When I originally moved to Chicago, I came to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Chicago. Starting out as an English major in undergrad, I had always assumed that I would follow many of my peers on to higher and higher levels of education, and I gladly let the enchantment of the ivory tower sweep me away to the Windy City. I didn't realize it at the time, but that move ended up being the luckiest and most fortuitous decision I've ever made for so many reasons other than school.
Like so many things in life, my schooling didn't go exactly as planned. Yes-- I graduated, and I struggled with the ups and downs of finding good jobs and internship positions like everyone else in my field. But what I struggled with more than anything else was the nagging notion that maybe I wasn't where I wanted to be-- philosophically speaking, that is. All throughout grad school I had spent my free time cooking. I hosted dinner parties for my friends so we could workshop papers; I brought goodies to all of our study groups and grad student get-togethers; I tried new and more difficult recipes when I needed an escape from an analytic-exposition on Hegel. As a matter of fact, my whole life up until this point had always centered around my love of food and how it brings people together (not to sound too hokey, but seriously!), but I had never before considered that it might be my career path.
But I took a chance. I decided to completely derail the train I was on and start anew. I was just a home cook, and I was too afraid to try my hand in a kitchen just yet, so I decided to get a certificate from culinary school to at least help situate me in the restaurant world. My whole life I was used to feeling like I was ahead of the game, like I was resolute on my path to my future. Now, I felt so behind. It seemed like I was on the older side of my cohort, and the feeling that my peers had already passed me up was nauseating. When I started as an unpaid intern at a highly-acclaimed Chicago restaurant, I was excited at my accomplishment, but terrified of how green I felt in the kitchen. Lots of my coworkers were my age or younger and had already been cooking for years. They had the skills and composure that I wasn't sure I'd find for a while.
However, it didn't take long for me to realize that there were lots of other students and culinary professionals just like me-- they were career changers. I saw students at Le Cordon Bleu twice my age and I thought how difficult it must be to change careers when you're already well on one trajectory. I met higher-ups within my company that had been social workers, computer scientists, construction workers, or office receptionists. In fact, l discovered that more often than not they had been academics just like me... Math majors, Botany majors, English majors galore!
What I came to find is that my background and time spent in academia never took anything away from my culinary career, even if I got a late start. In fact, it just served as further proof that I was a hard-working, dedicated individual, and my decision to leave my old career path behind just bolstered the fact that cooking was my calling. I wasn't alone. If anything I was more at home than I had ever been.
I recently read an article in the New York Times in which super-star chef Daniel Humm of the highly-acclaimed Eleven Madison Park in New York City talks about the most important qualities of a chef. In it, he talks about the German word for passion, "leidenschaft," which translates literally to something along the lines of "enjoyment of suffering." Cooking is a difficult career, with lots of time on your feet, lots of pitfalls and setbacks, and a whole lot of hours spent paying dues to get to the top. But in my mind, this is where academics and culinarians meet on a Venn diagram. You spend years writing a thesis. Editing, rewriting, unpacking, rethinking, trashing and salvaging, and at the end of the day, there is always more work to be done. More unpacking, more rethinking, more questioning. And cooking is the same. You push yourself until you think you can go no further, to be continually told that there's further to go, more to discover. And that's where we enjoy the suffering. We enjoy the struggle. You have to. At the end of the day, the progress that you make doesn't eliminate the struggle you've had along the way, but what it does do is make it all worth while. - Aubrey ** Use Kitchfix discount code: BLOG20 for $20 off your first order!