So far, I have four kitchen jobs under my belt. Though I’ve enjoyed every single one, something is different at this restaurant. I have a feeling it has come from age and experience, as well as taking a break from cooking and then jumping back in. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter where I worked, I’d be more dialed in to my body and my emotions than I have had the ability to be previously. To make a very long story short, my stomach used to be in knots all the time with “stuff” left over from being a kid, and now it’s not. So maybe that’s the biggest reason I’m at the top of my game now. I’m not constantly thinking of something else, allowing me to be more present…. a double entendre because it’s a gift to be able to show up for my own life.
The knot in my stomach was so severe that it’s been staggering to me how much brain power I’d been dedicating to it, and how big life is without it. Not necessarily to the point of being a totally different person, but not the same, either. More like carrying forward the pieces of me I liked, and saying goodbye to the ones I didn’t.
The biggest difference I notice now is reaction time. In the kitchen, it’s extraordinarily fast, because everyone already has my attention and they don’t have to work for it. I’m not constantly distracted. In my personal life, my reaction time is much slower, in terms of genuinely thinking deeply before I speak. I am no longer on the “think it, say it” plan. Hey, it worked really well right up until it (really, really, really) didn’t. But that was then and this is now.
I think the proof in the pudding is that my lead line cook says that I’m talented. I have thought I was talented at a lot of things, but I wouldn’t necessarily have put cooking on the list… and by that, I don’t mean flavor. I mean the absolute insanity that is a professional kitchen. I do have a laser focus that I didn’t have before, as well as better living through chemicals (Klonopin). Why is medication important? I have anxiety naturally without adding on cooking dinner for 2-300 people a night. It has physical side effects, such as shortness of breath and heart/brain race. While the medication doesn’t solve emotional issues, it does keep me from getting physically worked up, which is a lot of the battle with anxiety. I know I have trouble continuing to churn out food when I feel like I can’t breathe and I’m going to pass out…. wouldn’t you?
I have proven to myself time and again that it’s not the medication that’s making me a better cook. I don’t have to have it… as in, it’s not an emergency if I’m out or I’ve forgotten it that day (not true with my other drugs)…. that being said, I do feel that it’s very helpful on a Friday or Saturday when the sound of the ticket machine is interminable… like being put into a football game when the other team is already fifty points ahead and it’s only the first quarter…. or for the readers outside the US, like being put into a football game when the other team is nine goals ahead in minute 10.
Medication allows me to win by minute 90, because I am not intimidated.
I’m not intimidated by much anymore. Losing my mother is probably the worst thing that will ever happen to me, save losing anyone else in my family. Definitely the worst that has ever happened thus far. From that perspective, anything in the world that happens is probably better, so why be afraid? I lived through that grief, though I didn’t love it.
My friend Wendy coined that phrase for me years ago when she said, “Leslie, you just have to live it. You don’t have to love it.” I was in deep grief about something else, before I really knew what grief was. It was like hitting rock bottom and then finding out once I got there that it was false and there were still levels underneath.
The trick is using grief to propel you upward, which takes more time than you would think. Technically, if you’ve never lost someone close to you, but you think you know what it will be like and how long it will take you to recover, the reality will in all likelihood punch you in the face and you’ll lie on the ground dazed for twice as long as you thought you would…. wait, triple that… and then realize that you’ll never be the same person that you were, you’ll just have found a new normal.
Apparently, my new normal is being talented at cooking in a professional kitchen- something which I neither prepared for nor necessarily wanted. It just fell into my lap and I went with it. IT jobs weren’t forthcoming, and I knew I would have a blast, so why not? I expected to love it. I didn’t expect it to love me back… not to this degree, anyway.
Part of the love I have for cooking is knowing for sure that I facilitate happiness. There are very few get-togethers between friends that don’t involve food, and whether it’s friends gathered at my table or strangers getting together at my restaurant with their own loved ones, it makes no difference. The talent is the same.