Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The hours killed me

When people choose to leave this industry they often cite the long and unsociable hours as the main reason. The reality is, and perhaps those considering taking this career path should take note, the basic premise is that when everyone else is off, you are on. It really is as simple as that.

Chefs in particular spend much of their time working horrendous hours for years gaining experience in kitchens of note in order to collect the skills and it has to be said, kudos, in order to open their own place and hopefully take their seat at the long table of culinary identities. The great irony though is: as their lives move along and relationships morph into families the pressure to ‘cut back’ begins to bite.

Thank goodness for the White Knight that is the CBD, which conveniently provides a luring alternative to those long days and nights. This is of course if you live within a train, bus or tram ride of a CBD and too bad if you live rurally. Like a Sirens call or a flourescent light to a moth, the simple words ‘Monday to Friday, days only’ are like a mythical fix for a junkie. ‘What, you mean I can still cook but only have to do days?’ they say incredulously at the interview, those lips parched from years of toil finding those soft words as lovely and restorative to say, like the juicy plop of a grape in a thirsty mouth.

Well there is a catch, there always is isn’t there?

Sadly the main conundrum facing these highly skilled chefs whom for the sake of simplification we shall deem ‘In-transition’ is that in many cases they will inevitably have to ‘dumb down’ their offerings. Well in the very least they might have to ‘down play their CV’ in order to get the gig that ticks the lifestyle boxes.

“Hmm, it says here that you were the head chef of a two hatted restaurant in Sydney, you were Skye Gygnell’s head chef at Petersham and you won an Electrolux award as emerging new talent so I have to ask: Why do you want to work in the head office staff canteen at Harvey Norman?”
The lure of the Mon to Frid gig is all powerful, especially if one is ‘In the family way’.

What does this reality point to? Is it a young person’s game? I’ve begun to think so. Does one have to sacrifice their hard earned integrity in order to appease lifestyle aspirations? Perhaps? Maybe by crossing that self-imposed line and giving up the currency that pushing oneself and ones boundaries seems to have afforded a particular suffering-identity of sorts, one has to acclimatise to the reality of nailing ones colours to the mast. That mast is the Middle: appeasing everyone, in order to make a dollar

And yet, so may game changers appear irrespective of age and un-mauled by the long talons of the status quo which suggests to me that we are in a remarkable state where the ferment is regularly disgorging talent and innovative gains that no committee, think tank or focus group could conjour.

It makes me smile and confirm my long held beliefs that this game can never be a finite science.
It’s funny though that in this article I started talking about the notion of the ‘hours people work’ yet has taken a different heading because the notion of ‘appeal’ is one that I ruminate over often.
I have come to learn that no matter what you might start out as in this game or whatever aspirations you might foster, ultimately your customers will define you. This can be a cause of great consternation for so many idealistic and innately stylistic operators. Why? Well when most of ‘em set up shop which holds up a mirror to their own personal tastes and validates their stylistic cred, so it’s pretty hard to swallow if punters don’t get where you are coming from and it resonates most loudly in the till, where ultimately it hurts the most.

It can also have such long reaching effects if you end up paying years later for that oversight. Licking your wounds and retreating into the bitterness that you were ‘too ahead of the curve’.
I can fully understand why this notion terrifies and hamstrings would-be operators into providing what they perceive as a ‘safe option.’

However, to me, the venues that radiate a uniqueness, an eccentricity, an owner-operator on the floor or in the kitchen will always attract my business and as the wonderful Merguez sausage-roll at Sweet Envy will attest, will also keep me coming back


ut si said...

Love this but why are you posting at 2:16am?! Don't you sleep FFS...(says she who has been awake for hours trying to coax her sourdough starter out of it's metabolic depression) Was reflecting on your thoughts re change recently too. Chef, who had only just completed his training as an apprentice in 2 high end restaurants when we opened, certainly had to re learn much but rather than dumb down his skills he had to get real. Having to dig up potatoes out the back so you can make gnocchi and trying to create something awesome with a tonne of boring Jerusalem artichokes does that to you I guess! See you Saturday. We're down for weekend . Will bring you some aforementioned arties!

steve said...

Hi Colette-nice to hear from you. Its always been curious to me the journey that we take 'after' we become 'so-called' qualified.
The path toward food with integrity always begins IMO at the source, like digging those spuds you mention. There's nothing quite like the reverence for one's dinner when you a)have to grow it and b) have to rely on it for sustenance.
What I'm also saying though is often in order to get the job that ticks the lifestyle box, sadly sometimes one has to compromise ones ideals.