UPDATE July 2021: The book is out and available at the link below!
Out of all the places I could be on a holiday weekend night, why here? I thought, as I squeeze-bottled lines of red pepper sauce over a seafood tagliarini dish. (Oh, squeeze bottles, what would we cooks ever do without them?) I couldn’t think about how weeded I was, or the heat, or the fresh burn bubbles going all the way up my arm. In restaurant speak, “weeded” or “being in the weeds” means slammed, way behind, struggling to stay on top of the rush. Imagine you’re juggling, but people keep throwing you balls, and you have to keep juggling all of them. Then the balls catch fire, but you can’t stop. And people keep telling you, “I need that ball now! How long before you’re done?”
I glanced over to the corner of the kitchen, where a server was rolling silverware and chatting up a storm. She seemed so tranquil, a cool cucumber compared to the madness of the line. In the less than half a second I spent in silverware Zen-land with the server, I thought, What I’d do right now to be there, with not a care in the world except rolling silverware. I shifted my focus back. I couldn’t focus on how weeded I was; I just had to keep cooking. Next pickup: three sea bass, two seafood pasta, a cowboy steak special, and three airline chicken. Focusing on that next pickup was the small thread I hung on to, to keep from drowning in a sea of paper tickets.
Women are expected to cook at home for their family, not in a tough, physically arduous, mentally exhausting, balls-to-the-wall-paced, no-screw-ups-allowed, male-dominated restaurant kitchen.
Why do the people who say “A woman’s place is the kitchen” usually think this is true unless it’s a professional kitchen, where, instead of cooking for a few friends and family members, she’s cooking for hundreds, maybe even a thousand paying customers with high standards?
Where, instead of having plenty of time to cook one big casserole for everyone, she’s cooking to order big-ticket entrees, and has only fifteen minutes to cook each dish?
Where she might be the only woman and may even be in charge of leading a team through a dinner rush?
If a woman can cook, they call her “wifey material.” If she cooks at a restaurant, they say, “You’re too pretty to work back there. You should be taking my order.”
“So, you’re like a prep helper or a cake decorator, right?”
“You should work cold stations and dessert. You wouldn’t want to get burns from working the grill.”
“Can you make sure it’s a man who cooks my steak?”
“That’s nice, sweetie, but can I talk to the chef?”
“Women can’t put in the same hours men can.”
These are all real quotes, by the way, that I collected from other female cooks and chefs.
“I bet you make great tips there as a waitress,” they say, after I’ve told them where I work as a cook and have just finished a busy holiday weekend. It stings a little harder when you are at a place that does not tip out the kitchen, which is quite common.
One year, I had the opportunity to cover for the main sauté cook over Labor Day weekend while he was out for a few weeks for an unavoidable family situation. Every station in the kitchen has its own hardships, but sauté was definitely the most intricate, and only a few cooks could work it. Just when I thought I was holding it down pretty well, the orders coming in at a decent pace, the ticket printer started rattling off like a machine gun and didn’t stop for three hours.
Early on in that rush, I hastily and carelessly dropped a skin-on airline chicken breast into smoking-hot oil in a pan and it splashed everywhere. I knew oil splattered all over my arm, but I didn’t feel any burns; that’s the kind of adrenaline you’re on during a four-hundred-cover night (covers meaning how many people came through the restaurant, in this case between 5 and 10 p.m. Four hundred butts in the chairs. Four hundred people ordering appetizers, main courses, and desserts). I was cranking out sea bass entrée after sea bass entrée—having five to seven of those working at any given time throughout the night. I was plating up prime rib sides and seafood pasta dishes to the tune of whirring hood vents, crashing dishes, and the chef yelling out our next pickup.
I had all twelve stove burners on and both ovens full. I didn’t have time for pain. And the heat? I wasn’t even thinking about the heat, even though it was a late-summer evening, cooped up in a windowless, stainless-steel dungeon, reaching into a 450-degree oven every five minutes. At 10 p.m., when the rush calmed down, I showed a server my burns. His jaw hit the floor.
“A grease splash? You look like you pinned your whole arm to the grill!”
I still have the scars as I write this.
So yes, please keep telling me that cooking is a “woman’s job,” or that a man who can cook is displaying “feminine” qualities. Please keep telling me that my place is the kitchen, because it is. But if you’re going to use it as an insult or some sort of way to assert dominance as a man, I dare you to find the busiest restaurant in your city on a day when the line is out the door, peek into the kitchen, and watch. You might not even see a woman, and if you do, you better believe she’s tough as nails.
Who is this lady and why is she writing a book?
My first promotion at any job ever was in a workplace of about thirty men and one woman (me). It was a job at a ski resort in Mountain Operations, or “Mountain Ops,” which meant physical labor, long hours, big machines, power tools, and lots of time on snow in all conditions. Overall, I learned so much from my time there, and I’m grateful for that experience and time in my life. I was twenty-one years old, had no leadership experience, was working seventy to eighty hours a week, and had to face a bully and two serious injuries, all within a few short months. I had to learn life skills “on the fly,” as they say in restaurants. At the end of that ski season, I knew I wanted to capture that experience in writing and recount everything I had learned in such a short time. I started writing that story but didn’t know what to do with it.
After that experience, I found my place in restaurant kitchens and encountered the same gender demographic. It’s not like I was looking for male-dominated fields for the sake of it. Those were the types of jobs I wanted to work, and I didn’t want to let that get in the way. Representation is great, but sometimes we have to get out there and be the only one of our kind, even if we’re the first one we’ve seen in that field.
Equipped with the experience from that first leadership job, I went into the kitchen with a thick skin and an open mind. The kitchen taught me even more lessons on leadership, humility, and life. I fell in love with the rush, the camaraderie, and the ways it continued to challenge me as a cook and as a person. Writing was often my after-work outlet. Some of these pages were written at 2 a.m. after a brutal Saturday night service, still covered in grease, sweat, and chicken juice, eating ice cream for dinner and trying to process what just happened. I loved capturing the madness of a dinner rush with words on a page. I wanted to bring readers on the line, right there next to me, flipping steaks and slinging mussels diablo on a holiday weekend. I wrote about my frustrations, my wins, and my losses. I didn’t know who or what it was for; I just wanted to write it.
When I began leading in the kitchen, I was able to draw parallels between my ski resort job and my new workplace. I was able to build upon what I learned and experienced there as a supervisor. I faced many of the same struggles but was able to see it with a different perspective. That’s when I put the pieces together and started this book. I know there is still so much more for me to learn, and there are lessons I talk about here that I know I still need to practice in action.
We all have a lens we view our world through. It’s how we cope with what life throws our way. For me, it is my Christian faith. I have had a personal relationship with Christ since eighth grade, and my faith has played an integral part in my identity and how I dealt with the events in this book. The Bible talks a lot about womanhood and gives plenty of examples of women in leadership, business, and other important roles. Jesus was ahead of his time in the way he interacted with women. I’ll be talking about this too and how it relates to my work and my marriage. Whether you share my beliefs or not, this book is just my story.
Names, places, and businesses have been changed to keep anonymity.
Events are as true as remembered by the author.
It's my 23rd birthday this weekend! There's a lot I have yet to learn in life, but I've picked up a few lessons this far, including:
Side note: Four years ago for my birthday, I wrote about 19 things I learned in 19 years. You can read that here!
