Like most of you, I spend a large part of my day wandering around in my head — thinking about the last year and a half (or the last maybe 20 years or so).
Sometimes it’s hard to process a life publicly and having your friends and parents worry or take some sort of blame for who you are and how you turned out. I’m not saying my family didn’t impact the person I am today, but at some point you shift over into your choices and the events that made you who you are today.
There are plenty of people that I love that hold the impossible weight of their failures and short comings. I watch it weigh them down like an anchor slogging its way on the sea’s floor, whipping up bits and pieces of a scattered old world.
I’ve had to drop a lot of things to keep up forward motion. These days I just don’t have much room to hold on too tightly to anything. A lesson I learned early in my life is that heaviness and heartbreak are blind and reckless and fall on anyone, at any time. Learning that there isn’t a rhyme or reason for the world (or your tiny world) to fall on your shoulders holds some kind of strange creature comfort.
Most things are not your fault, and just by existing you are enough for this world.
Yeah, you’re going to whiff some things. You’re going to screw up and break someone’s heart (ultimately your own). Maybe one of the biggest things I’ve learned lately is that people are resilient as hell and most feelings really don’t last forever. Some of us are just wired differently. We hold on to things longer while still feeling them deeply — sometimes there isn’t justice.
Sometimes, we just have to live with a thing.
Being alive on this planet comes with responsibilities. One of the better ones is leaving it better than you found it.
Along the way, you’re going to find yourself wrapped up in impossible things. A work load that is too much — a failed relationship — maybe letting down your kids. (In fact most of you have already done these things and will continue to do these things because being human is a lot of responsibility and messing up is part of the gig.)
I feel like it’s important to create the space to mourn your losses. You can even keep them to yourself as wisdom. I would ask that while you hold them to not let them hold you back from experiencing more life.
I have seen grief and I have seen grief lived. What I want to say is that joy (and forgiveness) rips grief apart.
We’re all tired from *gestures broadly at everything* this stuff. Some days getting out of bed feels like chaos. That once my feet hit the floor you are moving and moving into something you can’t control. Make sure you give yourself some space from the chaos to collect yourself. Truly nothing gets better unless you do.
This is mostly my reminder to be good to yourself even with all the odds stacked against you. To put down arms and stop lobbing grenades for a while.
As my little friend Birdie says, “Hey guys. Stop. Just breathe.”
At this point they’re a black canvas for egg yolk and mayonnaise and probably two different vinaigrettes. Cooking is gross.
I say that all the time. I mean, yes. It’s beautiful and romantic and sexy. All these things. It’s also gross. Cooking, for the most part, is learning how to deal with all the fat and water a thing has in it. Bones and blood, too.
There is a huge sigh of relief for all restaurant workers post Mother’s Day — maybe even a worse cooking day than Valentine’s — Or the day after (or before) a major holiday. I don’t quite understand it. Then again, I don’t get out much these days. Knowing the burden of feeding and taking care of generally unpleasant and hungry people makes me hesitant to put my needs on anyone during this time. (Or at all, really.)
My brain is fried, and fried hard. Or maybe it’s scrambled.
Sorry, have eggs on the brain. (And my shoes but you know that already.)
At the end of our service yesterday, we all just kind of stood around for a while. Diners still sitting together, staring at their phones in silence, church clothes in tact. There was just too much to do. Dishes piled high in all three sinks. But we are relieved, and thankful that we worked hard for each other.
A lot of me wishes restaurant culture wasn’t this way, but I just can’t see any way around it. It is one of the only (and truly) humbling ways to make a living. That ticket that hangs in front of you and the person waiting at their table for it to be delivered with some small amount of kindness and skill — it’s a kind of pressure that brings out the worst in a human.
