Last week I told The Chef that I was leaving the restaurant. His eyes hardened and narrowed into a cold, penetrating stare. He blew a puff of offended air, exploding out of his pursed lips.
When The Chef hired me last spring we agreed that I would be traveling the last two weeks in August in Italy with my mom. I have been plagued by a constant rumble of guilt, lodged deep in the pit of my stomach, while deciding the future of my employment. But in the end, I will not be returning to my dishwashing position after this Italian journey.
The Chef was not happy; I braced myself for his wrath.
I told him that I have the opportunity to go to France, to learn the language. (Which I do; a village in the Alps.) And then an earlier starting date at culinary school.
Culinary school. What a waste. Why pay for that crock when you could be working; learning with your hands.
I told him how much I respect him and his work. This job has been an eye opening experience; I have learned more than I could ever have dreamed of.
Stop blowing hot air up my ass, Molly.
I apologized for leaving earlier than The Chef has wanted; I feel irresponsible.
You are irresponsible. This is not Brown; you can’t wake up and roll out of bed and go to class. You are an utter disappointment.
The words hit my like a slap in the face. I am an utter disappointment.
Attempting to fight the tears welling up in my eyes (there’s no crying in kitchens, Molly) I began to ramble, desperately trying to redeem my horrifying crash of respect in the eyes of The Chef. I told him that I wanted to write; that I needed more academic tutoring, a look at food beyond a faraway observation and a mountain of dirty plates. In the last few months he himself has spent a total of ten minutes with me, teaching me only to devein shrimp. I need more; I have the opportunity for more. I can’t pass it up, no matter how much I respect him.
Go interview Ruth Reichl. She worked in a kitchen. Apple worked in a kitchen. You are too romantic, Molly. That is not reality; live in the real world.
In a sad display of dishwasher toughness, I tried to smile as the tears slid unwelcome down my cheeks.
I’m sorry, Chef. I need to move on.
The Chef just stared at my, poignantly, as if he were visually measuring my worth and finding it obviously, painfully lacking. Ok, fine. Thank you for your work.
I told S. later that night in my halting Spanish, bursting into tears again. It was not a good night for dishwashing stoicism. I valiantly finished out the week, hoping somewhere in the back of my mind to impress The Chef with my hard work enthusiasm, romantic notions and all.
I leave for Italy this afternoon. There is so much more I have to write about The Chef, J., A., and S. It will have to wait until I return, two weeks from now.
But in conclusion, I have gained many things in my summer as a dishwasher and prep chef:
A continuing and undeniable love of all things culinary,
A hugely consuming respect for anyone who works in a kitchen,
A fascination with preserved meats like confit,
An even greater fascination with France, the French and French food,
Seven pounds in muscle,
And a groundwork of stories and personalities that I will never tire of writing about.