1. My place is in the Kitchen
I hope everyone finds their thing. The thing that makes their strengths shine and be used to their fullest potential, making them think, "this is what I was made to do!". Modern-day feminists may be mad, but I've found my place - and it's in the kitchen.
The whole story can be found here, plus as you read you’ll get to experience what it’s like to be me for one Saturday night.
2. A 90 hour work week is not sustainable
Been there, done that.
3. How to cook a steak
And how to cook 18 steaks at the same time with different cuts, ranging from still mooing to shoe leather, while you yourself are going on medium-rare having stood next to the grill for so long.
4.Don’t be afraid to be the only one of your “kind”
I’d only ever seen men work ski resort mountain ops jobs, but I didn’t bat an eyelid when I saw the chance to work park crew at my favorite terrain park. Overall the job was a blast! I ended up working my way to supervisor in the department of 30 men and one woman (me) by the end of my second season. It wasn’t easy (understatement), but I’m happy I had that experience, as it helped me out in the kitchen, where the guy/girl demographic is similar. Stop waiting around for representation and get out there and be the only one, whether it’s about gender or something else. And don’t ever let that difference hold you back.
5. how to run a chainsaw
And a bunch of other saws too (skil saw, band saw, jig saw, saw-zaw, pole-saw). Who knew there were so many ways to cut things!
6. How to be a wife
Love keeps no record of wrongs, don't keep score to make sure it's 50/50, cause it won't always be. Basically don't keep track of things, including your wallet and keys if you're Gavin.
7. How to be a friend
Ask lots of questions, even if you're one of those awkward people like me where this is not natural and you feel like you're a spanish inquisitioner. And don't be afraid to be the one to do the reaching out and making plans.
8.You cannot mess up God’s will.
I met a guy who was a Christian and a snowboarder (my only 2 criteria), and never got his name or number. Now that we’re married I realized God will have his will played out whether you think you missed your chance or not! Don't worry - YOU do not have that power. Full story here.
9. God's Work Isn't Always Glamorous
Two summers ago, I interned with a local organization that fights to end sex trafficking in Nevada. Sounds like I had a pretty epic job, right? Going into the trenches, snapping up victims and working directly with them in their recovery. But no. My day-to-day activities included Wal-mart runs for supplies, getting oil changes, and cleaning bathrooms. Trained professionals could now have more one-on-one time with the victims, the food supply at the drop-in center was always be stocked, cars ran smoothly, and the victims were able to use a clean bathroom. These are the kind of things that are overlooked, but still important. Jesus never said his work would be glamorous!
10. “Love what you do and you never have to work another day.” Is a lie.
Yo. I love what I do. But I work my ass off. Loving my job as a cook and one-day chef doesn’t exempt me from working back-to-back-to-back fifteen-hour shifts or scooping the gunk out of the bottom of the dish pit after a Friday night service. Yes I love the rush of a busy service and I love it when I see clean (like, licked clean) plates coming back to the kitchen, but I can’t leave my job when four people call in sick, both ovens break, and I end my Saturday night scrubbing dried fish batter off the wall. Love what you do and you’ll work even harder because you care, and you’ll be even more fulfilled.
11. I am my Own Worst Critic
I still remember that rare steak I overcooked on Friday, August 2nd, 2019. Chances are, nobody else does. At a recent open mic night, I got up on stage and couldn't read the chords, fumbling my way through a performance I thought would have Freddie Mercury rolling in his grave, yet still people were telling me I had the biggest applause of the night. People have the tendencies to over-analyze themselves, but realizing that tendency will help a lot. That steak tho. UGH!
12. Injuries and “setbacks” are what they are
Life doesn't have a ctrl Z button, so I can't sit around wishing it did. Breaking myself off while snowboarding, needing surgery, and being sidelined for months in all areas of my life sucked. But I couldn't do anything about it so I tried not to get bitter, thinking what if I didn't take that last lap, what if I took a different run, what if....... To be honest, I still have not found positive outcomes from the situation, but I've done my best to roll with it. Also through it I learned......
13. How to Ask for Help
I still don't like to, but I've learned it's not a sign of weakness, and can actually give others the chance to shine.
14. God is like that one guy from your group project in High school
Seems like he's just kicking back and procrastinating, but pulls through at the last second, saving the project. Whether it was finding a job, planning an outdoor wedding in snowy May, or scoring housing in Tahoe, God seemed to work last-second miracles, and I’m learning to roll with it.
15. If you can't Handle the Heat, Stay there till you can
Don't give up because you aren't an instant prodigy. I'll always remember my first lunch rush as a restaurant cook. And the second, and third. For over two months I spent my weekends completely scattered, serving up food that was somehow simultaneously cold and overcooked, taking over 40 minutes for some orders, and wondering if I just wasn't cut out for it. Now I couldn't imagine working any other job.
16. Don't take yourself too seriously
My co-workers and I are the biggest goof-offs you may ever witness. From saying "anything for you baby" in a weird voice to every single server who asks us for something, or all of us bent over laughing at absolutely nothing during a Sunday brunch service, or talking in my best Julia Child voice. We never let our goofing off get in the way of work, but we don't let having to work get in the way of having a good time.
17. Having the most experience doesn’t always make you the best at your job.
About a year and a half ago, I walked into the Lobster shack with ZERO restaurant experience or culinary school, and they gave me a chance. Now I'm holding it down on Saturday nights on Sauté section at a fancy restaurant, hopefully on my way to executive chef one day. They could have overlooked me as unqualified, but they saw I was willing to work hard and learn. I'd rather work with the dishwasher who doesn't speak much English who I just taught how to make a reuben than with the guy who's been there 10 years doing the bare minimum. I hope anyone reading this who is an employer of any kind will consider the people who don't have experience. Certain skills can be taught. Hard work and drive cannot.
18. Grocery outlet is the bomb.com
Same high-quality brands, like 1/5 of the price. #notsponsored
19. How to ask for a raise/promotion
I'm still working on this one, but I've learned to just do it. Show them with your actions, then all you have to do is bring it up.
20.Don't Knock it Till' you Try It
I thought cooking professionally would make me hate cooking and squash all creativity. Boy was I wrong.
21. Failing to Prepare Doesn't always mean Preparing to Fail
Sure you want to do your best to be prepared for anything, but when it's 7pm on a Holiday weekend night, you work at a seafood restaurant, and you've run out of shrimp, there’s still a chance to pull through if you are able to think on your feet, handle pressure well, improvise, and most of all, find a little humor in it.
22. There’s something to be learned from everyone
Even the seemingly stuck-up, arrogant cooks who I have worked with left me with a few new skills before they quit because they were "too good" for the job. Sure they spent most of their time man-splaining things to me I already knew, but at the end of the day, I still learned a thing or two. When I had to train the dishwasher on the line because we were so short-staffed, I learned something from him too. Be open to learning from anyone, even the stuck-up ones, or the person you're supposed to be teaching.
23. There are more people than you think out there just winging it.
Let me end this list by telling a quick story from the few months I spent working at a butcher shop. I’m not really sure how I got the job, as I had no experience, but next thing I knew, I was somehow trusted to run the front counter by myself while the others prepped in the back. I had learned quite a bit since I had started a few months back, but was by no means a master butcher. Then this lady and her friend walk in.
“I would like a beef tenderloin roast”
Easy, I thought. I’d taken apart enough tenderloins at this point.
“But Butterflied flat so I can stuff it and roll it up,”
Id’ seen my boss do it like once before, but he wasn’t there, and I knew it was more of a “master butcher” kind of task. You just take the knife and kind of go woosh! And there, what was once a log is now a flat square of meat.
