Words from the [restaurant] Trenches

What’s your job like? Do you have a quiet morning, sipping coffee and reading the news, or do you wake up at the last minute, roll out of bed and into the office? Is your workday the same either way, grinding it out for your eight hours a day, forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year with two weeks vacation?

Gosh, that sounds nice, easy, comfortable, and boring. What if your working life was different. What if every day you woke up afraid, afraid of going to work, afraid of even stepping foot outside of your door for getting one step closer to the gaping maw of your workplace? What if every moment of every day you were at risk of being fired, of making that one mistake that gets you shit-canned? Maybe you think this is just because you’re paranoid, or because you’ve actually seen it. Several times. And you know that there’s every possibility that your neck is going to be presented next. Because even if everyone under you isn’t clawing their way up your back to take your job (which they probably are), they’re at the very least fighting from beneath so that they aren’t the last in line, the end of the herd to get picked off by the wolves. If you don’t keep up, you might as well have “caboose” written all over your shit-eating face.

The Red Queen of Alice’s world said that she was running as fast as she could just to stay in place, but that’s not enough here. It never is. Moving constantly, every moment of every day, like it’s your last precious moments on Earth and you’ve perversely chosen it to cook of all things will only do enough to keep you on par, to make you perform within expectations. Maybe that’s okay for you, though. Maybe expressing food at its highest iteration carries the same weight as a flame-broiled burger flipped to order, however you like it, hold the pickles and hold the lettuce, if you please. Maybe you’re a shoemaker, just a pair of hands that do any job without any training, attention, or passion; just hard enough to get by.

But, if you want to do more, to grow, to live up to what food can truly be, then you’ll push. You’ll dig deep and constantly demand more and more of yourself. You’ll drain yourself of every semblance of sanity and well-being so long as it provides you with that edge, and let this business do what it will, take everything it pleases and leave you in haggard, overworked shambles, in the hopes that you’ll come away with enough to somehow support your own aspirations.

To be sure, not many in this business are willing to do this to themselves. They’ll think of such things as hobbies, friends, and sex and decide that those together matter more than any single pursuit, and turn away. And that probably won’t mean much to you, the reader/consumer/diner/amateur restaurant critic. But next time you dine out and next time you eat something made by another’s hands, ask yourself, even though they live the life of a craftsman, can you see, taste, and sense their life and existence as an artist?

I hope so, for their sake and yours.

Ben

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