We have the best crew we’ve ever had. They are funny and smart and we all hate ourselves just enough to keep pushing forward. (Just kidding kind of) Oh, and just hard bodies, yo. We all moan when we sit down together — those are the best times. Decompressing with your coworkers about “the bullshit” — the lady who asked for her eggs to be “not too runny, not too dry” or the man who has a dairy allergy but is okay with heavy cream in grits.
It’s a ridiculous pressure, to be honest. Most times I fantasize about cooking big pans of food and just throwing it into the dining room and letting people fend for themselves Golden Corral-like — but alas, there is still dignity to be won.
This won’t be the last hard day. But this was a record breaking weekend for our restaurant. I feel proud about that. I feel tired in the ways that I should, but I am proud that we are still here making a wonderful mess of things.
I gave my shoes a good scrubbin’ today. Stubborn and crusty and dirty with all sorts of bits from a day’s work, but I feel the most content as a tired cook.
My job is done for a day, my feet and back are tired. I splash some cold water on my face and look in the mirror, the weight you carry for the things you love.
Some, more than others. That’s not unusual when things are “normal” and especially not right now. It’s true that some of us are more sensitive to the needs and energies of others, and that makes things louder and wildly more complicated.
Right now I’m not a big fan of the hustle culture. “What are you doing to get yours!?” kind of thing. The ‘push yourself til you throw up or blow out a knee’ kind of thing. But if that IS your thing, okay. (Just don’t try to normalize needing to push yourself to a breaking point — that’s kinda how we ended up in this mess in the first place.)
When it comes to cooking food for a living, we are very aware of the state of things. People eat for lots of reasons, I know. Beyond sustenance for now, I think we are feeding people who need comfort — who need to not cook for themselves out of being tired and at its very basic level, to just feed someone who needs something good.
That’s kind of the way cooking feels for me right now. I go home every day and collapse on my bed after jamming something probably full of carbs in my face and try my best to get a nap in. Maybe my anxiety will ramp up a bit or I will jerk awake by accidentally biting my tongue (because I tend to grind my teeth when I’m stressed and asleep.)
I wish, like so many others, it wasn’t so hard right now. I wish this work didn’t take as much as I did. I love cooking, and I love cooking for you — but it is exhausting and we are kind of on the burnt side of toast.
Maybe I’ve recently bumped into another person that appreciates my food (as well as my company and to be honest my goober sense of humor somehow…)
Maybe I decided to make this person ratatouille while watching a film set in Paris, while drinking some big french wines. Maybe I’m a sucker for themes. Either way, I’m glad I get to cook for a person from time to time that’s not expecting me to be anything other than myself. Or within a time limit where they have to eat or else I get a bad yelp review. I don’t know, it feels good and comfortable and most like myself when I cook for people I love to be around and take care of.
I thought maybe I’d post a recipe here because ratatouille is great way to eat some vegetables that are in season (or very close to it.) It’s my favorite Disney movie and also just really wholesome and delicious.
Ratatouille (feeds 4)
One large yellow onion One large yellow bell pepper One large red bell pepper Three cloves garlic One medium eggplant Two yellow squash Two zucchini squash Four roma tomatoes Fresh thyme 18oz. can diced tomato Olive oil Red Chili Flake Salt & Pepper & Sugar
Get your shit together: Dice up onion, peppers and mince your garlic. Slice 1/8 to a 1/4in thin your tomatoes, eggplant, and squash. Lightly salt the sliced veggies and let their water drain for at least an hour with paper towels. This will help your veggies not be so damn mushy in the end.
In a deep saute pan, heat up a few tablespoons olive oil. Drop in your onions, peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Let cook down for 15-20 minutes til onions become translucent. Add your garlic, tsp. fresh thyme and cook another 10 minutes. Add your canned tomatoes and cook down til half of the water cooks out (about 15-20min.) Stir every few minutes to make sure nothing is sticky icky. Add a pinch of red chili flake and sugar (taste for salt and heat and sweetness to your liking.)