"Hold on a second," I said as I scurried to the back to get someone more qualified. The boss wasn’t there, but surely at least one of the other guys would know how to do it.
“I’m pretty sure you just take the knife and go woosh! But yeah, I haven’t done it either," they said.
No more enlightened than I was before disappearing to the back, I returned to the front counter, where, of course, the customers were watching, ready for the professional who knew exactly what she was doing to prepare their 37-dollar-a-pound filet. I tried to pretend I hadn’t just disappeared off to ask someone how the heck do you do this.
Now, remember, this was filet mignon, so you could say there was a lot at steak.
I knew I couldn’t just sit there and stare any longer. Sooner or later they’d figure out that the person behind the counter was highly unqualified for the job. I took a deep breath and plunged the knife into the tenderloin.
Everyone watched as the master butcher made precision cuts. Little did they know that behind the counter was a clueless young girl who had, about a minute ago, considered going onto youtube and typing in, “how to butterfly a tenderloin”. So there she was, just taking her best guess.
And next thing I knew, the log was now a flat piece of meat. It wasn’t perfectly smooth like that one time I had seen my boss do it, but to my amateur eyes, it was close enough.
I walked over to the customer and held out the flat piece of meat.
“How does this look?” I said, wincing,
Her face lit up, “That’s so beautiful! Where did you learn to do that?”
“Oh, you know, the owner showed me a while back.”
Pleased with the filet, she paid and left, and that’s when I realized that what I had just done was pretty much a metaphor of what adulting really is.
When you’re a kid or a teen, you think that adults have it figured out - That they take every step knowing what they are doing, and are trained professionally in their field. But as you grow up, you have a lot more “they didn’t teach this in school!” moments, and realize you just have to wing whatever you’re doing.
Isn’t that what adulting is all about?
This is a story about a woman who found her place in the world, written to bring the reader on the line next to her for an average Saturday night at one of the busiest restaurants in her town.
Cooking a steak to perfect medium-rare is a simple task, once learned. I think anyone is capable of doing it. Now let’s throw a few more things into the mix. Not only do I have to nail one perfect medium-rare rib-eye, but two more rib-eyes, four filet mignons, three New York steaks, eight burgers, two salmon filets, and 15 chicken skewers, all while running two deep fryers, and listening to a waitress cuss out the expediter and two other cooks argue over which plate had the sauce on the side. Of course all these aren’t put on the grill at once, but at different times, so I have to remember which ones were put on when, what temp (“temps” referring to rare, medium, etc.) they were ordered, and if the burgers were beef patties or bison (they look exactly the same by the way). Oh, and also different sections on the grill run hotter than others, so I have to take that into account too. And the ticket printer, letting off new orders with a robotic screeching type of sound, won’t. Stop. Printing.
. . .
Earlier that summer, I decided I wanted to go to the busiest restaurant in town, get a job there, and find out if I really wanted to cook for a living. So here I found myself, behind the grill, on Saturday at 7:19 pm, wondering how I got here, and why I EVER thought that would be a good idea. Like an adrenaline junkie looking for the next cliff to BASE jump off of, I had surveyed the streets of my little mountain town, trying to find a place where I could get my ass handed to me every day and truly push my own limits. There was one place, a casual-but-not-too-casual American restaurant, on the corner of the main intersection in town, which fit the bill.
“Yeah, I can handle the line. I can totally handle the line. I thrive off the rush. I was born ready for it. Molded by it. I am the Zen master. That’s why I want to work here. It’s always busy.”
“Well you’ll definitely get that here,” he said, “and you need to be able to stay on top.”
We talked for a few more minutes. I somehow managed to dodge having to confess that I couldn’t cook a steak to order to save my life, or that I’d never been to culinary school and had barely been working at restaurants for one summer, or that I had absolutely no clue what “mirepoix” or “the five mother sauces” were. People had told me I was a damn good home cook though, so I had that going for me.
“Can you start on Friday?”
I showed up on Friday, eager to work and learn the long menu of everything from burgers, to fish tacos, to seared ahi with citrus beurre blanc sauce, to orzo primavera. This place was a huge step-up from the itsy-bitsy lobster shack I had come from. It had multiple walk-in fridges and freezers (plenty of room to go in and cry on a Saturday night), two separate kitchens, and three to seven cooks on at a time. Most things, like sauces, pizza dough, and salsas, were made from scratch, and meat was butchered in-house.
“Are you a busser? Food runner? Prep cook?” Said the current dishwasher, upon seeing the fresh, new hire.
“No, she will be on the line, next to me,” replied the chef who was training me that day.
A wide, intrigued grin went across her face.
“Goooood luuuuuuck!” She laughed, like I was getting up off the bench for the underdog team going up against the world champion.
At 11, we opened for the day. I thought I’d begin on prep or just watching, but I was thrown straight to the wolves on the line. One order turned into three, turned into seven. I felt like I had dyslexia as soon as we had more than three orders at once. I just had no idea where anything was or what goes with what, or heck – even how to organize the tickets on the rail. One of the other cooks, without saying a word, kept giving me this look, which said,
“What is this, your first day?!”
I had no idea who did what or what’s going on or where anything was and a server was telling me the bison burger for table 32 comes with aioli on the side but I snapped back “that wasn’t on the ticket”, and she shows me the ticket and yes, it did say aioli on the side, so I ate humble pie and re-made the whole thing. Only a few hours in, I began to wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea to leave the comfort of my old job – where I had every menu item on point and knew that kitchen better than my home kitchen (where few things actually have a place).
We wore actual chef coats at this job. By the end of that shift, I felt as if I didn’t even deserve to wear one. The “Imposter Syndrome” hit hard, or maybe for chefs they call it “im-pasta syndrome”. I thought I had just talked myself up at the interview big time, using state-of-the-art trickery to make them believe that I, an inexperienced, quiet, young woman with zero culinary school and little experience could hold her own on the line at the busiest restaurant in town. What was I thinking?
“It’s so hot here,” complains a waiter on the other side of the window, as he fans himself with his notepad. I’m reaching over the grill and can feel the sweat dripping down the back of my neck. I look him dead in the eyes through the flames rising from the grill, inches from my hand, while the fryers steam behind me.
“Okay, I’ll shut up, it’s not hot here,” he says.
My entire shift so far has been an absolute scramble right from the get-go. I arrived at 3 pm and had exactly two hours until dinner service to get my mise en place (chef-an-ese for: get my shit together). It’s a Saturday, so there’s no separation from the lunch rush and the dinner rush. I knew the dinner menu began at 5, ready or not, but I had such a long list of things to do, while simultaneously helping the lunch crew on the line, that I lost track of time. Next thing I knew, I had orders coming in with dinner entree items and I realized I hadn’t even mashed the potatoes yet. Just in the nick of time, I was able to get the potatoes finished by 5:15 and jump straight into the madness of a Saturday dinner service, and that’s where I’ve been for the last two hours.
What’s that, another order? It’s for sliders – thin little things that burn easily. Better keep my eye on those. All 12 of them. After dropping three orders of fish and chips and six battered jalapeno poppers in the fryer, I watch a waiter come back to the kitchen holding food. That’s never good. He said the guy at table 12 ordered the ahi tuna entree, and didn’t expect it to be “so rare”. I find some room on the grill and cover it, and I better remember it because there’s no ticket for this. What’s that, something’s on fire? I definitely did not forget about that medium-rare rib-eye, a fatty cut of meat which when on the grill, drips oil and can set the whole thing ablaze. Luckily it’s still rare inside, so I make sure I remember to take it off in just a minute or two. A thin steak on the hot part of the grill might give a 30-second window between temps, and it’s not like there aren’t other things going on to distract me from a perfect medium-rare.
