Have you ever felt lost and alone in the world? I know I have. Sometimes I feel the same way even when I'm surrounded by a room full of people looking directly at me. But what do you do when you can feel the cold sweat on your skin begin to form, in a room that seems like it would be a perfect representation of a beach in Costa Rica? I didn't notice the heat until the feeling of abasement kicked in. But what was it from this time? Probably the fact that I didn't like being surrounded by the feeling that I may or may not have just smoked a spliff outside before coming in through the backdoor. Mix that with being greeted by everyone inside the building immediately upon entry and it's no wonder that someone could imagine a life like this. But then want to admit how fake it all is by cracking a smile. I didn't want to smile; I didn't think I could. But somehow it happened. Though I'll admit that I wasn't ok with it. I don't remember my brain giving my mouth hole permission to smile. Not at a time like this. Why would I? I knew that everyone was only here because I was paying for the food and booze. Drugs though, you had to pay for those. But I had connects to the good shit. So, people saw this as a good time to get in good with me. But from working in the kitchen world so long, I was able to spot the people that will stress you out eventually over something trivial and won't matter in a few months. Might as well smile and pretend to be happy. Isn't that what all the cool kids are doing these days? Fake smiles and emotions seem to get us farther must faster than knowing the right ingredients to popular dishes for certain seasons. As long as you could smile and pretend to save trouble for another day, you had it made. Just make sure that if you do make paradigm shifts like this, you learn the local do's and don’ts first. That'll save you a shit load of grief down the road.
Speaking of grief, that's a good way of describing the process of how people in this industry cope. Or seem to cope every day in finding the strength of trying to find someone's way in this harsh reality that we call life. Some days are sunshine and amazing examples of the good times ahead. But then I'd snap back the reality at hand. Soon I'd look down and see that I passed out last night, sitting up on the end of the couch, beer in hand and phone in my lap. Well, this is a perfect time to see how my day is going to go. If the phone is ruined, that's the luck I'm used to. If it works, then it looks like I can enjoy my first cigarette of the day. So, peeling myself off the couch, I set my empty beer bottle down. Why did I drink a bud light? I fucking hate bud light. Where did I get this shit from? Ok time to stop thinking and start today already. Scooting to the edge of the cushion, I begin to gather my wits about me. Why did my teeth hurt though? Was it…? yup, did cocaine again last night. Fuck. that's going to make this hangover worse. I always have a terrible hangover after a coke infused night out drinking. This is where I try turning my phone on. No luck. I always hated this phone. When they came out with the idea of the Motorola razer, I was super stoked. But after being on my second one, I was already overusing it and wanted another phone that could handle my lifestyle. Maybe this was life trying to convince me to get a new one. So, after folding it closed after trying to power it on, I set it down on the coffee table knee level to the left of me. Felt a bulge in my right pant pocket. My smokes. Now is a good as time as any to get it in. so I reached in my pocket. Great, that dirty piss water got in here too. Oh, don't let my smokes be ruined. I hesitatingly open the pack after making sure that my lighter worked still. Out of seven cigarettes left, four of them got soaked. The other three were my saving graces for the day. I pull one out, lit it up, and took that euphoric first drag of the day. During the exhale is when I realized today was going to be manageable and I was going to survive. But whose house am I in?
Later on, that evening, service was pretty straightforward. Same servers ringing in the overly modded tickets. Thus, consistently proven that they are having to kiss ass for tips. That's how you can tell how a table is going right off the bat. And then boom, that server walks in to attempt to explain the mods to the ticket. This is where most servers fail. At least the ones who don't know the menu or haven't been doing this very long. I once have a female server try to explain how to cook a medium steak to me. The fact that she was female had nothing to do with it, just trying to help you picture the moment I'm trying to capture here. She then attempts to explain to me how the customer wants his steak. "Somewhere between medium and well done." so I respond with " So, medium-well?" This response confused her almost immediately. "No. BETWEEN medium and well done. It's not hard to understand what I'm saying. Your job isn't hard. Just read what I put on the ticket." After hearing this go down, the whole line starts laughing. "Chef did she just say…." I responded with " Yeah, she did…. drag that ticket 20 mins." To which, they all agreed and let out a hefty "HEARD THAT CHEF!" The funniest part of the story is the fact that she didn't even come back to check to see how it was coming along. Only when I put it in the pass window did she comment on anything. I couldn't hear anything she said, and honestly, I didn't give a shit. She was annoying and the less she talked the better. A few hours passed, and she came to me outside and asked to bum a smoke off me. I obliged and handed her my second to last one. She said that the customer with the steak left the chef a $20 tip for the best steak he had ever had. She then continued to ask what I did to it. To which I smirked and felt all of my rages come out in the smoothest and calmest of words I could have ever said given the circumstances. "Medium-well." " You don't like me, do you?" She asked. " Not when you're being a bitch, no. Save that shit for the customers, and next time you'll get tipped instead of the kitchen." She let out an audible gasp. " How the hell did you know that I didn't get tipped?" "Because given how long that ticket time was, and how you didn't come back to check on your food, I'm led to believe that they didn't tip you. Which is why you're out here talking to me now. You don't smoke. You and I both know this. But hey, consider this a lesson and be better. Now, take half of that and buy rounds for the back of the house, and keep half for yourself as a lesson in compassion."