Meanwhile, heat your oven up to 375F. When your onions and peppers have finished cooking, scoop a layer of the mixture on the bottom of a somehow shallow baking dish or pan. (At least 3-in deep.) Layer your veggies one on top of another into little stacks. Add a tiny bit of salt, pepper and fresh thyme between every third veggie slice til you’ve run out of veggies or are sick of making them. (For example: on top of the onion/bell pepper/tomato mix, place a layer of yellow squash. On top of that, a layer of eggplant, then zucchini, and lastly tomato. Add your seasoning and repeat.)
Bake for 40-45 minutes til tender and smelling good and sexy. I like to serve it with some crunchy bread that I’ve toasted lightly in the oven with olive oil — and after baking rubbed down with a raw garlic clove. The best part of this dish is how cool it looks when you serve it. Everyone gets a stack or two veggies on top of the tomato mixture. It smells so, so good and really does make you feel good eating a pile of vegetables honestly.
So there. Eat you some vegetables.
And take it easy on yourself. It won’t always be this hard. There are plenty of people that love and think about you with a lot of light. Send it back their way, too.
I had moved to a new city to get married and graduated into an economy that didn’t have anything for me.
As it turns out, when you live in Portland, there’s always a coffeeshop looking for help. Granted, a friend of mine helped me get in, but I had no industry experience. I started out mainly washing dishes. Taking orders. Getting yelled out by customers because I made a mistake taking their order. All of the bits you have to learn to make a hard shell over your soft skin.
I started to cook because it was a way to show who I was to people I didn’t grow up with.
I wasn’t very good at it. I knew how to fry chicken, and make rice a roni. I could pop open a can of green beans and douse it with Tony Chachere’s. It was the only thing I really wanted to be good at. My friends were better at other things that I knew I didn’t want to do.
I really wanted to be that daunting figure in the kitchen sweating and cooking.
It was something that seemed so wildly complicated, that being able to control it felt kind of God-like. Listening to an egg cook or smelling when onions cook too long was becoming something that I could thread in and out of my daily life like a coat made just for me. Hell, now I can hear the moments water goes from simmer to boil with pretty good accuracy.
Cooking helped me open up. It became the thing that gave me some authority on anything, really. I knew that I could poach an egg with confidence or crank out a delicate vinaigrette on the fly. It gave me the confidence I’d been missing my whole life.
I was obsessed with something I knew I could get better at every day.
Even the hell of falling out of love with a person, the kitchen became my way to block out pain and still maintain some sense of purpose. “Well, at least I have this” I would say. (And still say that at times.)
Kitchens can and will break you down. Every cook knows that there is a point in any given day where it breaks you. Most days, it doesn’t. You have a hope in the back of your mind that your day can be somewhat normal. You will maybe, go home and actually cook dinner for yourself and partner.
But, something usually happens.
The drain in the dish pit over flows with grease and food bits and God knows what other hell. Or your anxiety decides to overwhelm you in the middle of service and you blank out. You turn into a robot of yourself to get through the day. It’s all happened, and it will happen again.
There is something incredibly addicting about a restaurant that works, day after day. All the deliveries came at the best time. No one was out of the cheese we needed and our Coke delivery guy wasn’t an asshole for once. (And did I mention Sysco didn’t dump all of our boxes in front of our oven in the middle of the lunch rush!?)
And then the pandemic came.
Once the reality of having to shut down entered my bones, I’ll admit, I felt a bit relieved. Something felt so toxic about being open and encouraging people to cram into a small space when all the health professionals are telling you not to do it. (But if we don’t do it, we’ll drown as a business…?)
I couldn’t adapt fast enough. I felt like an immense failure. (Still do sometimes.)
I was completely exhausted.
Our business would adapt a bit and I would drink a lot. And order DoorDash. There was something so amazing about a brown bag full of hot food with my name on it sitting outside my door WITHOUT having that awkward interaction of someone catering to my lazy ass. It was incredible.
