They warned me. They said that when I stop being a stage and start working at the restaurant as part of the brigade, all of the special treatment will end. Today was technically my last day staging and already I could sense things starting to change.
First things first. Last week, I officially gave notice at my day job and agreed to a part-time arrangement for the transition period as we recruit and hire my replacement. I would spend Monday-Wednesday at the office and Thursday-Saturday at the restaurant, keeping Sundays off as usual. They are sad to see me go but seemed more or less supportive of my new endeavor. The president’s first counteroffer was, “If this is about the money, that can be remedied…” But they came to realize that this is my chance to pursue my passion, and they thanked me for the time I did spend with them so far. It was bittersweet.
When I walked into the restaurant this morning, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Station Lead already heard the news from Chef and had Facebook messaged me during the week. He seemed excited that I was joining the team but he teased that I “might be back in the office sooner than [I] think.” He followed up with a “JK” and said he knows I “have a pair” on me and that I am “more passionate than most.” That meant a lot, coming from him. The warm fuzzies were not to last, however. More on that later.
I was greeted by Station-mate and he seemed happy to see me. I broke the news to him and he seemed surprised but impressed. He gave me a pat on the back and said that we will make a great team (on our station). Sous Chef S came in shortly after, grinning at me. He told me that when he and Sous Chef J heard the news, they looked at each other and whispered, “Does she know how little we make…?” HAHA. Apparently Chef had to reassure them.
I set to work on the prep list. We had a lot to do. While I was in the middle of slicing cheese, Chef had walked in and flashed me a big smile. “So…?” he inquired. I told him that I spoke to my company and I can start this coming Thursday. His smile grew wider and he said, “Well then, welcome aboard!” More nervousness and excitement. We didn’t discuss the nitty gritty (ie: how much I’d earn and when I would be able to transition to Charcuterie) but for now, this is enough. As a friend mentioned, this whole venture is a huge leap of faith.
I continued to make myself useful where I could. I diced fish again for the salmon and yellowtail tartares. I baked off the bacon slices for our garnish. And, as is my usual tradition, I helped the Sous Chef J with the ravioli. I am looking forward to someday having my chance to work on the hot line so I can make the pasta. So far, this is good practice. But that day is still a bit of a ways off. While I was pinching the ravioli, I mentioned to Sous Chef J that I was unsure of how the guys would react to my working at the restaurant full-time. He said that I was a “cool girl” who can hang with the guys, and that with my passion and hard work ethic, there would be no problem at all. I thought it was nice of him to say.
Family meal was chicken. Breaded and fried chicken tenders served with a cheesy potato gratin. No iffy-looking ingredients this time. We took our food outside and it was nice bonding with the guys. Everyone was genuinely excited to have me join the brigade, although Charcuterie Guy and Fish Guy did voice their concern about my financials. They do, however, seem to have confidence in my abilities as a cook, and Charcuterie Guy even said he thought I would make a great chef one day. (Remember, I’m collecting these compliments to get me through the difficult days which WILL come…)
Station Lead was harsher on me today during service, constantly pushing me to work harder and faster. No matter how swiftly my fingers flew to plate the intricate beet salad, it was never quick enough. It was tough to get through, but it also made me more thick-skinned and helped me realize that I love working in a kitchen because I thrive under pressure. At one point, he (insultingly) made a comparison between my pace and that of Dishwasher Turned Pantry (who wasn’t working tonight), and man — that definitely put my butt into gear to prove him wrong. I needed that reality check to brush off the nervous energy I’d been carrying all week. He even stated that I recovered well and was “back to my old self.”
After we broke down and cleaned up our station, Station-mate sent me on my way. I went upstairs to the office where I found Station Lead, Chef, and the executive chef of Chef’s other restaurant all chatting. Chef referred to me as “one of the crazy people who give up a well-paying job to become a commis” (French for “cook” or “chef”). That other executive chef’s last interaction with me was at that food event during my second week ever as a stage, so he seemed a bit perplexed but intrigued that I decided to pursue this full-time. They printed out a new schedule and I was pleased to see myself included and with three (count ’em, THREE) shifts.
It all still feels surreal, but I think it will finally sink in on Thursday morning when I step into the restaurant and don my apron instead of sidling up to my computer at the office.
This is really happening.