Saturday, July 25, 2015


So I worked yesterday and, as I expected, I came home broken.

I thought I would write a bit on what things a cooking job offers that an office job does not - things that we can appreciate about it.

First and foremost, it tends to be a very free-minded environment.  I mean that you can fucking swear.  And talk about whatever you want, without anyone taking offense.  This is more true in a restaurant-bar environment, where I work, than it is in a family restaurant, but not much.  Most servers, I find, will change faces back and forth; speak very politely to the patrons and the swear and bitch as much as they like about whatever they want once they're in the back.

This is because kitchens are not conducive to restraint.  There's plenty of hot, boiling oil, fire, knives, potential disease and potential food contamination, mixed with exhaustion, speed, complaints and plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings.  To compensate for this, and the frustration it produces, kitchen staff will be the sort who can scream bloody murder at each other and five minutes later forget that it was ever said.  People who take a word said the wrong way personally and chafe on it for more than five minutes rarely last in the environment.

So if you're the sort that finds censorship and political correctness tiresome and a bit ludicrous, a kitchen is usually a refuge from it.  If you're expressive and passionate, if you have opinions you like to share, if you're tough-skinned and generally friendly in the face of people who are just being fucking honest, then kitchens are a refuge.

I have been called on the mat in an office environment for letting a slight edge of impatience enter my voice - and then had that incident mentioned again and again for three or four years whenever I've had to work with that person again.  The other person may forget it, I may forget it, but office management will never forget it.  Kitchens are a freedom from that sort of bullshit.

To work in a kitchen, it's good to be clean, but you don't have to be maintained.  People will drag you into the mop closet and hose you down if you don't control your stink, but beyond a bit of deodorant, it doesn't matter if you haven't shaved today or if your hair hasn't been cut in three or four months.  No one is measuring your character by where you buy your clothes or basing their opinion of you on how fit or trim you are.  Can he do the work?  Then no one gives a crap how many pounds overweight he is, or if he has joined a gym, seen his doctor or dentist, seen a chiropractor or how healthy he eats.  These are all standard, fairly constant conversations in an office - conversations I am careful to side-step.

Overall, no one has any interest at all in how anyone lives their life.  Specifics about life don't matter outside the restaurant; it is the individual who is judged and the judgement is upon ability and diligence, nothing else.  We don't get extra bonus points for who we know, what we do in our spare time, the charity work we commit to or fuck all anything else.  None of that will help me or the cook next to me when the rush is on.  It buys no respect.

Oh, and while I'm at it, the importance of recycling doesn't come up.  This is standard, constant, continuous chat in an office - "Do you recycle, how committed are you, you've thrown your coffee cup into the wrong receptacle again, you shouldn't buy that product because it isn't biodegradable" and on until eternity.  Kitchens throw so much stuff away, so much food away, because it can't be sold, it won't be eaten, it's sat out too long or it's too low a grade, it is hard to have any perception of recycling except to mock people who think they're accomplishing something.  I work in one kitchen and in the space of a day we fill a dumpster with crap.  Most of it going straight into a land-based methane-creation facility.  There's nothing we can do about it; it is the way business has to be done to make the food look glorious when it appears upon the pedantically critical and impatient patron's table.

We eat the food, too, but we know what food is and what goes into it.  We're just as picky but since we make the food, we have no preconceived notions about what we're getting.

Money is saved all over the place.  Only a fool works in a kitchen so far away that they can't walk there, so there's savings in commuting and parking.  Without needing to be dressed up, with uniforms that are waiting on a rack to be worn (if the kitchen is right, they have a cleaning service), without having to spend money on lunch or on coffee through the day, the actual going to work is cost-free. I'm able to work everyday without having to invest.

Some restaurants will charge for uniforms and knives and even hair-nets - but there's always another restaurant next door that doesn't.  This is good to keep in mind.  There is always another restaurant next door.

Lastly, while I point out the benefits, I'll note that while there's a recession going on, it took four days and 9 resumes for me to find a cooking job.  I've put out something like 2,000 online resumes to office work jobs over five months, I've been to 40 interviews and I've gotten exactly nowhere with that; despite the fact that everyone tells me I have a remarkable resume.  Only . . . apparently there's no work right now that doesn't involve talking to complaining customers, and I haven't any experience with that.

Except with several hundred bitchy front staff people.

The above is an example of the sort of post I'm going to write going forward on my previously attempted cooking blog, Setting the Fare


  1. It must be a relief to be in a place where you can talk about what you want. And not have to really invest in a wardrobe, except maybe a pile of stuff that can get dirty/burned/stained. Only good shoes and an immunity to being yelled at (why I never worked in kitchens).

    Ha! Do you recycle... I also have "we compost, so put your apple core, orange peel, bread crusts...blahblahblah" in the green bin. You can join the club that tends the compost too!" Ugh. No. Thanks.

    Although I don't think I have ever run into "what are they wearing" but I generally only work in offices with minimal dress codes. I'm sure they'd wish I didn't wear my converse runners in the office, but whatev's. When they decided that (even though they will need me) they weren't going to renew my contract, no more uncomfortable shoes for me!

    The last few years have been an interesting exercise in comparing work environments from years of retail management, warehouse work and more academic pursuits that kept me on my feet all the time. Although in many ways I am happier working in an office (and have more energy and a better schedule to have an actual life outside of work)I've sacrificed a great deal of my health to it. I'm 50 pounds heavier, my lower back is in near constant pain and fuck the repetitive stress on my hands. Everything has something you lay out to sacrifice to it.

    I hope more comes out of this than you expected. Oddly enough, you seem happier than you have been in a long time. Love the updates!

  2. Sounds like a dream! I've worked in kitchens too, here in the UK, and I used to be able to shout and swear, not bother shaving etc, right up until some bright spark decided that open kitchens were the in thing, then every customer could see and hear every last little thing that we did.

    Also, probably as a result of the much higher costs of food here, there is no waste, none. If there is, you work out how you can sell it again. If it can't be sold legally, then it gets donated to charity, for tax breaks. I had to write an incident form for every time I put food into the bin and was at risk of deductions if there was a sniff of it being my fault.

    Within a year of the open kitchen change, I changed career, as did every single one of my colleagues, because jobs in closed kitchens were so highly sought after we would have had to accept a mighty wage drop.

  3. I remember that there was an open kitchen craze here, too . . . but I guess Canadians are different. Many of those that started went under, I suppose because people here don't actually want to be reminded that their food is being cooked by young boys. There is less of a journeyman atmosphere here, less of the sort of culture that produced Ramsay and Oliver, so it remains the sort of atmosphere you clearly appreciated, William.

  4. @ Alexis:

    Wow, that brings back memories. Haven't worked in the restaurant biz since...'95 (I think...God, 20 years ago). Everything you say is absolutely true. It's amazing the transitions we can make to adapt to a (paying) gig. Depending on what's available upon my return for Paraguay, I might just end up back in the trenches, too.

    Hope you're earning a higher wage than the local call center, man.

  5. I used to work in a office where people sweared. But then again that was the place where the boss literally said to a group of employees with a straight face "You've got to stop the fucking cursing." Needless to say he was very inspiring.


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