. . .
"If someone thinks that by telling a woman to get back to the kitchen is saying she’s weak and can’t amount to anything else, I dare them to find the busiest restaurant in their city on a day where the line is out the door, peek into the kitchen and watch. "
I’ve seen too many “feminist” ads and videos pop up in my social media feed putting down being in the kitchen, defending themselves against people who use “get back to the kitchen” as an insult, and I just want to get this straight. Can we get rid of this telling-women-they-shouldn’t-belong-in-the-kitchen nonsense? As if a woman being in the kitchen is some kind of mark of weakness and a slap in the face to ‘real’ feminists? Like cooking is an easy task for some kind of domesticated, patriarchy-supporting pansy? Neo-feminists will try to distance themselves, wearing their inability to cook like a badge of honor. “Look at me, I’m a real feminist because I can’t cook or clean! Look at me, I burnt water!” Want a difficult, male-dominated, high-pressure environment that creates tough people? Look no further than the commercial kitchen.
If someone thinks that by telling a woman to get back to the kitchen is saying she’s weak and can’t amount to anything else, I dare them to find the busiest restaurant in their city on a day where the line is out the door, peek into the kitchen and watch. They might not even see any women, and if they do see one, they better believe she’s tough as nails.
It’s 8:07. The manager and head chef walk into the kitchen. They are telling me that I have passed the 15-minute ticket time on table 57’s order. Like way passed. They want to know why. They’re nice people, good bosses, really, but are probably reflecting some of the anger coming from the hungry diners waiting behind those swinging doors. The other seven plates are in the window (dying under heat lamps), and I’m dragging a medium New York steak. I try to explain that the steak is still rare, and they ordered medium, and there’s little I can do, but they’re not having it. Meanwhile the sauté cook is yelling at me because he said I never told him about said New York steak, and now he has to scramble to make the sides that accompany it. The line cook up front pulls a string of new tickets from the printer and begins calling out even more items I need to start - and remember.
Few people can cook nowadays, let alone want to hold down the line at the busiest restaurant in town for a living. There’s just so much more easy money out there.
Only a few weeks into the new job, they began trusting me to work the grill. Remember how I couldn’t cook a steak to save my life? They eventually found this out, but it wasn’t a problem because they knew it was a skill I could learn, and they taught me. So there I was - me and one other guy holding down the entire kitchen while the July 4th week crowds flocked to our area by the tens of thousands like an angry mob. Restaurants aren’t always staffed-up to meet the demands. It’s a transient industry in a seasonal town, and turnover is high. Few people can cook nowadays, let alone want to hold down the line at the busiest restaurant in town for a living. There’s just so much more easy money out there. Whether there’s two cooks or four, when that dining room fills up, I still better put out perfect food. Every time. Every order. I’ve heard too many restaurant workers say things like,
“People can’t tell the difference between med-rare and med-well anyway. Just put more sauce on it.”
“Most people want their fish overcooked.”
I call B.S.
If you’ve ever paid for food at a restaurant that wasn’t up to par, I am sorry, and I really mean that. I’m not just screwing up your dinner. I’m screwing up your anniversary date night you saved up every penny for, your graduation party, or your night out with the guys. To me, it’s more than food.
I am not a perfectionist in most areas of my life, but if a customer orders a medium steak you better believe I want it to be perfect. This particular night, we were so swamped and understaffed, I was sending out some things that made me embarrassed to leave the kitchen in uniform, in case someone put two-and-two together and muttered,
“Hey look, there’s the unqualified schmuck who messed up our dinner!”
Slightly burnt but passable sliders, burgers ordered medium that were a solid med-well, and charred burger buns left the kitchen while one member of a party of eight watched their group eat and sat without food because the kitchen misread their ticket. To top the night off, the manager came back in and slapped down a cut-in-half filet mignon I had just sent out.
“They ordered this medium.”
With no defense, I slunk my way back to the grill and put the steak back on. If Gordon Ramsey were there, he would have yelled,
“It’s RAAAAAWWWWW you Donkey!! Now where’s the Lamb SAUCE?!”
If you’ve ever paid for food at a restaurant that wasn’t up to par, I am sorry, and I really mean that.
The next day I’m back at work. The entire town is ramping up each day as we near the 4th of July. I begin prepping for service – cutting and roasting parsnips, reducing demi-glace sauces, and saying my final prayers that I would keep my sanity before the hungry masses arrived. Somehow, I ended up on grill again. Things seem to be running smoothly, until a server comes back to the kitchen and says, with a hint of disappointment in his voice,
“Hey, who’s cooking steaks tonight?”
The whole kitchen went quiet and all eyes were on me. My heart sank as I tried to hide the fact that I was standing by the grill, tongs in hand. I was 100% sure he’d say that they were all going out wrong. Very wrong.
“The guy from table 11 who ordered the med-rare filet mignon told me to go to the chef right away and tell them he just had the best steak he’s ever had in his life!”
I blushed, or maybe I was just red from the heat of the kitchen, standing next to the grill for five hours. Or both. I had the biggest smile for the rest of my shift, as the four of us continued to work in harmony and encourage each other while we crushed the rest of dinner service. I encourage everyone to give their compliments to the chef if the food was great. Maybe they’ll just stroke an ego. Or maybe, there's a struggling line cook out there, desperate for a sign that they are in the right profession.
"I encourage everyone to give their compliments to the chef if the food was great. Maybe they’ll just stroke an ego. Or maybe, there's a struggling line cook out there, desperate for a sign that they are in the right profession.
I need to pee but I can’t leave the line with a rail full of tickets. It’s 9:14 pm and there’s no signs of the rush slowing down. Of course I’m also keeping track of all the modifications the diners have made, because one does not simply order menu items as they come. One rib-eye orderer wants it medium-rare with no mashed potatoes and the demi glace sauce on the side. Another rib-eye orderer wants medium, but no asparagus. One of the medium-rare bison burger eaters wants no bun and no onions, and another wants medium-well with no bacon and aioli on the side. I try to keep my flow while bending my brain around which order has which temp and which modification, but it’s not easy.
I finish plating up the ticket’s final bison burger at the same time the guy on sauté carefully brings over his salmon entree, trying not to disrupt the perfectly squeeze-bottled dots of pomegranate reduction and basil oil on the plate. Let me tell you there are few feelings as satisfying as slapping that plate down in the pass and handing the expediter that completed ticket for a table of eight. But I can’t revel in that moment for even a second, because that filet mignon ordered rare ain’t gonna be rare for much longer. Oh, and the ahi tuna is ready too... And my sliders are burning.
. . .
When one of the brunch cooks called in sick one Saturday morning, I figured it could be my time to shine, so I stepped up and said I’d work his sauté/egg poaching/fryer/waffle station. I’d never run that station before, so I took five minutes to learn how the waffle maker worked, had a quick hollandaise sauce making lesson from the chef, and began service.
I was almost waiting for the moment I’d be overwhelmed and have to ask one of the more experienced guys to step in and take over my station. I was running 12 stove burners, four waffle makers, and two deep fryers all on my own, but as the tickets kept rolling in, I was able to stay on top. Every order was going out on time and nothing was being sent back.
