Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What came before

So when it comes to life, its kind of almost a travesty to keep an account of where I'm going without giving you an account of where I've been. Seeing as how I'm attempting to log my "adventures" in line cooking and culinary school and beyond, its almost fitting that I give you a brief history of my previous "Adventures".

I. The Aspiration
My first forray in to the restaurant industry was in June 2001. I had just finished my first year of college at Calvin College and decided I needed a job. And not only a job, but a job in GR so when I went back to school I could keep it. It this time gas was relatively cheap (Upper $1-lower $2 range I think) so it was really just an afterthought. I ended up opening up a paper and seeing a place called Carrabba's was opening and was hiring staff. So I went in applied for busser or dishwasher. They were having open interveiws so I talked to Craig, the man who would eventually become my boss, and then went on my merry way. Long story short, I got the job and all was well in the world. I like to say things were fine and dandy, but if you've worked in restaurants before you know that no matter what job you have in a restaurant you know its bouts of chaos intertwined with moments of calmness. Eventually I became enthralled by the line cooks and how confident and bad ass (for lack of a better word) they seemed. And thought, "gee, this looks fun!" And while it was fun and interesting I later found out that that was TOTALLY not the care free attitude to go in it with.

Fall 2002 I enrolled at GRCC for Culinary Arts. It was fun and interesting. I met alot of nice people, a few who I keep in contact with still today and got my first look into the food industry. Right away though I felt kind of overwhelmed. I just happened to be with a bunch of students who were already cooking and live by food. And I felt kind of like the odd man out with my meager/non-existent knowledge. I didn't let it bother me until the summer of 2003 when I finally started to get trained as a Prep cook at Carrabba's. The lady training me was pretty much a bitch. While I loved her to death (and still would if I ever saw her), once training started she pretty much started acting like Gordon Ramsey (minus the throwing food at people). So that totally discouraged me so I decided to re-think cooking and more or less dropped out of school.
By this point I was already dishwashing and was continuing to dishwash. Fast forward to the winter semester of 2004. I decided to take a class in photography because it interested me. It was fun and so I decided to look into schools in the area for it to maybe continue it. Enter: Lansing Community College. I got one of their catalogs and saw that they had had a Film Production program which totally caught my eye. So I applied, got accepted, and moved to Lansing (which wasn't as simple as it sounded). I transferred to the Lansing Carrabba's and things looked up. Not so much for school, but mostly for work. Let me explain something. When you have to pay rent, utilities, a phone bill, gas, food, and of course for entertainment then making money almost has to take a priority. So school suffered, while my time at work increased. Once there I continued to work to dishwash more and more. Very early on I started to work my way into the clique of the cooks. I knew that if I could get in with them, then my chances of eventually cooking would increase. Two of my better friends there were Fabian, the KM, and his brother Gary, who was one of the cooks. Eventually it paid off because my friendship with the cooks then in turned caused them to turn around and pester Billy Ray, my boss at the Lansing Carrabba's, to let me on line. And it happened, and you know that thing I mentioned about chaoticness earlier. Yeah, that was my first day. I began to notice though that I wasn't as into it as I thought I'd be. As much as I loved the Lansing Carrabba's and people who worked there, there were too many politics. It didn't help that I was friends with a couple of the managers and I still had to fight for hours and shifts. I mean, its not like I was expecting Fabian and co to go, "Hey, we hang out with Tim, lets give him the best shifts!" It was more like when I say "Hey is there any way I could get more hours or work this day etc etc" and then get the same half-assed answers as everyone else gets (not from Fabian though), its kind of discomforting.

