Sunday, October 2, 2011

A bit of chef satori

The chef and sous-chef I worked with at the event were great. Everything went smoothly, the guests were well taken care of and they actually seemed like human beings. Everyone put their head down and did their job. They greeted guests with a smile and described their offerings in mouthwatering detail. They had some of the best food at the event. Coincidence? I think not.

They were professional, paid great attention to quality, and helped to restore some glimmer of hope that I could, someday, find a niche in this industry. Although I wasn't asking them for a job, either.

Employment wasn't why I was there. Gaining experience, learning, talking to working chefs to see how they think and act, their approach to food, watching them work and seeing if they enjoy their job were. A bit of culinary exploration wasn't out of the question, either, with so many restaurants present.

Near the end of the event, they released us to wander the event, taste food, quaff wine, sample beer... and check out the other restaurants. Most were staffed by people who looked like they were enjoying themselves. They also looked like they were proud of what they were serving and happy to share both food and information.

One chef, however, was not smiling. He hovered in the space behind a table laden with food samples, scowling. Unfriendly. Unwelcoming. I'd never met him, as far as I know. So why was he scowling? I'd never visited his restaurant. I never sent them a job application. I don't know his name.

Did he somehow recognize me from past comments in this blog and resent something I'd said about hiring, courtesy, professionalism? Yeah, I didn't exactly hold back when telling of my first experiences as a back of the house job seeker - yet those were my feelings. After all, when someone won't even give you a chance, not even an unpaid stage, there's not much risk that offending him will lead to denial of a job. When giving someone a job application - even if it's in bad faith - is too much to ask, there's not much left to say or do, is there?

I suddenly realized that if things had gone differently a year ago, I could have had this guy for a boss. This could be his normal nature, his mien totally unrelated to anything I might have done or said. This man was someone who could have turned my first foray into the hospitality industry into nights of living hell. Or this could be a bad first impression and things could have been great - who knows?

In any case, nobody said that working in a restaurant is easy, and if by some miracle I'm ever hired, I hope it's by someone who leads by inspiration and guidance rather than fear.

So, I'm continuing with my classes, even though they may in the end prove futile in my effort to find paid work in the hospitality industry. If nothing else, I'll be able to cook and bake pretty much anything. I'll probably know enough to open my own restaurant, although the day I decide to do this is the day I deserve to be swept away to a calm place by men with sharp hypodermics and soothing solutions.

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