“Nice work, boys!” Said one of the waiters as he picks up the food for his table.
Without skipping a beat, the head chef, who’s on the line next to the rest of us, says,
“You’re going to have to start saying ‘nice work boys and girls’ now!”
That was one of the many little moments where I began to feel like I fit in – like there was a chance that I, an inexperienced, quiet, young woman with zero culinary school and little experience could hold her own on the line at the busiest restaurant in town. Maybe I wasn’t an im-pasta after all.
. . .
It’s 10:05, and our team has put out 450 cooked-to-order dinners in the last five hours. The kitchen closes at 10, but they’ll extend it if people are still waiting outside, and they are. Just when I get one second to breathe and think about potentially taking a bathroom break, I hear the printer again. I want to punch it off the shelf, but instead I watch the ticket keep printing, and printing.
“Sorry,” says the waitress, sheepishly as she walks into the kitchen, “I didn’t warn you about the table of 12 that just ordered. We just sat a few more tables too.”
I call out the ticket so the guy in the back on sauté can hear, then I put six burgers and three steaks on the grill. It doesn’t matter if it’s my 450th plate of the night, I still have to make it the best damn steak I’m capable of cooking. I finish up that order, three more orders, and then the manager finally tells us the kitchen is closed.
. . .
I’ve had many overwhelming days besides the ones I’ve written about in these pages. Maybe one day I’ll stop feeling like I'm getting chewed up and spat out by the dinner rush, or maybe great chefs never stop getting their butts kicked but have learned to roll with the punches. There are days I have the life drained out of me, and I finish my shift feeling like my brain had been fried in the deep fryer. There are days where I feel like I lost my soul somewhere between 7 and 9 pm, vowing if I ever have to see another filet mignon ever again, I’m punching a hole through the walk-in door. I’m not invincible because people say I can “handle the heat”. Many of us turn to drugs to handle the pressure of this job, but I’ve chosen not to. We all need some way of coping with the different pressures of life, whether we work in a busy restaurant kitchen or not. Writing this piece, and many other pages that will probably never make it out into the world, is one of my ways.
. . .
I actually felt as if I had come alive that night. Sure I was tired as all hell, but that feeling of giving something my absolute all was truly satisfying."
It’s 10:45. I think we did a good job on service, but I don’t know if people liked the food or not. The only dishes sent back were the “too rare” ahi tuna, and a perfectly good chicken dish that the customer thought just looked weird, and almost all dinners made it out in 15 minutes. Not only did nobody throw any plates across the room like they do on TV, and not only did no one retreat and cry in the walk-in, but I actually felt as if I had come alive that night. Sure I was tired as all hell, but that feeling of giving something my absolute all was truly satisfying. I’m not going to say the last few hours were handled with grace and ease, but dammit, we had handled it!
Then the chef walks in with the only piece of feedback I’ll receive on the entire night’s service.
“A customer said their rare steak was closer to medium-rare. They didn’t send it back, and they ate it, but try to take it off the grill sooner next time.”
The other 449 dishes? Who knows, maybe they were perfect, maybe they weren’t. It’s a mystery and will always be. This is what I have to base my entire performance off, and judge whether I’m good at my job or not. Constructive feedback is a good thing, but if I lose faith in my own overall ability, it’s over. I take note to pay more attention next time somebody orders rare.
I know I need to wake up early tomorrow for Sunday brunch, which is usually even more brutal than Saturday night. I leave the kitchen and begin squeezing my way through the labyrinth of drunk, dancing partiers bouncing up and down to some sub-par live music. I may as well be invisible in my whites (well they were white but now they look more like a Jack Pollock masterpiece of buffalo sauce and char). Nobody cares about me as I make my way to the utility room to get the mop bucket, as the lead singer of the band wails off-key. It doesn’t matter if I can put out all those fine foods. I’m not above mopping the floor, and I never will be.
We work in a pressure cooker, and few people become diamonds, and in the fast-paced craziness of my new work environment, I was beginning to see my true potential. I realized I wouldn’t want my workplace any other way."
I had come to work at the busiest restaurant in town to find out if I really wanted to cook for a living, and had, at many moments, wondered why I EVER thought that was a good idea. As I’m scrubbing dried batter off the walls that night, I realized it was a good idea, because I ended up finding an answer.
I was only planning on staying for a summer. Turning a childhood passion into an actual career? Impossible. No one does that, and if I try, I will end up hating the thing I used to love. At least that’s what people say. But when I went from cooking at home to cooking for work, something clicked. It wasn’t just cooking that I liked. I had grown to love the rush of a busy service, the potential to learn and eventually create new ideas that would bring a light to people’s eyes, and the camaraderie shared among people who have the same passion and work hard together. We work in a pressure cooker, and few people become diamonds, and in the fast-paced craziness of my new work environment, I was beginning to see my true potential. I realized I wouldn’t want my workplace any other way.
Modern day feminists may be mad, but I think I’ve found my place – and it’s in the kitchen.
I finished my last writing on “my life as a chef,” begging the question, “Can I handle the heat, or should I just get out?” This day happened soon after posting that piece, and was the first time I felt I got the hang of this "working the line" thing. This short piece was originally written as part of a longer piece about working in a kitchen which is still in progress, so stay tuned!
It’s Labor Day weekend, Sunday night, September 2nd. Weekends working at any resort town are pretty crazy, and holiday weekends are like normal ones, but on steroids. The head chef had worked the morning shift and was on his way out, and so was the only other more experienced cook there. I was left with two guys – one Romanian seasonal employee I had trained, and one part-timer who had started close to when I did, about two months ago.
You know when things start getting out of control so you look to find an adult but then you realize you are the adult? That’s kind of what it was like. As expected, people began pouring into the small seafood restaurant and soon the line was out the door. But we had our game faces on. We thought we were prepared. Key word: Thought.
As I was finishing up making my sixth crab Louie, as well as a table of 12’s order, I heard the Romanian exclaim,
“Ah! We are out of shreeeemps!”
He had to run to the back and get some more shrimp defrosting because we hadn’t even prepared any, meanwhile I used up the last piece of fish for fish and chips (our most popular dish), and had to grab the butcher’s knife mid-rush and start cutting filets of Haddock.
The main “Front of the House” guy came up to me and asked what the wait time would be so he could tell customers. I looked up at the rail. We had tickets out the Wazoo. My brain said definitely at least 45 minutes, but out of my mouth came,
“I dunno, maybe 20 minutes or so?”
“Okay, 20 minutes, I’ll let people know when they order,” he said.
What did I just do, I thought as I continued cutting lettuce on the line because we had failed to prepare enough before the rush. Then, we ran out of batter for fish and chips, but good thing those are easy to make because we pre-measure and prep the dry ingredients, and all we have to do is add beer. Well, we looked in the place where we keep said pre-prepped bags, and whaddaya know? We didn’t even have any of those! In a crazy, frantic rush, the foreign guy ran to dry storage to begin getting the ingredients to make the batter completely from scratch.
“Not all heroes wear capes,” I said as he returned to the line with a fresh batch of fish and chips batter. Meanwhile the other cook had to scramble downstairs because we had run out of those little cups we used for condiments and coleslaw. After running out of a few more items, it seemed as if we had everything under control, despite the ten un-called tickets still hanging from the printer (Some cooks call this “growing a tail”). That was until I heard the foreign guy again,
“We are out of shreeeemps!”