I got to turn off my phone alarms. Well, the ones that wake me up and the other four that remind me to order things for the restaurant — then there’s all my reminders about other things I need to do for the restaurant so that I can finally relax. Well, after the panic and anxiety died down after our first week of quarantine, I got to relax.
After a month and a half of doing take home dinners once a week, we got back into the restaurant on a daily basis. My work shirts almost didn’t fit because I had gained so much weight from well, *gestures broadly at everything*.
Kitchen work is hard, and if you don’t stay in practice, you get lazy, fast. You forget the motions and turns, the heat and the pressure. But by now, we are almost back to whatever it is I can call normal.
Wearing a mask while standing over a grill has taken some time to get used to, but everything is harder. Not just the labor, but people are harder. Things got way more political over our little break, but in order for us to stay open and busy, I never really got a chance (nor did I want the chance) to be political about masks. To me, it was just tiring having to defend it either way — I just needed to be busy again.
But it’s still really hard right now. For everyone. Those of us in the hospitality business are kept alive through people gathering together. The restaurant experience is about food and drink but most importantly, it’s about people connecting. Not just having people cook your food and serving you, but the people around your table.
The depression I feel most deeply, is that cooking and being a chef is shifting for me. It shows me how incredibly delicate all of this is — and when it’s stripped away, I wondered how necessary it all is. (I wondered how necessary I was.)
I love being a chef. It’s all I ever wanted, to be honest. It has been one of my proudest accomplishments. To have that name and that respect — but damn, it is hard to be inspired in times like these. Not only inspired, but to also inspire. To be strong, to be a leader and to make a million decisions in my head every day.
A while ago I was told I was emotional, which is fine and funny. It was by a friend that doesn’t know me very well, but it also goes to show me that being vulnerable makes leadership necessary. I don’t always feel strong enough to lead people, especially now. Most days feel hopeless for the future of anyone ever agreeing on anything (ever again). My own patience is worn so very thin, as is yours. I hate the aggravation I hold so close to the parts of me I love the most.
Maybe I won’t be a great chef, like the ones I read about.
And that’s okay.
But I’m still here, and I’m doing it.
I cook your grits and wash your plates. I lay awake at night hoping that whatever we bring to your table gives you some sense of normalcy.
I have always loved having you at my table — and I’m still dreaming of a future where we are all better people for doing the hard work of being good to one another.
In the meantime, I’ll be here, working in my hot kitchen, adding more cheese to that pot of grits (because I know you really need it today.)
It’s hard to watch it die a slow death in the hopes that it makes it to a person in the right amount of time.
I guess we’ll all have to lower our standards. (for now.)
You have to know that this is hard on many levels for many different kinds of people.
I dwell on aesthetic. I think it’s part of my shtick.
I like to touch real things.
Plates. Glasses. Hot water and metal brushes.
I like color. Contrast. Texture. These are things lost in the gravity of my mind.
I know there are ways around this, things I can do really well. But I am rebelling in my mind and it is hard for me to lay down my weapons.
Food, first and foremost, is nourishment. On top of that, are several layers of what makes a dish great. For those passionate cooks out there, putting a $50 dollar piece of meat into a box and into the hands of a person who may not care too much about it is the most nerve wracking — yet here we are. Learning to trust companies that probably don’t give too much of a shit about the quality of a piece of meat, or whether or not a vegetable needs to be eaten immediately.
This is the stuff I stay up late thinking about.
Me, standing on my tip-toes looking over the pass — seeing if you’re enjoying your plate of food.
I feel it in my gut. Things will never be the same. That’s okay. Some things need to change. In fact, I am often hopeful about the future of my kind of work. A different appreciation — a deeper understanding of the world of hospitality and how it is so often the hand that holds our wounds. It is our deepest comfort and gives us some of our best memories.
Those good things will never die.
But, I think they will change. I will change. (you will have to change, too.)
A lot of us just want to collapse on the kitchen floor and slam our palms to the ground like a four year old that’s tired and hungry and doesn’t want anything you have to offer.
