I think it started with the chives.
Have you ever had to shave chives before? Yeah, me neither. At least, I hadn’t — until I started working in the back of a small restaurant in middle-of-nowhere Georgia. Where, apparently, chive-shaving is mandatory.
The tiny, near-translucent, paper-thin ovals of onion-y greenery are really only used as a garnish, and usually only on the iceberg “salad.” Salad here being a loose term referring to a quartered hunk of lettuce drowning under a liberal bath of gloppy bleu cheese dressing and freshly-fried bacon bits, with a few cherry tomato halves sprinkled around the edges of the plate desperately trying to avoid the white lumps that threaten to consume the plate itself. A little ground pepper and – yes, you guessed it – a small sprinkle of thinly slivered chives.
Now perhaps I’m just being overly cynical, but every time the short muscled sous chef came over to look disapprovingly over my shoulder as I butchered the chive, slicing them into rounds of far too large a width to be acceptable, I had to think that I’m not so sure those ordering this…salad are going to be focusing on how many millimeters thick the chives are. Actually, I’m pretty sure many of them were more likely to ask what those green things were doing on their bleu cheese dressing.
Unladylike thoughts aside, I do understand the need to maintain a certain level of consistency and the importance of the aesthetics on a plate of food. I am totally one of those people who think that pretty food tastes better, and I respect the chefs that have the eye for detail to look at something as small as chive width. I really do.
But I can’t say it didn’t elicit a few eye rolls. I’m only human.
After multiple attempts on others’ parts to correct my poor chive-chopping skill, and far too many chive corpses deemed unacceptable and tossed in the trash, the fun continued from there.
To his credit, the chef I worked under did introduce me to the resident pastry chef/only other female in the kitchen (4 days a week and only until noon). While I enjoyed working with her very much, it only became more evident that I was at best dispensable, at worst in the way. And more often than not, I felt the latter. I went from person to person asking what else I could help with, trying to maintain a balance between helpful and quiet, yet charming and well-suited to the job. The fact was, I was none of those things.
The fact was, I had just graduated college valedictorian of my class, was suddenly completely isolated from my friends, and found myself shaving chives badly for free under a chef I was learning quickly to dislike. It was an increasingly unpleasant situation. But, one that I was ready to see through to the end. It was, after all, a means to an end – that end being culinary school. Which I wanted. Because…well, because that was The Plan. I would live with my aunt, get the necessary experience, move home for the holidays, and ship out to California to start my degree program in March. Solid, smart, stable.
What’s that saying about the best-laid plans? Something about how they always work out exactly as expected? They DON’T?
Huh. Well, that would’ve been nice to know.
Somewhere between the constant remarks about being overstaffed, the perpetual feeling of hopelessly in the way, and the general lack of patience with an intern who had been very up front about her total lack of restaurant experience, I decided enough was enough. I was miserable, unpaid, and done.
I know a lot of people who would say, “well, that’s what an internship is for!” And while there is truth to that statement, I think had I started out in a more accepting and pleasant atmosphere – or at least felt like I was even contributing something – I might not have had the sudden change of heart. But I think something else happened this year that I didn’t give enough attention to because, well, I had The Plan. I love baking with all my heart and the thought of spending 21 months with fellow food-lovers learning how to develop recipes and create the perfect chocolate buttermilk cake thrilled me, I was no longer sure that it was the right career path. I chose culinary school because I saw it as the only way to develop my passion for the food world, and I’d pick up a solid marketable skill as a sweet side effect (no pun intended). The problem was, it was no longer the career path I wanted to take. It just stopped making so much sense.
Please know that this restaurant is a perfectly respectable business that provides a truly unique and top-notch product to its customers. I met some real characters and even made a few of them laugh, which I considered quite a triumph. And I certainly got some good book material. All chefs have a reputation for being divas, and for good reason – they have to be to get anywhere in the biz! But at the end of the day, life is too short to be miserable. It just is. And when I walked in to the 3-foot wide office to tell the chef I was quitting and was promptly ignored, I knew I had made the right decision.
And that’s where the Italian school comes in. But that’s a horse of a different color.