fall feels like. It’s so bad that it crash lands you into rock bottom’s basement. Making the rise back to reality even worse in some cases. I’ve seen rock bottom’s basement. That’s not a place you want to be. I’ve lost a few friends to the fear of falling. The mere feeling of failure was too much for them to handle. And that’s not even including other internal conflicts they had going on. This is a reality in our line of work. Too many strive for perfection so hard that they fast track to the top. Only to end up burning out or taking their own lives at an early age. When you don’t take the time to learn with time, you distance yourself from everything else. This includes family. Now, most of us here don’t know what a real true family feels like. We are misfits,
outcasts, black sheep, etc. Which is why we create surrogate families inside our workplace and industry. What’s that saying? “ You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” I feel like that fits the industry pretty well. There were a few times where I’d much rather have been at work versus being at home. There are a bunch of reasons for this. It’s because we are so different. And I never saw them working the hours that I did. This will put a strain on any sort of relationship you try and have outside of the cooking industry. This goes even double for us parents in the kitchen. Most significant others and children have a hard time understanding what we have to go through just to put food on the tables. I say tables because we do the same thing at work that we do at home. Cook at work to put food on the tables there. And work to make money to put food on the table at home. Some people find out that they are too different and end up going their separate ways. And sometimes, it’s not pretty. Which makes things worse on us. We start to feel hopeless and worthless. Then our best friends anxiety and depression come to hang out for a while to keep us company.
This isn’t the type of friends that bring a bottle of wine to a party. Oh no... these are the friends that come over to drink all of your craft beer and say they will replace it. But end up replacing it with bud light. Also, I feel it’s fair to mention that cigarettes and joints do not have the same value. The type of friends who try to throw down on a joint with a camel light are not your real friends. They are assholes. So are anxiety and depression. The whole lot of them, assholes. But why is mental health so bad in our line of work? Have you not been reading this entire time? Everything that I’ve just talked about is fucked up. It’s a shitshow. And we lose good people every day to said shit-show. Some close to us, and some close to others. But the loss is the same across the board. The empty feeling that you’re left with when your grill cook is gone. That’s a pain that can bring some people to their knees. It makes an easy service seem harder. And there’s no easy side to a hole like that. Imagine what the new person coming into that spot thinks? That’s almost impossible to live up to. No matter what you do, you’ll never grill a steak the same. You’ll never plate things the same way. And you’ll never make the same jokes. It’s hard both sides. But bonds are often made during this. Sometimes personalities clash, sometimes they vibe. It’s just the way it goes from all walks of life really.
Losing someone close and feeling like you’re not useful or wanted can have the same mental outcome. In some cases, leading us right back to a loss of life. Which repeats the vicious cycle all over again. It’s like a terrible conspiracy theory. One where you don’t want to believe it, but it’s true. Sadly enough, there’s always a truth within a lie. Lying and saying that this cycle isn’t true, is only proving it more valid. We need to take better care of our mental health better. To me, this type of cycle can be learned from and changed for the better. This is where we need to learn to give a shit more about the people around us. Now, don’t get me wrong, you have the ability to choose the people around you. You can totally pick nice people. But don’t get mad at me when you surround yourself with assholes. And yes, assholes do exist. We are all assholes to a certain degree. But that’s only because we deal with raw emotions and raw ingredients. So much that we become cynical and surly in some cases. It’s a hard life with a sharp knife in your hand. The repercussions can be rough, tough, and even deadly. But there are plus sides to doing what we do. It builds character. Something that the world needs more of these days.
Think about it. How many people have walked into you kitchen, knife in hand, and can’t even sharpen it? “ It doesn’t matter what I know, the only thing that matters is what I’ll learn.” Someone actually said that to me once. While part of that isn’t wrong, you should probably know something first. Being hungry for knowledge like a fat kid is for cake is good and all. But not if you don’t know anything about what you’re getting yourself into. Which scares many people, and we all know how that ends. Sometimes good, and they learn and grow. And sometimes bad, where you have to live with the fact that they no longer will be waking up with a hangover. Gone. all because they couldn’t relax and devote the time to the craft. Cusine isn’t something learned over a few years. If that’s the case, then you had an influence the whole time and you just don’t want to admit it. Very rarely are there those chefs or cooks that are just naturally doing it randomly. You’ve cooked at home and you fucking know it. And yes, making macaroni and cheese from a box count is food preparation. I very clearly understand that it’s nowhere close to. the same style of cooking. But it is food preparation nevertheless and that’s my point.
There are steps to the process either way. Much like becoming a chef. Both have rules you must follow and the steps you must take. How you do it matters. Which is true in any good recipe. Don’t break your sauce by overcooking the yolks, or burning a roux. If you follow the directions in the recipe, these things won’t happen. Which only proves that our craft is so stressful that being patient with something can cause so much strain on us, that it can result in the end for some of us. Take care of each other. There’s so plenty of room at the top. No one wants to be surrounded by people they don’t know or like at the top. That’s supposed to be an endgame, not a game over. The only way you’ll be able to restart your game, is if you are passionate enough to find the strength to get up and try again. Don’t fear the horse, get up there and enjoy the view. Just don’t ride bareback. That’s how babies are made. And if you’re not ready for kids, this is going to get harder for you. But it’s worth it. That much I can tell you thus far. And I’m nowhere close to being done. I have too much more to do. So please make sure that you keep your knives sharp and your minds sharper.
This piece was written about mental health and how our lives are affected by what we do. If this is similar to what you live, don’t be afraid to reach out. Speak up. Speak out. There are survivors out there. And we have shelter and a safe space to talk. Look us up on Facebook. Restaurant Mental Health And Self Care I’m one of the moderators there, and I can assure you that it’s a great place for very like-minded individuals, survivors, and people going through the same thing.
Just know that you’re not alone. And I can be the first person to admit that people need help sometimes. I wouldn’t be where I am today without certain people in my life now. And I help others to pay it forward. That’s what they would want. If you like what I write you look forward to new topics and perspectives coming at
you weekly every Tuesday and Thursday only at cleverandblade.com in the culinary blogs. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing. Who knows, maybe we can share a meal one day. I’ll look forward to it. -rodney