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A Hard Day
gourmet articlesa hard day

May 2002
What was I thinking? Late nights, 12 hour days, standing, stooping, lifting, boiling water, 400° ovens, splattering oil. WHY? Why in God's name did I decide to take on this profession? Why? I'm working when the rest of the world is enjoying themselves, I can never do anything, Whose idea was this anyway? Work to live, not live to work. Not in this industry, not this girl.

I can actually say that I don't know what I would do if I didn't cook for a living. I sat and thought about it one day. "What would I do, even if I had to go back to school, what would I do??" No answer, empty silence. This job, this life is more a part of me than I am a part of it. I can see myself in other facets of the restaurant industry, writing, catering, teaching, etc. But it all involves food. I don't know how to be 9 to 5. I've never been 9 to 5. Not even as a child. I was up before the sun and home long after it set, I had to sacrifice social life, dances, parties, dates, you name it, and now it's the same thing. When I was a kid it was Figure Skating. Now this oppressive profession. Everyone thinks "How great, how wonderful. Must be so fun. I bet you know a lot of good restaurants!" "Uh, no. I work when all those great restaurants are open. I work when the rest of the world goes out and enjoys incredible meals." Yes, I realize that I am complaining, whining, and pretty annoying at this point. Grass is always greener on the other side. I guess the point I am trying to make is that this "oppressive profession" is in my blood. I couldn't leave it if I tried, as much as I hate it, I love it. And that's scary.

What is my typical day, you ask? Let me give you worst case and best case scenario. Here goes.

A Good Day.
10:00 AM Wake up to the dog licking my face. Get up, walk the dog, watch some TV, do a little laundry, maybe hit Target. Get in the shower around 12:30. Iron my jacket, eat a little lunch. Be to work by 2. Pray to God that everyone, and everything has shown up that day. Prep, prep, prep. Against the clock. Always against the clock. Meet the 5 PM deadline. Have family dinner, change and get ready to rock and roll. Do about 100 covers, no major problems, nothing sent back. 9:30pm, clean up. Scrub, wipe, restock, order, and get ready for tomorrow. 10:30pm head for home. Talk to boyfriend on the way home, he needs to be to sleep soon, gotta get up at 6:30am. Take out the dog, watch a little TV, surf the net. Check the mail… sleep 2:00 am.

Doesn't sound so bad.

A Bad Day.
7:00AM Wake up to the alarm, dog isn't even up yet. Get up, walk the dog, shower and out the door by 7:45 AM. Breakfast, what's that? Hit work shortly before 8AM. Empty, except for my disgruntled boss coming down the steps to tell me that someone has called from jail looking for bail money and won't be in for his shift. Nice. Scramble to find a replacement, not gonna happen, I am always the replacement. Ok, get it done, gotta get it done. Race against the clock. Rest of the crew shows up late. 9:00 AM 4 more hours of prep to do, 2 hours left until service. 11:00 AM open the doors, full dining room in 20 minutes. SLAMMED, run out of 2 items, make it on the fly. Gotta get it done. 1:30pm. Time to get the prep list ready for the night crew. I'm scheduled out in 30 minutes. I actual have an afternoon off. 3:00pm still prepping. So much to do. Gotta get it done. 4:00 Please God let the crew show up. (poor dog is doing the potty dance by now). 4:15 PM. 1 of 4 employees shows up. I make a quick run to let the dog out. Give her a treat, apologize profusely and head back to work. I guess I'll be missing dinner with my grandmother. No Dishwasher and down 1 cook. 6:00 PM. The hit, nice, we aren't ready. Somehow make it to 10:00 closing. Clean, clean, clean, and finish the dishes. Get the prep list ready for the morning, finish the evening paperwork and go home. Midnight. I have to be back tomorrow by 8:00am I haven't paid my bills, I'm out of dog food. And all I've had to eat is 2 pieces of bacon. Check my machine, another worried message from mom. Pet the dog, throw some clothes in the washer, and pass out from exhaustion. Last day off: 21 days ago. Tomorrow could be the same, if not worse.

Really bad day. And I'm sure there have been worse.
So why do I do it? I can't help myself. There is something inside me that keeps me coming back day after day. Even after the day I described above, I didn't want to quit the industry. I just thought that I needed to be working in a different restaurant.

I have a need to cook. Some people need to breathe, I need to cook. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Written By: Renee Fleury is a 26 year old Sous Chef in the San Francisco Bay Area. Raised in the Midwest, Renee moved to California December 2000.

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