I used to love it.  Getting off work after a busy night, salt still sticking to my forearms, I would head to the bar with my crew.  Once there we quickly put away a shot and a beer, and another, and another.  Then Kevin, the server that had almost 2k in sales (half coming in wine) would show up, start buying rounds, and the night would melt into oblivion.  Sometime around 3:30 I would find myself stumbling out of a dingy cooks apartment, wondering how to get home without killing myself.  The next day we would all wake up in absolute pain, head into work, and sweat it out on the stoves with few laughs between us.  There was a pattern to it, and we rarely strayed from it.  It was our right.  We were cooks. 

The thing is that once you get into the cooks lifestyle: the heat, the stress, the camaraderie, and the eventual reward at the end of it all...it becomes hard to let go of.  It starts to become less about a reward for yourselves at the end of the night and more about your nightly plans.  Everyone's sharpness becomes just a little more dull...but you tell yourself that its ok.  The team is stronger now...closer.  Isn't it?

Eventually, things start to fray.  Your grill guy, who already has a nasty habit of a liter of Pepsi and blunt to the head in the parking lot before work starts making frequent trips to bathroom during service.  His eyes are alert, but his jaw and edgy demeanor tell a different tale.  The food runner that cant remember table numbers was up until 5am with him doing coke, and they're both starting to make your evening very difficult.  Manuel, your fastest sautee cook has started asking for booze mid shift to quell his hangover, and by the end of the night everyone has had a sip.  Two months later you're dumber, slower, and fat.  But fuck it, because you're a real cook, right?

But here's the rub.  There are a lot of cooks out there that are smarter, more talented, and far more driven.  And they didnt stay up until 5am last night doing coke.  They don't drink on their shift.  They are so singularly motivated to be the best, to move up, and move on that with every hangover you get, they're leaving you behind.  Think about the crew at Alinea, or Laundry.  How can there be room for the fog of a big night out when you have a 15 hour day and the standard of perfection weighing on you?

By nature we are indulgent people.  Our jobs center around taking care of others.  We're surrounded by great food, lots of wine and booze, and like minded folks that got into this job because the monotony of a nine to five was never a viable option.  Cooks that think they're just doing whats expected are at best, a cliche.  At their worst, theyre alcoholics, or drugs addicts.  There is such a great deal of discipline in our work.  Why isn't that carrying over into our free time?

It's important to find a balance.  It's important to not take yourself too seriously, and not let the pressures of the job cave you in.  I think it's also important to remember that at the end of the day there is a greater responsibility to your craft.  It's not just about the daily drudgery--there has to be a bigger goal.  Life isn't just decaying slowly. 

"All things in moderation, including moderation."

  • there was talk this week of mongoose on all fours, wearing a leash and collar, being held by ponder.  
  • no, there was no writing in blood on my mirror.  but thank you for your concern.
  • oh snap.
  • who knew that pork bones are so hard to come by?
  • congratulations to Ryan Farr and Cessaly on the birth of their new baby boy!
  • im down for composting, but this little green bin the city gave me just isn't cutting it

quotes and conversations.

I'm pouring molasses into a pot.
Me:  Black tar heroin...
Goose:  I smoke that stuff in rehab one time.
Me:  Goose, rehab isn't for smoking black tar heroin!  It's for picking up on vulnerable women!

"Abuelita.  I like Grandmas."

Corey:  Hey dude, if I were single would you bone down with me?
Me:  No.  (long pause)  If I were single would you bone down with me?
Corey:  Hell yeah dude.
Me:  I thought so.  Sorry about that.

Me:  What color is that guys fixie?
Dega:  He doesn't ride a fixie.  Didn't you see how fat he is?

Goose:  Who got the plastic wrap?
Merrell:  Yo mama.
Goose:  My mama didn't use plastic wrap.  That's how I came to be.

"I not that beautiful, I not that handsome.  But I am fucking chingon."

"I guess for some people it would feel good to hold someone's cock, but for me it would be really, really strange."

from top:  soba, moleskins, farms up/hoes down?, figs and walnuts, snails in the spinach, they match, pappardelle, vongole, jellyfish, sloppy joe on bread, ramen stock, family meal showdown, ramen, noodles, a clean kitchen


MetaGrrrl said...

Hell yeah.

Nights off the boozefest and low or no alcohol rounds on drinking nights keep the mental knives sharper.

Wolfgang said...

Okay, ramen stock. We need to talk...

- wolfgang

FGF said...

Ah, yes, that's called getting older. Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

"Life isn't just decaying slowly."

Very Deep.

john said...

Great topic Chef. I worked at one of the restaurants you mentioned in your post, and I am currently working at another one you mentioned. There are nights after service we go out and take a victory lap, but it never interferes with the following days service. It can't. The pressure is too great to come to work a step behind.
When I first started the truth is I would wake up in the morning and sometimes I wished my car had been stolen so I wouldn't have to go into work. That's pressure. Days off are for indulgence, if that's your thing.

greg said...

Great post. The main reason I got out of the cooking business. Way to many wrecked people- not a healthy lifestyle. Glad to see your take on it.

Rachel E said...

This is a great post. I recently broke up with my live-in boyfriend who is a chef. He would finally stumble in at 4-5 a.m. after a night of boozing, among other things. It was way too much to handle and I had to split. It was sad because he was a great guy that got lost in the haze.

ontheline89 said...

you know, i read kitchen confidential, about the coke, the booze, the beer, the sex, the this and that. And then i go into my kitchen and look at chef, who worked at the laundry, and michel bras, and la'strance, And i look at B who staged at alinea, and is going to japan in a month to work under a chef who bear morimoto on iron chef. neither of them come into work with cook res on their noses, they arent drunk. theyre focused, committed both mentally and physically. now dont get me wrong, our kitchen is like every other too, we sometimes have pints of beer in our low boys, we start kickboxing between pushes. but when it comes time to really dig down and put out ticket after ticket after ticket, it all stops and the kitchen goes silent, and we work. its a fine line to walk, you can run yourself down and never really know what you could have been.

theculinaryaddict said...

I appreciate your post, although it doesn't appear that you perceive addiction as a progressive and fatal disease. I have been fortunate enough to have worked in 3-star restaurants in the bay area and a Michelin 2-star in Europe. Through a stable upbriging and strong work ethic its been my experience if I put my mind to something I can accomplish practically anything, except, I could not stop drinking and using.

What happens when one can't moderate?

Yes, there are many excellent cooks that don't suffer from the disease of addiction, but perhaps it is time to address addiction in our work place? According to your past posts you have worked with many that have addiction problems, but instead of judging or deeming them weak, maybe we try to address the disease that is rampant in our great industry?

adriene crimson said...

I have come to really, really love a clean kitchen. One can think so much more clearly when everything is in it's spot and ready to be used.