Monday, February 8, 2010

Close the window, open the door...

Anyone who's stumbled upon this here interweb outpost once or twice before will notice a small yet significant change. My location is no longer designated as Portland, OR and my identity is no longer shrouded in secrecy. The subterfuge was not so much for effect as it was that I didn't think anyone was reading this, much less caring who wrote it. Big thanks to Jeff McCarthy, et al for helping me experience a brief twinge of what I think was satisfaction that people have read something I wrote. In less than two weeks time my location will no longer be fixed, as I am embarking on an unspecified period of travel and will no longer be working as a chef. My reasons for enacting such a drastic change are too numerous to list and, well, boring. I do however, have a few thoughts to share on leaving the chef gig, travel/exploration, and how it all fits into this here blog.

We are told during our formidable years and indeed it is the American ideal that hard work and dedication will lead to success. While I haven't lost faith as of yet, I've realized at this point that hard work alone is not the whole story. Even more so, I've realized that the simple hope of being judged on your merit is not simple at all. I've always known this in a greater context, but believed and hoped that when it came to me and my work that it would be simple. Work long hours, never quit, never settle and presto, success! It was my plan to transcend things like hype, image, spin, flair, dumb luck, location and choice of colleagues. I know now that you can't tip the scales of success in your favor with hard work alone. It's more of a disorganized and often silly balancing act. Choosing to focus less (although not blind completely) on the other things, I opted to toil endlessly, control every factor and master every task as best I could. It seems now that I have gone as far as merit alone can take me and I'm left wondering where to go from here. If I could fit the reasons I'm moving on from this job to travel in a nutshell, that would be it. Of course there's more to it, but I want to avoid the many tangents I could go off on.

So what of the Executive Dishwasher now that I will no longer have a chef's daily minutiae to reference here? The title came about originally from a characterture I had created of myself being the highest salaried dishwasher in Portland, since my daily routine involved quite a bit of manning the dish pit. It was not at all the way I had pictured the life of a chef, but quickly found solace in the art (yes I said art!) of scrubbing, spraying and juggling dish racks. I made it an integral part of the aforementioned "never quit, never settle" mantra. I may be in charge, I thought, but never too good to do some dishes. Hence the character and title of this blog. Despite the way I make it sound, I haven't given up on the idea that hard work will ultimately pay off. In fact, I'm sure more than ever now that while it may not be the quickest way to the top, it is ultimately the most sustaining. Dishwashers are placed at the bottom of the restaurant hierarchy but are often the most sustaining and highly respected members of the team. Cooks and servers can call in sick with little ripple effect, but when the dishwasher is a few moments late is when panic starts to set in. You're on the cusp of a busy Friday or Saturday night with pots and pans from prep piling up in the pit; your throat gets a little dry and that uneasy feeling in your stomach starts to nag more persistently. "I've still got ten things to do before we open! Who the hell is gonna wash dishes tonight!?" is what you're thinking but won't voice out loud. And then he or she shows up with a smile, apologizing profusely for the traffic, flat bike tire or some such other thing. "No problem," you say as relief washes over you. Dish washers make shit happen, plain and simple. I'm not gonna call it something cliche like, "the glue that holds us together," or whatnot, but their importance should never be downplayed. That is why no matter where I go in this industry - up or down the ladder - I'll never be ashamed to work as or be associated with the position. I've always been motivated by the recognition my achievements get. How busy is the restaurant? How positive are the reviews? What job do I have and who knows about it? The most positive thing to come out of my first go around in the Executive Chef role thus far is a more refined motivation. Rather than being preoccupied with recognition for what I do I'm hoping to focus more squarely on what it actually is that I'm doing. Make shit happen. Like the dishwashers. With that I close the window through which I was watching what I do, where I work and how other people perceive it. I'd rather open the door and step into the middle of it all. To start things off I'll be traveling through Asia and Europe for a while, hopefully keeping this blog up to date with where I'm at, what I'm seeing and whatever dishes I might be washing.

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