To stay alive.
I never imagined I’d have a desk job. I’ve always been drawn to the restaurant industry. When I was younger, because I could talk and smoke whenever I wanted. Being the most talkative person in my life, I fit into the server lifestyle well. As I grew up, I found my love of food and drink and dining. The first time the flavor of a perfectly seared sea scallop graced my palette, I knew something in me had changed. From then on, it was a constant learning experience.
I worked in restaurants while in school to have “fuck off” money while living at home. I finished after 5 hazy years in community college with an associate’s degree, which is nothing to shake a stick at, I finished after all, but I never felt a “calling” or anything like it. I wasn’t feeling much at all, drinking shitty wine and smoking dope with my boyfriend every day. I worked at the local Steak n’ Shake for a couple of years. I left when I realized I was old enough to serve alcohol which would only increase my tips, of course. And I was sick of being sticky all the time. My good friend from grade school had moved a half hour away and in the last few years, discovered his love of baking. Really, it was mostly a love of sweets which, in the lucky country we live in, you can turn into a career. As the pastry chef at a local independent restaurant, he got me the job as a server. My first “big girl” job. I worked with people who were in the industry for life, and they seemed to enjoy all of the ups and downs that come with the territory. I loved them instantly.
My favorite part of working in a place that wasn’t a carbon copy of the other 204 restaurants of the same name in the tri-state area, was the food and the dudes (and sometimes ladies) making it. These folks were real chefs. Over cigarette breaks between rushes, the boys wearing white would casually discuss a new gastronomical presence in their worlds. Whether it be a new technique or some chef that was making crazy things with hog skins in Utah, they always seemed genuinely inspired and enthusiastic about the topic at hand. These conversations mostly led to dick jokes and what drugs they were imbibing over their days off (these were fun stories to listen to also). But what I took from every 5 minute break was that, these people gave a shit about what they were doing. Yes, they complained. Yes, they smoked way too much. Yes, they weren’t polished. But they could cook some amazing food.
I wasn’t a big seafood lover until I started waiting tables there. If there was a mess up with an order, instead of pitching a perfectly good dish, they would let the new girl have a taste. At first, my hesitation probably annoyed them. Eventually though, the pressure of appearing willful against trying new things turned my attitude around pretty quickly. I learned so much from these guys I can’t even tell you. Not only to try a crab cake without making a face, but to try new things in all aspects of my life. These people had heart and loved what they did. If they didn’t, they sure went through a lot of 7 o’clock hell to make their rent.
I remained in restaurants after I received my degree. After the first independent spot taught me to try new things, my appetite for learning increased ten-fold. I left there to work for an award-winning Chef, about 20 minutes from home. There, they taught me about the care and love it takes to present a guest with a truly perfect meal, how responsibly a cocktail should be made. I had a list of regulars that I could spout off to about the newest dish the cooks had created. About the locally grown produce we so lovingly involved in the menu. About the Italian wine vintage we JUST got in yesterday. My love of food and drink and people, all in one neat little job. I couldn’t get enough.
And then suddenly, it was enough. I was 27, thinking about my future and my career. I was becoming unhappy in my relationship and my life in general. A number of things cause this “breakdown” of sorts. I knew however, that the drinking and drugging and sleeping in until 11am everyday was starting to wear on me. I received a promotion and over the following few weeks, I knew it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t talking about food anymore, I was trying to keep my co-workers happy. That’s not what I signed up for when I decided that restaurant life was for me. I realized that I wanted to be the one listening to the server pontificate about the charcuterie plate. I wanted to be the one drinking fancy cocktails and relaxing the best way anyone can relax. I wanted to spend my holidays with my family and friends, not serving hors d’oeuvres to strangers. I liked the strangers, they paid my bills. But I got to a point where I could no longer enjoy my work. So I here I sit. Behind a desk. In an office. Where nobody in the office has seen “The Office”. No one really cares for good food or music or film. I’m almost embarrassed to tell my co-workers that I spent $100 on dinner the night before or that I’m heading to an all weekend music festival when I clock out. I’m embarrassed because I’m slowly realizing that I’m the weird one. I’m the one that cares about my senses and the way that life makes me feel. I had no idea this could be so droll.
Eventually I will adjust and enjoy my time here. It’s not the bustling, emotional working world I’m used to. There are pros and cons to every job I suppose. I don’t work every weekend. Its not pulling teeth to request off for a wedding or a birthday party. I am the one that can enjoy dining out and attending parties or tastings or whatever I want. That was the choice that I made. And its going to take some time to discover that because you don’t throw a tantrum in a kitchen every other day, doesn’t mean you don’t care. Maybe.