“Again?” I said, in disbelief.
You know that moment when a stressful situation becomes a comedy? Like things are so out of hand all you can do is laugh and roll with it? That was us. At around 7pm on a holiday weekend evening, there we were, laughing at ourselves for being completely and utterly unprepared. As he ran back to the freezer to get more shrimp, we continued working through the rest of the tickets until the rail was almost empty.
Towards the end of the rush, as things began slowing down and you could count the orders left on one hand, I began looking at the time shown on the ticket (when the order was placed), and comparing it to the time we sent it out. Lo and behold – almost no one had waited longer than 25 minutes for their food! The three of us had overcome all odds and delivered what we promised – not sacrificing time for quality, or quality for time. I felt alive, on a high, almost, like I had reached some kind of milestone in my 2-and-a-half month career as a restaurant cook. That night, I learned that although failing to prepare means preparing to fail, there’s still a chance to pull through if you are able to think on your feet, handle pressure well, improvise, and most of all, find a little humor in it.
Ask a newlywed how their wedding day went, and most likely you’ll hear them rave about how it was literally “the best day ever,” like they’re a kid talking about that time they were in a candy store and got to buy anything they wanted. I always had a hard time understanding that. Like, was is really the best day there could possibly be? Better than a day of skiing bottomless powder in Alaska, or at a beach in the Caribbean, or in a room full of puppies?
Then I actually had a wedding of my own. And it really was the best day ever.
For the TL;DR people, here’s basically how it went: It rained almost all day, the DJ played the wrong song while I walked down the aisle, I found out that my dress I ordered online from Russia almost fit, and I came close to tripping and falling during the guitar solo for Queen’s Millionaire Waltz in our first dance. It really was the best day ever.
The past nine months had been spent finishing college, working two jobs, and occasionally catching myself doing things like ordering customized wedding cup favors from the chairlift. I was honestly enjoying the whole process of putting together a big party for all my friends and family to celebrate Gavin and I’s love for each other. I had met Gavin first snowboarding at Boreal, then at a Bible study, and we were engaged a year after meeting, under the dim, eerie light of the total solar eclipse in Albany, Oregon.
Now I had to plan the biggest party I would ever end up planning in your my life (unless I decided to work as an event manager). Who would have known that picking a date wasn’t as simple as just “picking a date”? I never understood the concept of “wedding season.” Like, why get married in the same season everyone else does? Well, there are people in this world who have these things called “kids”, and said “kids” have this thing called school, so people who are invited to weddings that require a little travel often have to decide whether or not to take their kids out of school to go to a wedding. Then there is this other thing called “the weather”. We definitely wanted an outdoor ceremony, given the natural beauty of our mountaintop venue. The winter before we were engaged brought over 70 feet of snow to our area, and “Spring” in Tahoe is basically just an extension of winter, so after considering many factors, we settled on May 26, 2018. As it turned out, even the last weekend in May wasn’t safe, because we ended up dealing with winter weather advisories and all sorts of weather forecast shenanigans.
None of the typical “wedding” themes appealed to us – themes like Rustic barn, elegant ballroom, or Boho Shabby Chic with a modern but old fashioned twist. Besides, what does “shabby chic” mean anyway? I knew from the get-go I wanted a skiing/snowboarding mountains theme, complete with ski sign centerpieces, a chairlift swing we managed to finagle, and a homemade cake made to look like a ski hill. And my colors? Green, blue, black, and bright orange. Our (free) venue was our local church in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, overlooking snow-peaked mountaintops and the Truckee River.
Everyone told me I had gone bonkers for wanting to make said cake from home. This turned out to be one of those decisions I am so glad I held my ground on.
“You’ll stress yourself out!”
“Look, I’ll pay for a professional to make this cake if you promise you won’t take this task on”
“Is that really how you want to spend the days leading up to your wedding?”
These are the remarks I got, but unlike my idea of making the whole thing a potluck (which was shot down immediately, so I went and found a food truck to cater our wedding, which was
pretty cool). I stood firm and started testing out chocolate cake recipes, which gave me a good excuse to eat lots of chocolate cake with no real occasion besides “research”. I then found a very artistic friend who volunteered to decorate the cake the morning of, since I figured I’d be busy with other things, being the bride and whatnot. Things were finally coming together exactly as I dreamed.
Then there was the guest list. A guest list refers to the product made after the bride and groom, usually with a lot of parental input (wanted or not), sit down and decide which friends/family they like the most, which ones they sorta like (Also known as the B list), and which ones are deemed “definitely not worth spending the $50 per head on”. Out of all the fun parts of wedding planning, making a guest list is usually the most dreaded task. Finally , we sent out invites shaped like old-school ski tickets, complete with metal wickets brilliantly engineered from paperclips, to almost 200 people.
Then there is that part when the bride has to go to a dress shop with 17 people and try on 147 dresses, expecting to spend about the equivalent of a small car, and stand on a pedestal while the friends give their (sometimes too) honest opinions. Meanwhile, the guy tries on one suit, says, “I like it” and decides to rent it for a tenth of the price of the dress.
I skipped that step and went online and found a Russian dressmaker whose English read as if she typed her response into Google Translate and copy-pasted the English translation into our conversations, sent her $300, and hoped for the best. The thing is, I just had to get this dress. The snowflakey design was perfect for my winter-themed wedding in almost-June. So I bit
the bullet and ordered it the same day I got engaged. A few months later, a little package with Russian lettering and a lot of stamps arrived.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t even close to fitting, but I had time, so I sent it back, and after the dress literally went around the world, I got it back and had a few small alterations made and it all
worked out. I put the newly altered dress on at home and it fit perfectly. But what I didn’t do in the dress was dance, run, bounce in a bouncy house, dead-lift 180 pounds – you know, those things I was expecting to do when it came time to actually wear the dress.
Throughout the process, I promised myself I would not be one of “those brides”. You know what I’m talking about – the “Zilla”, the one who spends hours stressing over what font to use
on custom napkins, or gets into squabbles over the thickness of the paper on their RSVPs or whether or not they should invite their ex’s mom’s second cousin’s dog. Everyone always knew me as the “chill” one. Besides, I cook at a restaurant. Nothing stresses me out anymore.
But when I stared at that winter weather advisory issued for California that Memorial Day Saturday, I’m going to admit that maybe, “Bride-chilla” was a little concerned with the plans for
the outdoor ceremony, and no plan B. The week leading up to the wedding, the not-so-accu- “Accuweather” jumped from sunny and 70, to rain, to snow, to thunderbolts and lightening
very very frightening. I overheard someone the week before, talking about how the rain on Saturday might throw a wrench in their Memorial Day weekend plans. Like never mind squelching your little grill-out by the lake, Linda. Imagine what I’m trying to deal with this weekend! The worst part? The forecast was basically a guaranteed 70 and sunny from May 27, 2018 into the rest of eternity. The night before, as we were coming back from our rehearsal dinner and my parents and other relatives staying in the house were working on some last-minute things, my dad was like “What about the weather?” and at that point, I think we all just made the mutual decision to forget about it and pray to God to figure it out. There. Decided.
So we finally arrive at the day we had all been waiting for. We all woke up early to the pitter-patter of rain on the roof. Gavin and I and the small village of people who were helping us out through the whole process went to the venue to decorate and set up rain canopies, while my friend and my brother decorated the cake.