Food, to me, has always offered hope. Dignity. Memory. Those are massive columns that hold up my own code of morality. In return, it offers me the same things.
What I am able to give to you comes from my deeper sense of self, and maybe I don’t always show that. Maybe I show it ways of rage and stubbornness — but it all comes out of the place that wants to give you every piece of my soul.
You wonder why speaking in front of guests at one of our wine dinners makes me so nervous — because it is literally three hours of giving you things I dwell deeply on. I cannot separate myself from the craft, the labor and the people that place dishes in front of you and keep your glasses full.
So yeah, this is what I think about in a day.
Everything is shifting. If you’re not, it’s going to be a hard road for you.
I’m going to end this with an excerpt from one of my favorite poems by Rumi. I don’t know if it has anything to do with what I just said, but it hits different now.
Now, more than ever, we need to meet in the same place and build a better world.
I hope you’ll meet me there.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
If you want to get truly romantic (read: nerdy), some of the best chefs say there are 52 seasons in a year. (Which is technically true.)
One week you have figs, the next, they’re gone. That makes them so much better though. Only being able to have this one thing, for one week. I still think about Oregon strawberries and how I would eat so many they would make me sick. But I also have this memory in my brain that tells me what a strawberry is supposed to taste like and I will forever know it on my tongue.
Maybe that’s how I feel these days. The weeks fly. Some days feel longer than others. Meanwhile I sit around, scratching my head wondering when I’m going to dive in again. Maybe do something radical (in my own world) again. I’m not so good at seeing things that are in front of me. The day in, day out grind of working for a better world. Leaving this thing better than how I found it.
So far, I feel like I’m doing my part in my tiny corner of the world. I’ve yet to have to buy diapers for a child (okay sorry) or fly all over the country selling things I’m not very passionate about. I think about my carbon footprint all of the time. I live two miles from work. I stay kind of close.
I do forget to bring my reusable grocery bags, though. (This maybe carries the biggest conviction for me.)
I feel these things with a sense of urgency most days. That’s probably anxiety, in fact I know some of it is. I realize there are lots of things on fire. Some days I’m tossing lighter fluid, some days water.
I’m also excited and eager. I wish my body could keep up! Connecting my brain to what my body can handle is one of my newer seasons. It’s also called getting older (which blah blah blah, I know, boring but for real it’s a sign that says, “Slow Down, Curves Ahead”)
Oh, the curves.
This season I’m thinking a lot about my dad. I am hoping he finds some more peace and clarity. It isn’t easy hitting the brakes. It’s scary jumping into something, somewhere without a map, but he’s good at that, so I’m gonna keep sending him good vibes on that journey.
I think about my mom, too. My mom, aside from the fact that she is 100% a mom which maybe doesn’t make sense to you, but my sister will agree, is the vessel I process much of this world through. Not only that, when I’m thinking about what to feed this city I live in, I imagine how much she would enjoy. That’s my secret. Would my mom crush this sandwich? Absolutely.
I realize I’m not sharing anything new. That’s not why I write anyways, I write for that one human being I picture in my head.
I want to tell that one person that every week is a season.
When you start seeing the world this way, I feel excited to learn. Maybe to do more, within the limits of my fast-beating heart and the things that pay my bills. There is always more to do, so be careful with that.
I hope your season is going well. If not, just give it a few days. Things always change. You’re not stuck. The sun rises, the moon will continue to make people act like fools.
There is still time to fall in love. To move to a new city. To try that really weird Japanese dish you’ve been dodging for the last 20 years.
Life is the combination of heavy and light. I do think they tend to carry more weight the older you get — the more time you use up, here. You’ve ventured through dangerous and murky territory to get where you are now. You are banged up a bit. (some of you, more than you’ve ever deserved.)
But, you’re still here.
And I see you.
