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I was prompted to write this post upon hearing from a coworker that restaurant workers have one of, if not the highest rate of mental illness. Before I go on about my own experiences, let me just outline the main reasons being a cook is terrible, reasons which I will go into more detail later in the post:
- Low pay (usually minimum wage or slightly over)
- High stress
- Expendibility, leading to performance anxiety
- No weekends/holidays
- (Usually) No vacation or benefits
- Inconsistent hours
Just about everything that can be wrong with a job. All of these things add up leading to poor quality of life and an unsatisfying lifestyle which encourages pleasure-seeking behaviour, at least for what little pleasure can be sought as a wage slave.
During the time I was writing this website, I have never done as much work in my life. I hit a peak in prolificacy which I have never been able to reclaim ever since I became a line cook. One person emailed me saying he believes me to be suffering a burnout, and up until now it was not clear to me what exactly happened to all my passion and motivation for this website, and for cooking, but now it is obvious.
I was young and stupid. I believed that cooking was the end all of passions and that this is what was going to make me happy. Up until I actually got a taste of what real kitchen life was like, not just being a cute little home cook, I legitimately believed that cooks were living the dream.
The kitchen industry is often glamorized in TV and movies being portrayed as a crazy environment where the chefs are yelling at everyone and we, as viewers, attain catharsis watching those little line cooks squirm around while Gordon Ramsay gives them post-traumatic stress disorder. In reality, Gordon Ramsay is hilarious. Real chefs in real kitchens that are not on camera are not so creative with how they put down their employees.
At the beginning of my career I usually walked in with a big smile on my face, eager to impress. 9 months later I was fired from my first kitchen for my “I really don’t give a fuck anymore” attitude. This attitude developed as a result of being poorly treated by chefs, coworkers, and the lifestyle I was forced to live. Upon getting fired, I wrote the following: (28/10/16)
Do I regret it all? No. I would have never learnt what hard work is had I not signed up for this job. The industry though, as a whole, was just not sustainable for someone like me. I’m the kind of person who’d rather not be yelled at every 10 minutes because something isn’t good enough or that I need to hurry up. The stress levels were high, and there was no time for asking anybody to do anything nicely. Chefs would yell at you to do things, and if you weren’t fast or good enough they’d threaten to fire you. They didn’t yell; I know chefs are always portrayed as being super angry and yelling all the time, but they don’t have to yell at you to get on your nerves. There was no time to sit down and have a proper meal… that became a huge problem. I spent most of my time there shoveling bits and pieces of everything into my mouth as I worked. The chefs would tell me to stop snacking and make myself a meal instead, but every time I actually did make a meal they’d tell me to stop eating and get back to work. That alone was the most frustrating thing I had to deal with, and it pushed me over the edge.
Is the restaurant industry really this terrible? Yes, but this is just my experience. Most of the people working there were actually very happy to do so, but we all have different tolerance levels, and mine were just not up to par.
It also only painted part of the picture, as there are many different types of management styles in the industry I had yet to discover. I do not know why I became a line cook again 3 months later, but thanks to this mistake of mine I spent the next 3 years learning what it is like to be young, broke, and all alone.
Low pay, and the lifestyle it forces upon you
It is incredibly rare to meet a line cook who does not suffer from some sort of addiction problem; we tend not to make a lot of money and the money we do make tends to go towards much needed rest and relaxation, usually with the use of drugs and alcohol. There is really not much else to look forward to as a wage slave. Some days you cannot even afford to eat, and then all of a sudden winter comes and you are let go due to lack of customers and living off of government assistance which does not even cover the increasing costs of rent, let alone food costs.
Besides the guests, servers were the worst part of our jobs. Mainly because not a single one of them actually cared about anything besides money. Often I would hear complaints from them some days on which they do not make a certain amount in tips, meanwhile the hard working, sweating, slaving kitchen team only ever saw a fraction of the tips. I often saw servers go on vacations twice a year, meanwhile I was lucky if I could make rent.
Stress, and how it molds your personality
Besides never having any money, the work was not worth it. We were on our feet all day listening to chefs/managers/owners yell at us under the heat, both metaphorically and actually as kitchens do tend to get pretty hot in the summer. Very often a snobby customer would send food back and expect a replacement right in the middle of a Sunday brunch rush and our jobs suddenly just got 10 times harder. Or a server who has no idea how to do her job waits 3 large tables and punches them all into the machine at the same time– and then acts sassy when we tell her not to do that.
