Thursday, November 17, 2005

Restaurant Confidential #0: The Epiphany

It seems that everywhere I go, no matter what time of the day, my mind is constantly battling inner aspirations. I’ve always been very fickle with everything. Hobbies. Food. Music. Girls. It’s not a wonder that I become bored with things really easy. I’d work hard toward something and once it’s complete or gets ‘old’, I move on to the next. It may be that I have a short attention span? Or it may be a natural instinct for me to want to try as many things my life would allow me – you know, before the batteries run out. This fickleness definitely applies to my career choices.

When I graduated from college, I panicked. Growing up in a Chinese family, or even as an Asian American for the most part, there were only three, ‘acceptable’ career paths.

Was I going to be a doctor?
No. I suck at the Milton Bradley Operation game.

Was I going to be a lawyer?
I don't think i can help someone win $2.1 million.

Was I going to be an engineer?
Well, i did make fully functional beer bongs that could hold up to 9 beers at a time.

Mom and dad, I’m breaking all cultural ideals and going into advertising. Advertising? Wus dat? (Just kidding, my parents speak perfect English.) I want to be a part of an industry that devises clever ways to make you buy things you don’t need. Why? It’s fun to be a part of pop culture. There’s a little bit of celebrity hood within it. How many people do you know that can actually be proud of an annoying billboard you see everyday on your way back home from work? Anyway, after three years, I managed to complete my portfolio and finally got a job as an Art Director. Boy did it feel good to finally get to the top of the mountain.

Guess what? I love advertising, but I’m already tired of it after only a year and a half. It seems that I’ve traversed back down that mountain, only to turn around and raise my head up, gazing upon the new challenge. I blame it all on the Food Network. During the first three years, I fell into a comfort zone. I’d do the 9-5 like everyone. Go home. Eat. Sit and watch TV. Three years. And one day, with nothing to watch, I flipped to the Food Network. Alton. Tyler. Rachel. Emeril. Bobby. Anthony. Ina. Giada. Paula. Marc. Mario. I watched EVERYTHING and absorbed every bit of information regarding food. Soon after, I started cooking more, researching knives and pans and buying cookbooks. What has happened to me? I had created a monster. My very, own monster. I was a full-fledged foodie.

I had befriended a co-worker whose boyfriend works as a grill cook at a restaurant in Los Angeles. He was telling me how he had gone to college and settled for a sales job. One day, he resigned and jumped straight into the kitchen. Seven months earlier, he had worked up from the pantry to the grill - a huge step in the kitchen world. Last time I talked to him, his last words were, “Hey man, if you love it, just do it. It’s hard but it doesn’t hurt to try. You’ll never know if this is or isn’t for you, unless you give it a shot. I can get you in, but you have to want it. I cried because I got rocked by the chef, but it only fueled my passion for it.” He is a chef and a coach – all in one.

Two weekends ago, I sat at home thinking about the restaurant. My only option is to work on the weekends because I’m not divorcing advertising just yet. We’re still doing okay. I guess you can say this is going to a be an affair. Short? Long? Who knows. But man, seven days of work is mind-boggling. Working in the kitchen is going to be hard enough, but add another 40-50 hours on that. Fuck it. I’m doing it. I don’t anything to lose if it’s not for me. At least I tried.

I went into The Restaurant last Tuesday to meet with the Executive Chef. I had talked to him on the phone briefly and could tell he was stern. I knew he was giving me an opportunity only because of my coworker’s boyfriend. I knew he was already giving me a month-tops. Whatever. So I had prepared for the interview by mentally rehearsing the right things to say. Here’s how the interview went…

Me: So I heard you need some help in the pantry?

Chef: Yeah. When can you start?

(That’s it?)

Me: Um. Next weekend.

(Chef then starts scribbling on a fresh piece of printer paper.)

Chef: Meet here for orientation at 10 am. I’ll see you next weekend. Bring your own knives. We got a coat for you. Buy your own shoes and pants. I recommend that you don’t wear khakis or white jeans. (Who the hell wears white jeans besides girls? Aren’t those illegal for men to wear?)

Me: Ok.

Chef: Any questions?

Me: No.

Chef: Wait, what was your name again?

I’m serious. Total time: 5 minutes. 4 of those minutes went towards paperwork. I shook hands with him and as I walked away, I felt a knot in my stomach. I don’t know what the hell I just got myself into. Nervous? Anxious? Excited? Yes, all of that. As soon as I walked out of the restaurant, I approached the steps quickly - a perfect ramp for that memorable, slow-motion Toyota leap from the 80s commercials. I felt like doing that but I thought I’d save it for another occasion.

So this past weekend, it was time to gear up. I felt like it was a back-to-school sale. Pencils. Pens. Trapper Keepers. Jansport backpack. Mead paper. I bought my first pair of black Dickies. I figured I’d be safe as long as I’m not walking around the streets with them. Brought the ubiquitous Bed Bath & Beyond coupon to the store and bought some cheapie Calphalon’s. Who cares. They’re going to get f*cked up.

This Saturday, my life is going to change as I start my first day. Will it be for me? Or will it not? I’ll fill you in after this weekend. I’m just glad to know that there’s a fellow blogger going down the same path with me. Yoony of Immaeatchu is interning at the AOC winebar pantry. Like me. Thanks for reading.


Luswei said...

Mega-congratulations. It takes great courage and conviction. Being an Asian American who gave up the MBA track to write has made me the relative you don't talk about in my family. I feel your pain AND your joy. It gets better. Trust me.

mickey said...

I did the same thing 20 years ago, and haven't regretted it for a minute. Initially you might have to make some financial compromises, but once you're past the entry level thing you are only limited by your ability. The professional kitchen is the most level playing field I can imagine.

One Food Guy said...

I read this and thought, I am you, minus the advertising job and the balls to jump into the restaurant-dom. Congrats, good luck, and I'm going to read on.

Catherine said...

As a happa, half of me rooting for you! And the other half, is rooting for you! Way to go!!

(By the way, how old is this post anyway? I'm probably really behind with this comment but I just stumbled upon this and just had to congratulate you on your leap of faith!)

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