It is surprising and heartbreaking and I find myself cutting through it. Kind of like using scissors to slice cleanly through wrapping paper, or having to open and close them to make it work. (My mom is great at the first one, I am not. But maybe I’ve just always had shitty scissors.)
I’m at a loss a lot these days. Which I’m sure says something about my mental health. I’m not afraid of it. I’ve just got a lot going on in my head. My heart is everywhere and I see a lot of broken things. I see a lot of you. (I’m not afraid of you, either.)
My friends are dealing with the sickness of their own humans. They watch, as the people that took care of and even live along them, slowly lose things.
I find myself thinking about it a lot. All the broken stuff. My own tired heart feels so thirsty for goodness, for beauty.
I am attached to you (even from far away),
and I see you.
I see you waiting in line for food sometimes. I see you shopping for tomatoes with your sweet babies and partners and tossing toys with your puppies. I love that something and someone has your heart. (You have theirs, too.)
I see myself, as well. And I know I’ve let a lot of things go to get to this place.
I feel them at the top of my stomach, like knots! — ready to unravel and come out in the form of something I hope carries into the light that will surprise you. Or maybe just make you smile.
Oh, your smile is heaven, too. And hugs. You know, the things that make us feel loved and love in return.
In the quiet and the dark of my mind, I mourn for innocence lost. I wish there was more I could have saved. Not for me but for someone else. There is still plenty to gain, but Lord, have you given me some kind of heart to manage.
I write all of this with the knowledge that life is ultimately good. There is hope and things can change pretty quickly. It also goes faster than I thought. Scary fast. I also know there are people that are born into war and famine and injustice. I carry them, too.
So, I work to keep myself upright and with breath that carries a good word that you should know,
(you are worth the good stuff,
and I’ll keep going too.)
It first changed me when I was falling in love. Spending all of your time with a person, so exhausted from the things new love brings and the hunger that comes with it.
It was there for me to take care of another person and myself.
I loved it.
Curing bacon in my vegetable drawer.
Learning how to use salt. Blanching vegetables.
Tying up roasts and braising meats into things that made me fall head over heels for the thing.
It changed me again when it became my job. I stressed over every single piece of lettuce green I dressed, hoping it wasn’t too heavy or two salty or too much vinegar.
I watched as my first plate of food went to a customer, sitting on their laptop, and ate it without a single thought.
It felt like sparks (and I was on fire.)
That fire led me to work some of the hardest hours of my life. Leaving the one I loved at home, so that I could learn and learn and learn.
I learned so much that I broke down. It happens to everyone sooner or later. The fire heats you from the bottom, but they never told me about the pressure that comes from the top. The lid that holds things in — the things that broke me down.
Now, after years of moving through various bouts of love lost and putting my things inside different sets of walls every couple of years, I’ve found myself in a space where I live daily.
But today, I’m writing about what hurts.
And I’m writing about it because it hurts me more often than it ever has.
I dive into the toxic world of reviews.
F*ck! I say to myself. We’ve gone down a whole star because someone passing through was having a weird day and they weren’t happy with us. Or today, when a person requested a new bowl of grits two times because she didn’t like them. (I could explain to her that this was the last bin of older harvested corn from our grits provider, and that they taste a little different than usual, but it wouldn’t have mattered.)
Beneath every little thing, is a mountain of pressure I put upon myself. I move in and out of it during any given day. My success and failures all here, weighing upon my shoulders. I come home in grief for the way I may have acted in front of my co-workers. Most of the time they don’t notice it in me, but I feel it.
I come home and collapse on my bed.
The words recently came out of my friend’s mouth, “Disappointed” — that maybe I wasn’t doing more here. That I used to make exciting food that made people feel a certain way. That I had more TIME and less pain in my back. But I will admit that many days, my heart is so worn. My brain is tired. Tired of trying to figure all of this shit out. Day after day.
I will show you my heart — any time you need me to.