This line of work requires a level of patience only the most spiritual of Buddhist monks could ever dream of achieving. All of the chefs who have actually made it usually hate their lives, because the only real way to “make it” in the industry is to work, work, work and work. And little else.
Performance anxiety, and why you don’t get an ‘off’ day
Upon joining the kitchens and realising how hard the work was, one of my first questions was “What if I have a day where I just didn’t get enough sleep or if I’m just feeling slightly more depressed than usual?” One of the sous-chefs responded with “You don’t get a day like that.” And it was the truth; this industry meant you had to be on your toes at all times, which turned out to be problematic for the type of stress we had to endure. Personally, I suffered severe insomnia so I often did not get a proper night’s sleep which greatly impacted my performance. This generated anxiety because I knew just how expendable I was; unless Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day was coming up, they could fire me at any given minute. They would tell me things such as “It makes you more of a man” or “The more stress you are given, the more you can take”. None of this was true, they were just trying to manipulate you into selling you their soul. Minimum wage is not worth anybody’s sanity.
You never get to spend quality time with your family on weekends or holidays
For the most part, line cooks are in their 20s and have little desire to see their families, but over time I realised how much I missed being able to spend time with my parents and with my sisters, one of which whom recently had a newborn baby that I have only been able to see on Christmas. I have already forgotten about trying to make a family of my own due to lack of funds and lack of time to find a girlfriend who was not addicted to cocaine. The reason for this is that unlike normal people, we do not get the pleasure of celebrating any holiday except Christmas because on most holidays people go out to eat, and it is our job to feed their needy snobby mouths. You may think, ‘well, why not just go out after your shift?’ Usually it is because the work I do is so exhausting that I have no interest in talking to anybody or doing any sort of physical activity whatsoever after I finish.
No vacations, no benefits
Here is how vacations in the kitchen work: You tell your manager which days you will be away, then go. There is usually no limit to how many days you can book off, but your expendability is still something to keep in mind. This sounds pretty straight forward, but bare in mind that unless you are on salary you only get paid for the hours that you work, and vacation is not work. Also salary is a terrible idea because it is usually in the owner’s interest, not yours. On top of that, there are no benefits. I have about 5-6 cavities at this point, I have lost count because I have not verified with my dentist since I became a line cook.
Inconsistent hours and a life that consistently has problems
I did not really mind working night shifts one day, morning shift another, or double shifts every now and then. What I did mind was being woken up by a phone call at 7am because one of my coworkers called in sick last minute. I had a lot of trouble sleeping due to the anxiety that was brought on by my job. My insomnia was to the point where I would stay awake for up to 5 days if I do not take any medication, which in my case is cannabis.
I made very few friends because on top of not being a people person I was decidedly out of my element; I came from an upper-middle class family and everyone around me usually came from a working class background. My standards of living were already set too high for the kitchen life to sustain. It also later occurred to me that I was the only one not in overwhelming debt, but in order to sustain that I refrained from ever going out. I never took a class, seldom went out drinking, and yet I still lived paycheck to paycheck. I rarely bought anything big, but when I did it was an event. Had it not been for my parents’ financial support, I would have no luxury at all.
In short, the kitchen industry is no place for anybody seeking anything other than temporary employment, and those who literally do not have another option. Personally after seeing up close how horribly restaurants are managed, I find it hard to bring myself to eat at one.
I am currently seeking to undo the damage done to my psyche. I have tried running my brain under cold water and it seems to be helping, but if anybody has any further tips for me I would love to hear them.
Probably not. It has been a long time since this site has been updated, but if I ever do, that’s what I would do with it. Unfortunately, as an actual line cook who works at a real restaurant, I don’t ever feel like cooking outside of work.
However, I do find myself struggling to eat on a daily basis, and I almost never sit down to have a full meal anymore. On top of that, I feel terrible about hosting a site full of recipes involving dead animals and would like to provide alternatives.
I do think about it, but whether or not I will do anything about it is another question.
FINAL UPDATE (31/05/18): No future plans. This website is over. Cooking is stupid. Go vegan, by the way.
So as you probably know, this entire blog went silent after its last post published on February 10th. Why? Several reasons.