I must acknowledge at this point, the people who kept the whole day from becoming an absolute flop. To my parents, who I legitimately think should open up a wedding planning business. To my in-laws, who also paid for a lot of the big-ticket items. To all the people who flew across the world not only to attend, but to help with the small details and setup in the days leading up to the wedding, to Tahoe Forest Church and Pastor Mike for the free venue and officiation, and to the youth group at Tahoe Forest Church, who served as ushers, decorators and balloon poppers, among other jobs on the day with the enthusiasm of a rambunctious dog seeing his owner come home.
All that lead-up and finally, here I was in this very moment, right now, driving through pouring rain down interstate 80 towards my own wedding. This is a moment I didn’t personally see, but everyone else who was waiting at the venue witnessed. The sky parted like the Red Sea as I arrived. Under dry skies, the procession started, just as planned. As I walked down the woodchip and rocks aisle, the correct song that we had carefully picked out and rehearsed to faded, and “Somewhere over the Rainbow” started playing. But you know what? In that moment, I realized, that nobody knew what song was supposed to play. No one knew it was the wrong song. So what’s the point in stressing over the small details you can’t control?
What was the point of stressing about the fact that almost all the buttons on my dress kept coming undone all day and I had to keep asking people to “check me”? What was the point of
stressing about a minor trip-fall-but-save during the first dance, or about one of the ushers actually tripping and falling with a tray full of toast glasses? Heck, I could have actually fell during the first dance and I probably would have just laughed it off and told that story for years to come.
All those minor details flew to the wind of that May-winter storm, and were overcome by love, happiness and that feeling of “I never want this to end”. When I look back, I think of that
moment, looking around the tented room, ten teenagers with ties around their heads, dancing to the YMCA song. I think of how I took a risk and decided to sing “I Was Born to Love You” by Queen in front of all the guests, and how it turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole thing. I think of that homemade cake, teetering on the janky, plastic, 4-tier stand, my brother holding it up carefully while we cut the first slice.
So to anyone who is planning a wedding, or planning on planning one in the future, just remember: Maybe you did pick the wrong font for those custom napkins, or maybe the flowers weren’t exactly the same color as your bridesmaid dresses, or perhaps the aisle runner wasn’t “shabby chic” enough. At the end of the day, you’ll probably look back on your wedding and remember all the good stuff (planned or unplanned), and you’ll hopefully still be married to the love of your life.
See our full wedding video here!
And our snowboarding video we made and played at the reception:
It was on Saturday around 1pm that I realized that I was in the middle of having my ass handed to me, and that being a cook for a living maybe, just maybe, wasn’t something I was quite cut out for. I wanted to crawl inside the walk-in fridge and put a bucket over my head and disappear, but I didn’t have time. I didn’t even have time to pee.
I had cooked at home almost every day since I was 12 years old, even making some extra money as a teenager selling cooked meals to my parents’ coworkers and friends. My first summer out of College, after a winter working at a ski resort and getting married in the spring, I needed to find a job, fast. Knowing I was able to cook well at home for family, friends, and myself, I figured I would try my hand in the restaurant industry for a season. I heard it was stressful and busy, with long hours and low pay, but I was craving a challenge. Despite having no professional experience in the field, the summer job market in the heavily touristic Tahoe Area where I live was in high-demand, so I actually ended up having a few options for actual cook positions to choose from. I settled on a small, hole in the wall place called Morgan’s Lobster Shack in Downtown Truckee, because seafood is basically my favorite thing, and I figured I might as well enjoy the food I put out. My first day was a Sunday in mid-June, and they put me straight on the line. The “line” is where all order, manners, and sanity go out the window. Rather than prep areas, it’s the place in the kitchen where meals are cooked-to-order. Quickly, I learned all the menu items by heart, and I became familiar with the ins and outs of working in a kitchen. Soon, I was able to follow their recipes, prep, open, close, and work the line on my own.
Anyway, back to said ass-handing Saturday. I’m staring at the hoards of people lining up at the cash register to order their food, and the almost-as-long line of tickets on the rail above me of people who were waiting for their order. Apparently, the entire city, their moms, and step-sisters’ second removed cousins once-removed decided to show up at this restaurant at the same time. It’s a small restaurant, with only enough space in the kitchen for two cooks at a time, although sometimes a third will squeeze in if it gets really crazy.
The old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. For big, overwhelming tasks, you should approach it one small step at a time, from beginning to end. Well in the kitchen, not only would serving elephant get the health department to close you down, but you absolutely cannot take things that way. When it’s rush time, you might have 15 orders (ranging from 1-15 items per order) in front of you and only one other cook at a time. Taking tickets one at a time will cause people to wait all day for their lunch.
You can’t put the salmon on the grill and stand there and wait for it to cook before starting the next item. You have to put the salmon down, drop fries, dredge shrimp, sprint to the walk-in to dead-lift a 50 pound bucket of cut potatoes for fries, remember to turn the salmon for those *perfect* grill marks on your way to drop the dredged shrimp in the fryer, drop more fries, take the next ticket out of the printer only to realize it is attached to five more tickets you haven’t even looked at, dip fish in batter, make three salads, then suddenly remember you have to flip the salmon over, only to realize you forgot about the shrimp in the fryer which are now overcooked, and you have to re-start them, then you turn around and collide with your co-worker who didn’t say “behind, hot!” and now you have a nasty burn on your arm, which should probably be iced, but you don’t have time because you have to take that salmon off the grill before it passes that really fine line between undercooked and dry and chewy, then re-do the fried shrimp, prepare 10 plates for that table of 10 who has been waiting for half an hour, salt the fries, plate, and get that order out, only to continue working on the other 12 tickets which are already in progress.
Apparently, women belong in the kitchen, so I went to work at an actual kitchen. There were no women. I had yet again, after a season in the ski industry, found myself in a completely male-dominated field. There is nothing “domestic” or “easy” or “feminine” about cooking. (I mean, knives and fire? Don’t see anything soft and fru-fru about that). They say, “if you can’t handle the heat, get out!” The “heat” not only refers to the physical heat (which can get intense, surrounded by grills and fire and what not), but the stress, and the absolute chaos and mayhem that is a restaurant kitchen during a service rush. On that Saturday, and on a few other crazy weekends, I had found myself asking, Can I handle the heat? Or should I just get out?
When I first began my job, I had lots of doubts. I was surprised I was even hired as a chef in the first place, thinking everyone always had to start as a dishwasher or a waiter. I felt like that guy from the movie Ratatouille - unqualified for the job and not too sure how I got there or what to do. Only I didn’t have a rat controlling my every move. I remember about a week or two into my job, a server came back into the kitchen and said,
“Who made the fish and chips?”
I did it. I had made the fish and chips, even making the batter from scratch that morning . Oh no, what did I screw up this time, I thought. They must be undercooked, or too salty, or the fries must be soggy, or maybe I forgot the tartar sauce. Reluctantly, I admitted that I had made the fish and chips.
“They want to give compliments to the chef for the best fish and chips they have ever had!”
That was like my first boost of confidence. I finally had a glimpse of hope that maybe I got this cooking thing down.
Then there are moments when I feel don’t got this. Like when making clarified butter erupted into an enormous flame, which gave a California wildfire season a run for its’ money, get this - twice. Or when I spilled egg whites all over the floor and knocked a 22-quart bucket of pickled onions and juice over in the walk-in, both in the same day. I remember being on my hands and knees in that big fridge, mopping up all that pickled onion juice from all the little nooks and crannies, thinking, “How did I walk-in to this pickle?”