II. The Downward Spiral and Break
Anyway, fast forward to Summer of 2005. My ability to put up with the politics and my money had run out so I was like F-it, I moving home. I ended up getting a job at New Holland Brewing co. After the previous year at Carrabba's, and a little bit of initial drama right off the bat at NHBC between a couple of the potential managers. I totally wasn't into it. It was fun. But my mind wasn't into it. So September 2006, I got as job at Mark Maker and for the first time in 5 years I wasn't employed by a restaurant. Then something happened. More and more I started cooking for myself. I started enjoying it. At the same time, I started feeling socially awkward. The social quirks/situations I found myself in weren't the same as in the food industry. No longer was it okay for me to stay up to the wee hours in the morning and then sleep in till an hour before my shift. No longer did "Go F**k yourself" mean "Why of course I'll help you....and I love you" to someone. Granted I got an actually lunch break and rediscovered weekends. But it just wasn't the same

III. The Reinvigoration
Then one day I came home and turned on the TV and Top Chef was on. I had previously been watching Kitchen Nightmares online and had gotten a brief re-interest in working in the industry. The prize for the Quickfire prize was a book (I THINK it was Letters to a Young Chef). I looked up the book on Amazon and wasn't into the book. But then under the "People who bought this book also bought" recommendations I saw Kitchen Confidential. I bought it, read it, then read it again. And I was hooked. Among all the chaoticness and stress, Bourdain had reaffirmed what turned me on to the industry. The sense of accomplishment, the dysfunctional family feeling, and confidence one gained from it. From that point on, I was totally re-turned on to it. After some initial hesitation I also decided to go back to Culinary school.

IV. The Crash and Burn
Thus began the road to a journey which didn't really begin until June 18,2008. After a couple of months of applying for cooking jobs I had an interview and subsequently got hired. From the interview I knew it would be demanding and would be a challenge, which is totally what I was looking for. Only I didn't know how much of a challenge and how demanding it would be. You know that chaoticness I keep bringing up...yeah, there was a lot of that. And while there was some leniency to the fact I hadn't worked in the industry for a while but after a week or so they didn't have that luxury to give me anymore. The restaurant had only been open a month was still in the "hey we're a new and unique restaurant with AUTHENTIC British and Indian (as in the country India) food" rush and were expecting people who were on the top of their game. Unfortunately that wasn't me. Coming back to restaurants after 2 years away was a culture shock. I kept making minor mistakes on things and although I did okay on salads, any attempts to get me on the hot stations was a disaster. I could point fingers as to various reasonings (a couple which are valid....kinda) as to why it totally wasn't my fault but I was reading the writing on the wall. The feather that broke the camel's back was one day when I came in and shortly after punching in getting an order from a fruit cup. I was in the midst of madly restocking the line and pre-making a few of the cold apps and without thinking about it (or checking it) I grabbed a fruit cup and put it up. And as luck would have it, it had something that was slightly brown in it.
My boss totally got on my case about it and how I wasn't on top of things and need to "own my station" and went on to pull apart my station. He pulled aside numerous things which he didn't like, some which were my doing, some which were others. But since I was there I got the bulk of the grief. Also he found something which was out of date which required a huge amount of prep so he had to pull a few people off line to help. After that was all taken care of the rest of the night went okay.
The next day I came in and kind of had a feeling of what was to come. I noticed that both of the prep people were at the salad station, and that the normal morning salad person was in dish. After talking to her I found out that chef had come down on her too and he punishment was a pretty much permanent demotion to dish. I started prepping salads until chef and one of the managers pulled me out to the dining room. The talk was pretty much what you expected "things aren't working out...blah blah put up bad food....blah blah don't seem to be picking things up....blah blah almost ran out of stuff the night before causing us to pull people off the line (although he forgot to mention that when the morning person asked if he wanted her to stay to finish prepping that stuff he told her to leave)...blah blah blah." So yeah, essentially I got fired. I went back to the kitchen told a few people and then left

V. The Aftermath
Surprisingly I wasn't that mad. I knew I had f'ed up and this industry isn't one you can afford to make any mistakes. After going out to my car, I sat there for about 15 minutes taking it in. Then shrugged and went my merry way. I called my partner in crime, Lindsay to see what was up and hung out with her all day. I spent the next couple of weeks focusing on school. And now I'm finally back in the grind of looking for a cooking job. Where will it take me, who knows. But I'm ready for the chance to have my time in the trenches

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