You know I don’t want to be a chef, right?
Chef happened. It tumbled forth into my lap, looked at me with big eyes, did some circles, plopped down and started purring. It was an adorable idea. Really, it was. But once it started gnawing on my ankles, interrupting my sleep and personal time, ruining my clothes and making a general mess of things, it was a less attractive choice. The primrose path was gone, and in its wake, empty bottles of Tiger Balm Red, digestive support pills, and cheap heating pads. I’m 31. I’m missing a gallbladder. Tony, real talk, I’m an outpaced, outmatched, obsolete model of Chef. I wore out in the same way you did, just earlier and with exponentially less heroin and crack cocaine (READ: ZERO HEROIN OR CRACK COCAINE).
As I lay in bed, having worked a full day on a broken pinky toe (LA Pride did not disappoint, but the strap of my cheap heals did), I wonder… why am I still here? “Why am I still a chef?” is a phrase regularly internalized by this 10-year vet of the industry and I still have zero answers. Why work 12 hour days? Why never call in sick? Why break your body to make a meal that someone might send back because it got cold while they were taking pictures of the damned thing for Instagram? Some days, I find myself wishing I could firebomb the idea of brunch. Yet, every weekend, I suit up in an apron. I inundate my pores with the smell of bacon fat and red onion and gag on the astringent tang of cheap sparkling wine for what? A sense of purpose? Hospitality? Community? I mean, jeez, I wish it was community, but let’s be fair. It’s most likely the tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt I accrued earning a Bachelors of Science in Culinary Management. But, I digress.
I’m here because I thought it was what I wanted. It was for a while. Sometimes it still is. I fell in love with the idea of patrons being a scalable peak of service. The inevitable shuffle up made satisfying by the ability to slide back down… the flow, they call it.
But then, I noticed something. People at the tables were eating my food, and staring at phones. No talking. No eye contact. Vague smirks from content on screens, not flavors triggering memories or a dish reminding someone of an upbringing, a location, a person. It was fuel again. We back-slid. A pit stop. And in its core, that is an accurate definition. But humanity lost its love affair with tradition and history. No more were the days of families gathering at a table and sharing time together, and in were microwave meals over reality tv.
I can’t do it anymore, Anthony. I want to give people something that they have been missing for a long time: a visceral, tangible link to a shared past. I can’t do that stuck in a kitchen all day.
You tried it, too. You know how itchy you get when you’re stagnant, fetid, sinking in your own existence. You went to places people only associated with war. You asked hard questions, pushed your comfort zone and taught us about things gaining zero exposure elsewhere while doing so. You told that voice that said, “Stay put… nothing good out there” to suck it and got on rickety planes, smoky decommissioned military helicopters, and patchy, choppy boats to find the pulse of the planet.
That. That is what I want. I want to grab hearts and palpate them by feeding the desire to learn one’s own past. I want people to know what the first written recipe was. I want people to know why Filipinos and Spaniards share flavor palates. Why no one will EVER agree where noodles were created and how drunk goats led to my New Years Eve hangover.
We lost our cumulative identity and I feel like education and intersectionality is the only way to begin the repair. I don’t want to be a chef because I want to be an educator.
You helped me see that.