First of all, I got fat and lazy, literally. Shortly after Christmas I went from 135 pounds back up to 180, and it literally took less than 4 months. I know this because I was recording my weight near the end of March, and I was exactly 167.2 on the 19th of March and 179.6 on the 6th of April. This was after I had went from 210 to 140 within a year and couldn’t maintain my weight as I kept dropping all the way to 135 in 3 months. You can call it metabolic damage, but I’m honestly not too sure what happened… One day, the same day I took the test to become a certified food handler, I started to feel incredibly shaky, and at the time I was speculating that I was developing diabetes since I exhibited a lot of the symptoms. Along with the shakiness, I felt hunger. Insatiable hunger. I have never experienced a hunger so fierce before in my life. I was strongly compelled to shovel every nearby calorie source I could find into my mouth and keep eating until I was ready to explode. I ate lunch at 3 different restaurants that day, and I couldn’t even taste the food at the first two. I had to drown my pho noodles in some weird sauce I found on the table before I could even begin to taste anything. It was unreal, I was out of control, and I couldn’t figure out why I was doing what I was doing. Also my mother came back with lots of sweets from Hungary and some pastries that my grandmother baked on that day as well, and I ate pretty much all of that stuff too. Ever since this bizarre day I’ve been stuffing myself until I couldn’t even move, and one time I actually did end up vomiting. I also went vegan some time in April, but that didn’t stop me from eating bread. My sudden change in weight brought on depression, insecurities, apathy, and my energy levels also completely dropped putting me in no mood to cook, let alone take pictures and write a recipe that no one would ever use.
Second of all, I got a job at a restaurant on the 19th of February. I’m now a full-time Chef de Partie and working my way up. This blog never made me any money, all it did for me was give me something to do besides playing video games and watching Star Trek. I had passion, and I was ready to throw some money at this site, but that passion is 100% GONE. I have better things to do with my life than be a fucking food-blogger. I get paid to cook now, this site is a waste of time, and it finally started feeling like a waste of time.
Thirdly, as stated earlier, I have adopted a vegan diet. I was tired of pretending that I was okay with animals having to die so we can eat their cooked corpses especially if it doesn’t benefit us in any logical way besides satiating our cravings to eat dead animals. Our culture is absolutely fucking disgusting. What about eggs? You mean hen’s periods marketed by an industry that grinds up the male chicks alive because they are of no use to the industry? No, this is not okay. It is FUCKED UP. And dairy? As much as I love sour cream, butter and cheese, what I don’t love is an industry that takes newborn calves away from their mothers (who are literally being milked dry by the way) and sending them off to the veal industry. I’d rather leave the sour cream off of my mushroom paprikash than give my money to these psychopaths.
And lastly, it dawned on me that nobody really cares. Nobody’s really interested in authenticity when it comes to another culture’s cuisine besides the people who belong to said culture. I am fed up with the push to remain true to a culture’s roots rather than experimenting and seeing what works better; it goes against our instinctual nature to evolve and better ourselves, and I don’t want to be part of the group that holds humanity back. This is another one of the reasons I’ve adopted a vegan diet; it seems most vegans nowadays are thriving, significantly more so than health-conscious meat eaters. Humans have the potential to be so much more than stationary obese fatties who on the inside know it’s wrong to kill and eat animals for pure pleasure but still do because they think it’s funny to die a pre-mature gluttonous death of cancer or a heart attack in their 70s. Vegans have a much lower risk of all-cause mortality, and the amount of energy high-carb vegans seem to have is incredible. I have admittedly struggled in my own transition, but I know it’s the right then to do and I’m going to keep doing my best to stay on track. I really don’t care if meat would help me lose weight, I cannot bring myself to eat another animal ever again.
Look at you. You probably follow a bunch of blogs, leave nice comments such as “Wow these look amazing! I plan to try them!” but do you ever actually try them? Of course you don’t. You’re not helping anybody. Your kindness means nothing to me. I don’t care about compliments, all I care about are results, and this website did not provide me with results.
I may start some other projects in the future, but this site is done, and my passion for cooking has reached an end. I will continue to work as a chef until I find my new calling. I’ve always had a thing for marine biology…
Also, go vegan. I don’t want to hear SHIT about how you “need” your meat. There is NO reason to have meat in your mouth unless you’re gay. Just shut the fuck up and carb the fuck up.