Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On leaving that restaurant, and looking for others

Leaving was bittersweet, as we can say about so many things in life. It's hard to know if I made the right decision. I return to the restaurant often, on Sundays and Mondays (the Chef and owner's days off), to eat the food my friends make for me. It's delicious.   I get jealous when I look at something new and think, “oh what's that!” and “how did you do this one?”. I wonder if there was more for me to learn there, or if I'm better off not lingering so as to get a better impression of the industry and make a decision about my life.

Deciding to leave was complicated. About a month and a half before I put my notice in the Chef asked me if I saw myself still working there in six months. I said I did. And I was honest. Though at that time there were parts of my job that frustrated me and parts that I got along with. Between that moment and when I put in my notice I grew increasingly frustrated with the management, and perhaps with my own imperfections as a line cook as well. A friend who cares a lot for me gave me some good advice which I took: He told me that if I didn't see myself moving on from my frustration then it was time to go. Keeping myself in a tortured limbo was not a healthy option. I nodded, took in a deep breath and exhaled a sigh. Shortly thereafter I put in my notice, over a month, as it was a difficult time to be looking and coincidentally another cook chose that moment to quit as well.

In retrospect I know I did the right thing. But now that the fun of unemployment is waning and my next rent check looms overhead, the uncertainty leaves me melancholy and a little scared. What if my knife skills are not developed enough to impress my next potential employer? I've heard from a chef that when you watch someone for the first time, you'll know in about five to 10 minutes the level of their knife skills and efficiency, and can judge them accordingly. Having only one year experience leaves my knife skills yet still at the middle-back of the pack. Furthermore I've adopted the stance that it's better to do it right and not chop off my thumb, than to blaze through midway chopping off part of my thumb (lesson learned that one day...). My skills, executed correctly and quickly, will be there one day, after a lot more practice.

And while I'm asking myself daunting questions – what if my cooking skills are not enough for my next employer? There is still so much for me to learn, so many of the basics for me to acquire. It makes me nervous. Even dropping off my resume at potential employers is nerve-wrecking because the kitchen is unfamiliar and professional in a way that the kitchen I came from wasn't. The chef or sous-chef glazes over my resume trying to find the one line where I list that yes, I was once a cook for a period of time somewhere. Maybe I should delete all other details from my resume and make the pertinent information easier to find? What a barren resume that would be.

Writing about myself I am naturally critical (we are all often our own worst critics). And I realize that after expressing these anxieties to some of my former co-workers and friends they were quick to boost my cooking esteem and reaffirm that I could hang tough with the best of them. So in light of their faith in me and that feeling in the pit of my stomach that says, “no, you can do this, really”, I'd like to think I still have a chance.

I will continue my search for my restaurant match. All I want is a nice kitchen to take me under their wing; a place that treats their workers well and has a chef that I can admire, look up to, and try to emulate. Wouldn't you know those are harder to find than you think, and especially harder to break into if your resume reads one year experience. But persistence pays off, as my friend Chris told me. “You may hear 1,000 no's before you hear a yes.” I hope not. But I'll get there.  

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