One of the things I have learned in the beginnings of my career as a purveyor of delicious foods is that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But I’m talking about people, not flies. And being nice to them and respecting them in order for them to respect you, not catching them. If you arrived here because you Googled how to catch flies or people, please move along. There’s [another] old saying: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’, which is the topic of this post. I’ve already gone off-message in the first paragraph but we’ll see how it pans out.
My first kitchen job was in a rest home. Do not let that lull you into getting an impression of a calm, quiet place of work where people are polite and kindly because they’re all either really old, or caring for the really old. The kitchen was off-limits to residents; a) because of food safety regulations and b) because the constant stream of profanity, electronic dance music, loudly enthusiastic discussion on who was banging whom and how they were doing it, and all sorts of other generally hideous interpersonal behaviour was unsuitable for people in their twilight years to be exposed to. It was an incredibly fun environment to work in and it was my first taste of existing within the weird alternate universe that is a typical commercial kitchen. I LOVED it.
My next job was in a restaurant. My mindset of liking my work and feeling happy about my choice of career had a swift turnaround at this point in life. The only thing that stopped me from quitting in the first week was a very fierce sense of pride and determination. That, and my new colleagues had taken guesses as to how long I’d last and they’d all guessed more than a week, so I developed a stubborn streak all of a sudden.
My new boss’s temper was legendary; I’d even copped a bit of it in my job interview so I went in well-prepared to be subjected to said temper multiple times per day, but the reality of it took a bit of getting used to. I kept my head down and focussed on my work because I felt like less of a target that way; I was already at a bit of a disadvantage in that respect, being the only girl in the kitchen and the new person. I really enjoyed the stuff I was doing, learned a lot from my boss, and quickly found my way to being capable, but a lot of the happiness had died in me and while I was part of a team that I was proud to have earned my place in, I really just felt embattled all the time.
When I left that job, with all bridges unburned and mutual, if slightly grudging, respect between myself and my ex-boss still intact, I spent my time working for a catering company attached to my culinary school and focussing on my study, trying to regain some interest and passion for cooking. It didn’t take long; it’s easy to reconnect with a love of your work when your work is FOOD and the making/eating thereof…
I have learned a lot from being on the job in the real world, in many different aspects beyond my formal culinary education. I will always remember my first job, and I will always remember the next job that followed it. I will remember what I loved about the first one, and what I hated about the next one. I will remember how I felt about myself when I was in those jobs, and use what I have learned to try and make a change for the chefs who come after me. If I am ever in the position where I can employ someone, or be responsible for others in a kitchen (hopefully!), I will remember the lessons I learned and pass them on, and reap the benefits of being a boss that builds their employees up more than they tear them down. I feel that this is especially important for other young women out there like me, who may have the talent and the skill, but lack the stomach for being slapped with a wet tea-towel (or even better, a hand), having sexist profanities yelled at them or having their body parts referred to in conversation instead of their cookery skills.
I don’t want to end on a bum note (pun intended), so I will finish with this: any job where you get to wear pyjama pants and Crocs clogs as your uniform is worth committing to, through good times and bad!