3 Ideas to Embrace for Less Chef Stress – Part 2
A Three Part Series
Read the original post in German @ www.resmio.de/blog
Now that we’ve set the table, metaphorically speaking, let’s start cookin’ on some ideas for reducing stress and start really enjoying the challenging position that we’ve chosen.
This is probably as good a place as any to take a step back, breathe deeply three times, get centered in your heart and remember that this is the craft, profession and vocation that you’ve chosen. No one forced you into this career or pushed you against your will into the kitchen while you tried in vain to drag your feet; protesting all the while someone held you down, strapped an apron on you and placed a pair of tongs into your hands, clenched in dissent.
Give Up The Idea of Being a Culinary Bad Ass
“To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.” ~Abraham Maslow
In the thick of it – with the ticket machine kicking its staccato beat, the sweat running down between your shoulder blades in the oppressive heat, pans clang and bodies swerve wildly while profanity leaks through gritted teeth like a betrayal – in the thick of it, either you’re going to bear down for the grind or you’re going to fold, embracing failure like a warm blanket; this is nature vs. nurture in the most primal sense
Either way, in that moment, no one is pausing to remember why they got in the game in the first place. They should, but they’re not – this is no time for nostalgia or reminiscing.
Or so we’ve been told, trained or shamed.
In the eye of the storm it’s often easy to lose sight of why we do what we do. I’m sure the reader will silently shake their head, conceding similar memories; shifts, weeks or months spent under inhumane conditions, marshaling the last of their sanity and strength in order to get through this moment, then the next one, then that one.
Who, in their right mind would choose to subject themselves to this kind of abuse?
Well, me for one, you for another.
Not to say that we’re neither masochists or sadists but there remains an undercurrent in the culture – a certain population of Culinary Bad Asses who revel in the fact that they can put up with just about anything; overbearing bosses, unreasonable guests, clueless servers and chronically underachieving line staff and still do good work. It’s almost a badge of honor to be worn like a chip on one’s shoulder while sitting at the bar after work, nursing the physical and mental wounds while regaling anyone who will listen how you overcame insurmountable odds, an empty station and a dull knife in order to “stand tall and frosty, kicking ass all the way home”
Here, between us, let’s finally admit the truth that’s been staring us in the face: pain is nothing to be proud of. Or, rather the ability to endure it, ain’t. Or shouldn’t be.
Pain is there to be understood because our body, heart or spirit is trying to speak to us in the only language it knows. Ignoring or putting up with pain just increases our threshold, making it harder to listen to what the pain is telling us, “Someone is asleep in the wheelhouse Captain”; something is seriously fucking wrong and we should really look into it if we want to live past 50.
“Danger Will Robinson, Danger”
Self-medicating with food, alcohol or drugs merely masks the signal temporarily, as we pretend it doesn’t matter or try to convince ourselves that this is about as good as it gets, so no point in complaining about it.
Put up or shut up.
Or so we’ve been told, trained or shamed.
We ignore pain at our peril.
We, as a culture, will put up with stuff most sane people would immediately walk away from – just as long as we can ‘create’ our current – and fleeting – vision of our culinary masterpieces.
The trouble with those kind of bragging rights is that it invariably leads to keeping everyone else, cooks, owners and diners in perpetual judgment; we do so, so that we can feel good about the crappy choices we’ve made by short changing almost every other part of our lives in order to live in the glory of this now.
Once you judge someone, then you can hold them in contempt. The slippery slope of resentment is then already greased with oily expectations that no one will ever be able to meet; like being, working or thinking like you, or appreciating what it is you do every day to ‘keep this goddamn place running’
How would I know? Because I had made a lot of those shitty compromises in search for my perfect moment when the steel, blood, steam and sweat would come together, like a grand unification theory, into one glorious, blazing moment of grandeur – an organic machine come to life spitting out art and beauty to a chorus of angels and heavy metal music.
The elusive singularity, that particular event horizon when chaos & distress collapse down into a hot mass of synchronicity where nothing goes wrong and everything goes right, knocking down 700 covers without a single bring back, charge off or customer complaint – that holiest of holy, ‘A Perfect Sell’
That moment when the team comes together in complete and fluid unison, both front and back. That moment when somewhere in the middle of it everyone senses that this gonna be okay, that this night is going to be better that alright; that tonight is going to be epic!
That moment when the bell rings, signifying the end of service and cooks look around at each other with heaving lungs and adrenaline steaming off their head, with wild magic in their eyes; whispering to themselves and each other in disbelief, “Did we really just do that?”
Yea, that moment.
Meanwhile, everything else in my life had become an empty hall, inhabited with the dusty shadows of things that had once actually meant something to me, but now were incomprehensible in their meaninglessness. Like my health for instance, my friendships, my lovers, even at one point my children.
I was willing to sacrifice almost everything for notoriety, kidding myself that it was the path to being a good partner, provider and friend. What I hadn’t counted on was my indifference to anything else but the objective would become plain to everyone else, and in my absence – having abdicated my positon of anything resembling moral authority – those that I truly cared for, but had become a ghost to, chose instead to be with someone else who would be present to them.
So there I was, being the poster boy for culinary bad behavior; behavior excused because I was hardworking and could make things happen.
So I was tolerated – for a while.
Until that is the shine of my accomplishments had dimmed, and all I had to show for it was a couple of plaques, awards and some newspaper clippings.
Don’t see a reflection of yourself in this mirror yet?
Maybe you’ve got it all handled, maybe your one of the rare breed of people who came into this industry without being previously damaged by life.
If so, well done – you’re at the head of the class.
If not, then maybe you’re not ready to look that deep quite yet
If you’re still committed to being a Culinary Bad Ass and it’s sometime ‘uninitiated’ behavior, then don’t be surprised if you don’t have time in your life for much of anything else.
When the taste of victory turns to ashes in your mouth because you’ve chased away anyone who would have given a damn, let me know.
I can suggest a good wine to wash it down with.