Servers don't like it when cooks are assholes. But what they don't understand is that it's a two-way street. Am I saying that this is one-sided in the aspect of the cooks never being assholes to the servers first? Hell, no I'm not. That happens all the time, and sometimes we don't have a good reason as to why we are being assholes. If I have to take a crack at it, I'd probably assume that it's from the constant hangovers and propensity to substance abuse and our narcissistic natures that we have gained from having to survive in a world where we don't feel comfortable in our heads. That kind of lifestyle would make anyone into a monster overnight. Waking up to feel the same hope crushing feelings from yesterday are still looming over you waiting to take over. And yet, we somehow keep the wolves at bay daily with our tenacity and approach to problem-solving. Always thinking of how we can better our lives in the fastest way possible. Of course, this is worth mentioning that this is usually done without a look into the future. It's hard for a person with these kinds of problems to look forward very much. They never believe that they will live to see the day come when something comes to fruition for them. It's all about what you can do to send it now and deal with it later if it comes back. If it doesn't come back, I am relieved and count it as a win. When in reality, that was luck blessing me for a brief moment. It's not anything I did skill-wise. But when it does come back, it's always a bigger issue than before. So, after learning how this works, I decided to change my approach and see what I could do to make it more efficient. At least enough to be able to control it more so that I could feel like I was in control of my life. Shit, maybe servers know this and that's why we can't agree on anything. Same problems at hand, just different perspectives. So, communication is important. Huh, who would have known?
Maybe that's why I loved the feeling of happiness I used to get when I would get a good blow. This dishwasher I worked with once always had the best blow. Hell, he had connects to so much stuff, that he and I started a little side hustle out of the back of the kitchen. Whatever you needed; we could get it. This dude had friends in high places. I remember going with him one time to get some weed. We were in downtown Grand Rapids when he asked me if I wanted to smoke. Soon after a few shots of courage at a local Irish pub, we set out on foot to find some ganja. He legitimately made one text, and boom he got it. Talk about having the hookup. He wasn't even from the area, so how’s did a dishwasher have so much pull? I was soon about to find out. Now, let's be real here. I was expecting this dude to get picked up by his mom or something. This kid was my age but dressed like a high school rave kid. If he was in front of you in a car dealership, and you had to sell a car to him, I don't think you'd take him seriously until he opens his backpack. I swear it looked like a cash bag. He had so much money and gear on him, that I wondered how he wasn't ever robbed. Hell, I thought about robbing him. But why risk losing the plug by being a jerk? I want to see where this goes. So far so good, so why fuck it all up now? So, we made our way to this very high end and exquisite hotel downtown. Upon walking up to the entrance, we decided to stop and have a smoke, except it wasn't tobacco. Now, this was a long time ago, when smelling it public was a beacon for police. So, when hotel security started walking up to us, I'll admit I panicked a little bit. I looked over, and my dude was a chill as ever. "Does this guy ever worry about anything?" I thought. "He's waiting for you." One of the guards said as they walked up. "Well, his ass can wait until I smoke this joint." My buddy said to them. Then he took a brilliant drag off of it and passed it to me. To which I did the same. I'll be damned if they didn't stand there and wait for us to finish smoking. At which time, a Grand Rapid police cruiser drove by and waved at the security guards. And I know they have to seen and smelled what was going on. Both windows were down, and we were less than twenty feet away from the road. They didn't give a shit, they just kept driving like nothing was happening. " Ok let's go see my grumpy gills now." Said the dishwasher. We were escorted inside and to a suite. Inside the door, the world changed around me. It quickly became a mix of a good mafia movie vibe, blended with groovy bass lines of some house music. My attention was quickly drawn to the man in the center of the room. Dressed in what seemed to be a custom-tailored suit, he made his way over to my friend and me. " Keep me waiting like that again, and I'll throw you off a bridge." He said to us. " Suck my dick Eugene." Responded my dumbass friend. I swear to you the music cut out and you could hear a pin drop on the carpet. Luckily, come to find out, these guys went back for a long long time. They used to live next door to each other growing up and use to always used to ride bikes together all the time. Knowing this made me relax. Or maybe it was the joint, either way, I didn't give care. "So, this must be the