Working in a kitchen teaches you a good lesson on humility. Sometimes, you get to do the cool stuff like work on the line where customers can see you cooking their meal. You get to take the credit for the perfectly cooked piece of salmon, or you get that adrenaline rush from working a busy Saturday. Sometimes, however, you have to do the “crap work”, aka the stuff that just needs to get done. I’ve learned that no matter how well I can cook, I’m never too good to mop the floor or get my hands covered in shrimp guts peeling and de-veining hundreds of shrimp.
You get your satisfying moments too, like finishing the last ticket of a rush and giving high-fives all around. Working in a open kitchen, I get to hear the guy rave about that killer seared ahi tuna I just sent out, or the lady come back and say she just had the best sandwich of her life (Not just the best Lobster Reuben, but the best sandwich). Sometimes, it’s the little things that make your day, like the lady who came in after a busy Friday night and said she had come there to celebrate her friend’s cancer-free results.
And at the end of the day, coming home smelling of sweat and fish, with the sound of that darn printer still ringing in my ears, and a few new burns on my hands, everyone in that long line got their food, and I did not retreat to the walk in and put a bucket over my head - not that Saturday or any other day.
For five months, I made money as a professional Terrain Park tester at Northstar California, in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas by Lake Tahoe. For those of you who are new to or know nothing about the world of winter sports and ski resort operations, let me explain what a terrain park tester is.
At a ski resort, a “Park” is not simply a place with grass, swings, and benches, where people may take a stroll through of a Sunday afternoon. (Although some ski resort parks do have benches, and um, grass). I once heard someone referring to the terrain park as full of “death machines”, and I’ve heard mothers trying to convince their small children on skis to dare not venture in there. What it really is, is a place where the resort builds jumps, halfpipes, rails, and other creative features that skiers and snowboarders ride on. If you watched the Olympics, think of the halfpipe and slopestyle events. That’s a terrain park. I test them.
O.K, so maybe I wasn’t a “terrain park tester”, but it sounds cool… and dangerous. Park Crew was my official job title, although some may refer to us as “the groomers”, “park staff”, or “the boys” (even if, by some miracle, there are actually girls on park crew, like me). Park Crew actually does a lot more than ride around all day and smoke pot (the latter, by the way, I personally do not partake in).
I knew this job would be a good fit for me, mainly because I love to ride the park. During my job interview, they didn’t have enough chairs in the office, so my boss pulled up an empty paint bucket and flipped it upside down and sat on it. There were also puppies running around the office. It was then that I felt I could loosen up and be myself, even interviewing for a job at a world-class resort. I got to talk about my ideal terrain park, even using words like “de-gape-ify”, and all the words they tell you not to use at job interviews like “super cool” and “gnarly”. A few hours later, they told me I got the job. I hesitated to take it at first, because I had just graduated college with a business degree, and people have this idea that park crew isn’t for people with degrees. But then I was like, what the heck, I’ve always wanted to be park crew for a season. Now’s my time.
So, like I said, we don’t just ride around and test features all day, as much as I wish that were my job. We do so much of the nitty-gritty work that needs to get done, like putting up the fences at the exit, and tightening rope lines that mark the boundaries of the resort. It’s crazy the stuff I never noticed even after years of riding at ski resorts. Like, someone has to put up all those signs and fences and take them down every day for the grooming machines to get through.
Think ski patrol is always the first one on the hill? Think again. at Northstar, park crew is up there even before ski patrol, and we’re off the hill after them. We see the sunrise and the sunset in the same shift, and not just at the end of December either. We are 20 guys and 2 girls out there in the freezing-your-butt-off cold, making sure Northstar’s terrain park is nothing short of perfect. We are out there with our “sporks” which are like a shovel and a rake in one, shaping each takeoff to make the features ride smoothly for the skiers and snowboarders to come.
When it snows, we shovel all the snow off the 100+ rails and boxes, only to go back out in an hour and shovel again like a never-ending cycle. When it doesn’t snow, we shovel snow back on to the rails and boxes so they don’t fall over. At the end of every day, we use those trusty sporks to hand-shape every takeoff, beaten up by thousands of skis and snowboards. We’re out there on those really hot spring days, riding down the run with our big buckets full of salt to spread on takeoffs so they ice over rather than melt. 60 degrees feels like 90 when you’re in the sun, raking slush off a jump takeoff and melting snow on your head to cool the heat. Shoveling in the winter is tiring, but spring is a whole different tiring.
Despite all this hard work, people still look at the terrain park department differently. We’re the misfits. At a ski resort, the departments like ski school, marketing, real estate, and ski racing teams, are looked up to as the “ritzy”, classy departments that make the ski resort what it is. Skiing and snowboarding have become less of an extreme sport and more of something rich people do on vacation. Kind of like yachting or eating caviar (I don’t know what they do, I mean, I’m not rich people.) Over here in the terrain parks world, guests and upper management do think of us as, like I said before, riding around all day and smoking pot. We are, as people in my department have said, “the red-headed step child” of the resort.
Some guests though, do treat us like heroes. They will see us out there making the park look good, and say things like “Thank you for your service!”, “You rock”, or “now there’s the real MVP!”. I’ve heard parents ski by and tell their kids, “OK, little Johnny, now make sure you say thank you to the park groomer!”. We get fist bumps, high fives, and the occasional person taking time out of their ski run to tell us how fun the park is.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had people yell expletives at us after closing the halfpipe. I’ve even been mooned on the job. People spray us, pee on our rails, call us “gay”, and complain to us because their favorite rail to side-jump is closed for 5 minutes. Some days, people go out of their way to mess with us, taking all the flags off the jumps and throwing them into the woods just to see us have to put them back every 10 minutes.
So you do lots of hard work, and most people don’t even see it, and sure you might get a little recognition, but you also get people mooning you and swearing at you just for doing your job. So why do it?
Every day, tons of people come through our terrain park, the product of our hard work, our pride and joy, and its obvious they’re having the time of their life. From the kid with the edgie-wedgie side jumping every rail takeoff on presidents’ day, to the guy in a unicorn onsie doing 1.5 backflips off the big jump, the park has to be the funnest place on the hill. People laugh and smile and take videos of each other. They fly through the air and glide over rails. People of all ages are out there in the park having fun, and seeing that makes park crew’s day.
And yes, when we’re not raking, drilling, shoveling snow off features, shoveling snow back on features, getting flipped off, loading the chair with 50 pounds of salt, yelling at little kids in landings, putting back jump flags, untangling ropes, driving big machines, lifting fallen-over rails, or setting our alarms for 5am…
We’re testing the park. ;D
It’s my birthday! All I want is safe, clean water for a family in need.
For you and me, it’s easy. We can just go to our faucet, or the water fountain and fresh, clean, safe drinking water comes right out of the tap. But for many families who live in developing countries, safe water is not a guarantee. It’s not even often easily accessible.
That’s why this year I’ve pledged my birthday to raise money to provide families with safe, clean drinking water! Just $79 will provide a filter for a family which will give them clean drinking water for the rest of their lives.
Join me in giving water filters to families who face the dangers and unseen diseases, such as worms and parasites in their water. Help me give them peace of mind, knowing that with their new filter, their family will be safe from debilitating sickness like cholera and typhoid.
"Ooooo Yah... Just gonna send ettttttttt"
No idea why we spoke in funny accents all day, but we sure had a blast despite the lack of early season snow!