I come home to things that make me feel alone, sometimes. Half of a dry sandwich. Cold cup of coffee I couldn’t finish. Silence can be one of my best friends, and also my worst. Any slow day we might have, I assume the worst of myself, as untrue as it may be.
I am not looking for solace from others.
But I know I’ve changed. That is what we want. When I’m hungry for a better life, I work and hustle. I made crazy things and worked for people to see me.
Now, I have more space. Less roaches to worry about. A soft, big bed. A few nice things. I’ve let my guard down in ways I haven’t for years.
Thank God I’ve changed, and thank whoever is in charge of this messy thing that I’ve stumbled into.
Cooking is still changing me.
No, I’m not inviting you over for late night, last minute ramen. (at least not right now.)
I’m fighting against burn out.
I’ve had to catch myself on fire for so long, I struggle to maintain it, at best.
I’m saying these things, because it all hurts me. The reviews. The words. From people who know less about food than I do. But that doesn’t matter. You matter. And I want this to be for you.
But I also want it to be for me.
We can’t have it all. And these days, we all can’t complain at once. There’s too much happening. Too many bad things we see and not enough good.
I can live without a lot of things, but I cannot live without human connection. Love. Nourishment. The warmth of a good word and a breath of something fresh.
Ursula K. Le Guin says,
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
I love watching the painful process of people creating things.
The “making of” on TV shows and movies. I love watching artists, directors and producers thinking their work is garbage and having to question everything about where they are.
Mostly because it doesn’t make me feel so alone.
I do not consider myself an artist. I do think that I am someone who creates. Not sculptures or things made of glass. Honestly most of the things I make turn into shit, eventually.
However, I do think humans are persistent animals. A lot of us are stubborn. A lot of us have always been our own worst enemies.
Self-love goes out the window when I begin to work on something. I often think it’s the worst thing I’ll ever do.
“Why do I keep doing this to myself?”
No matter how good a thing is and no matter how many people tell me how good that thing is, I go home and I doubt myself into a corner where I really don’t want to turn around and face it. I wish I was being dramatic, but there’s not a dinner that goes by where I imagine I did everything I could to make it my best.
And then the pendulum swings back the other way. I take a step back and look at the things I’ve helped create. I look at the sweat and blood and bones of a thing. Hard work doesn’t often pay off for people, but it so many ways it has for me.
I’ve had some luck.
There have been more than a few times in my world where I have left a thing when I’ve needed to leave, and maybe times that I’ve should’ve stayed longer.
You don’t always get the opportunity to know these things in a lifetime.
Most recently, I received an award for being ‘Best Local Chef’ in my city, and other surrounding smaller cities. It was an award I had been nominated for a few times in the past years, but lost to folks who had bigger followings.
I got kind of lucky this year. Granted, most chefs believe they deserve it and they do. We all work hard. We all sacrifice for the things we want to create. I wish people knew the creative process that has to unfold for us to make things happen.
There isn’t a lot of self-love in the industry. I think maybe that’s why we do it sometimes. It feels good to love others and sometimes it’s harder to love yourself. After all, we don’t know the minds of others.
It’s easier to take care of others than it is myself. That has always been true.
That’s why burnout happens so much in my world.
Lately I am thinking about other ways to be creative with the things I am made of. Perhaps this ooey-gooey heart of mine won’t always be able to stand up to the stresses of a kitchen or the weight you have to carry.
I would love the words, “I’m tired” to not always be the first thing out of my mouth when catching up with a friend.
Being tired is like a coat.
It is just a thing that I wear. (more often for other people to see.)
When I won that award, it was fun and terrifying to speak in front of all those people. But it always feels good to win, right? It feels even better to shake hands and receive hugs from people who told me “You deserve this.”
My sister was with me that night, and as we drove home I put the windows down and put on the Cranberries, “Dreams” – because it felt a little like heaven. My sister has seen me at my darkest and I was so happy to share with her in my light.