chef?" My newfound friend inquired. "Yeah, this is the mastermind behind the line. The shit this dude does is INSANE!" My friend added. "I just cook food man, that's it," I replied. " Well, in a world full of working dogs, it's good to know people with food. Now, let's get down to business. I believe you were looking for some Mary jane?" The mild-mannered dude in the suit stated. Not thirty seconds after saying this out loud, a drop-dead gorgeous woman in a thin black pencil skirt and black pumps comes walking over. I could hear and feel each click-clack of her heels. What the hell did I smoke? This weed is hella legendary. She commanded attention the moment she approached anyone. That much was clear. She handed me a manila envelope and hugged me, only me which was weird. And then gently pushed me away and winked and walked away. And before I could even get the chance to watch her leave, my friend grabbed the envelope out of my hand. He opened it and looked into it, scooped up a handful of flowers, and smelled it. He then motioned for me to enjoy the aroma with him. You didn't have to tell me twice. The smell was that of pure relaxation. Sour Diesel, my goddamn favorite. How did they know? That's when I looked at my friend with sheer joy. "I love you man. " I said to him without hesitation. He laughed and reached into his backpack and counted out $500 in crisp hundred-dollar bills. He had enough in his hand to make a stripper blush. After handing it over to the man in the suit, we exchanged pleasantries and made our exit. I thought back a few hours later and realized that I never got that dudes name. So, I asked my buddy. He told me not to worry about it, but to call that guy the Biz. At first, I felt this was a weird name, but after a few moments of reflection, it seemed like a fitting name in retrospect. He then continued to tell me that the girl's real name was April, but she goes by Avalon. And that she seemed to like me. She usually is a bitch to people he said. And if I wanted him to hook it up, he would do so. So, then I asked, "Isn't that Biz's girl though?" "Nah, she just helps him with the day to day operations, she grew up with us. She's like a sister to us." Now, no matter how shitty I was feeling about my existence, hearing something like this would Grumpy cat smile. All while asking what bad shit is about to happen. Good shit like this doesn't happen to people like me. And you know that life is currently planning your demise as soon the thought of a good event crosses your mind.
Three days later after I forgot all about the possibility of anything happening with my friend's offer of getting ahold of her, I got a voicemail from a Grand Rapids area code. " I heard you're looking for me, it's Avalon. Call me back as soon as you can. I'll be in Lansing tomorrow evening and was wondering if you'd like to meet up after your shift. Please call me back." I dropped my poor excuse for a phone after hearing this. Maybe my luck is turning around. So, then I called my dishwasher friend to thank him. And Biz picked up. He said hello and then made sure I knew that Avalon called me. He made sure I knew how important it was that I called her back, then said goodbye and handed the phone off to my guy. "Chef, she likes you a lot. I'm over here hanging out and she won't shut up about you." He told me. " Make sure you call her." Then the phone went dead. My dumbass forgot to charge it before I went into work. After a very tense hour-long wait for it to charge and getting ready for dinner service, I called Avalon back. She answered immediately with "Hey you, about time." Music to my ears. And so, we made plans to meet up the next day after my shift. I'm not sure if it was the energy drink or excitement, but I felt like I was on cloud nine. The next evening came, and she met me outback of the restaurant like she said she would. So, what else is there to say? We all know how this is going to end, I'm going to string this girl along only to eventually break her heart. This wouldn't happen if only I loved myself and stopped worrying about shit, I thought I couldn't control. But being around her, I felt the need to give up some of my worries and relax. I don't know why, but she felt like home. Our relationship lasted for 4 months. That's when this happy ending took a turn for the worst. She died in a car accident on her way to her mom's for a Sunday dinner. A drunk driver flew straight through a red light as she was trying to turn left. I'll never forget the way her smile used to light up my day. And now I'm left here. Without a goodbye or a reason why. For a long time after the accident, I begged the higher powers above to take my life for hers. To which I have still not gotten a reply. Of the many things she taught me, the one that stuck the most was the one I still do to this very day with obsession. I never lost my passion for cooking. If anything, it's gotten more severe over time. And I have her and many others to thank for this. Saying it does nothing. But putting those emotions behind my actions and drive is the only way I can show appreciation. What would you have done? Exactly.
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