Perfect things rarely occur, but for a moment, it felt good to have my mind rest on the things that were good and that I was good.
It all takes time.
In fact, life is harder as it goes by. But there are plenty of surprising moments where a pure joy exists and things feel elevated. Lighter.
Walking back and forth between the two dinners we were working, I could smell the way the sun warmed the flowers that grow in between the movement and stillness of wood and brick and people that walk around the walls of this building.
I used to lean against these walls years ago, wondering if the hustle was worth it — barely making enough to pay my bills and have a life here. Those are the times that define you the most. The sink or swim moments where you are so grateful, but also so tired of taking people’s money — food — personal time. Sometimes I think luxury is not having to bother people for their things.
The conversation in my industry, especially now, is not so much talking food or trends, but stress, anxiety, addiction and depression.
On my drive to Louisiana today, I listened to a few chefs talk about their demons and the demons that haunt the restaurant world. The pressure to perform and what that pressure does to the cooks they employ. Cooking has never been an easy thing. In fact, it’s always a lot of work, you just get better at doing it and doing it faster than anyone else.
There’s the pressures to compete, to transform expectation and to evolve with the people that eat your food.
At what cost?
That’s the question now.
I am currently battling a lot of anxiety. Do I feel stressed? Sometimes. But now this toxic stuff has become a bit more of my life — recently working a 12 day stint on the line got me a little fried. Every day, you work to outsmart your customers. To prepare for their questions or their worries about what they’re paying for — often times you feel successful. Most of the time, you learn to be flexible and to just move on.
Sometimes, it’s easier to give the customers what they want, but sometimes it’s at the cost of something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Tasting. Testing. Running through the mill.
There’s so much pressure in that.
There’s pressure in people wanting more and knowing you may be one of the only people who can give it to them.
I’m not sure of the cost of coming home every day and collapsing on the couch, forcing myself to take deep breaths to calm my pulse and come back to Earth as quickly as I can. I know I that I have to, and that I have to focus on bringing myself down in order to function.
I walk fast. Everywhere. A lot of times impatient. Things I feel are so unlike me.
Some days, I walk away feeling sad that I push for so much hustle — so much performance. I fight the line between wanting to be the best and wanting to be realistic. I am always trying to find the balance of healthy and hustle. I’m not sure if there is one, at least not to me right now.
I listened to these chefs speaking things that brought tears to my eyes. They were right in saying that food and cooking is the easiest part of our jobs. Other things like conflict and interpersonal relationships are hard, hard, hard to navigate. It gets hot and fast and you have to remain a good person. You just have to. IT IS JUST FOOD.
Customers also have to help us. We all have to shift to make restaurants a place where people can work and not go home every single day to get stoned and drink away their tips just to cope with the stress of other human beings. A lot of the pressure comes from chefs and business owners, but also customers.
We all have the ability to create and alleviate this toxic thing.
I am lucky to have such a wonderful, hard working and kind crew. I am not always the best human being to be around — especially as of late.
I put so much pressure on myself — to be better than the place moving in down the street and to make sure we are staying on top of our game. But at the end of the day, I would give it all up if I knew it was completely destroying someone’s life.
I believe this industry can change. I believe we can be healthy people that also love to cook and eat and serve other people. In fact, we are changing this world. I have so much work to do on myself, and how I see this for myself, but I’m noticing. I’m shifting. I’m growing.
Food is so important to me. People are more important. I am more important.
The future of food is always shifting, and it’s going to ask you to lower an expectation. It’s going to ask you to pay more, sometimes.
But at the core of what we do, is to take care of you. Sometimes we need your grace and you need ours.
So, we invite you in to eat our food and talk to our servers. Let’s disarm each other whenever we can and make this thing work.
We have to.
The future of food depends on it.
I was met at my destination today to my nephew, throwing me a baseball glove to play.
It was just what I needed.
A breeze that moved the trees,
the sun that warmed my face,
and the feeling that everything was going to be okay.