Dedicated to Bill, my mentor, comrade, and friend.
So, you have decided you want to be a chef.
First, I beg you, question why.
Is it because you love to cook at home? If so, quit now.
Love of food simply is not enough. Nothing will prepare you for the industry but the industry itself. Culinary school will teach you the basics: how to use a knife without loosing digits, how to properly boil water, how to read and write a recipe, how to look at food like a mean to an end rather than its mere physical form. Still, this is only the very cusp of the hyperbole cliff you are about to jump off of.
There are no nights, no weekends or holidays. You will be working non stop for 10-16 hours a day. You will get paid next to nothing for the first ten years of your career, and learn hundreds of exciting preparations of ramen noodles, peanut butter, and Spam to fend off starvation. You will be working in kitchens that are 120 degrees in the winter and learn quickly that air conditioning and floor mats are a luxury you will learn to respect.
You will be working with a nominal portion of society that has no limits, no bounds, and no love for authority or laws. There will be drunks, drug addicts, artists, and sociopaths; there will be dangerous tempers, overwhelming egos, and exceptional genius. You will be pushed to your mental physical and emotional maximum daily, and often nightly. You will driven to tears. You will learn that not being screamed at by a chef is considered by most as a sign of affection. You will learn that being screamed at by a chef IS a sign of affection. You will have your ego systematically crushed for missing the small things. You will be belittled and begrudged on a daily basis or something as simple as a knife cut or an improper quenelle.
You will learn that a kitchen is one small step away from the military but with fewer of the rewards. There is a direct chain of command, and no one cares about your ideas. You are an expendable asset in the raging war to feed the front lines. Disobedience is an inexcusable and defiance is intolerable. You will learn that a day in the life of a line cook is 50% food and 50% survival. You will wear a perfect service like a badge of honor. You will find more comradery and family in the cooks that serve beside you than the family you left behind. You will find whole hearted acceptance if you rise to the challenge and the level of the cooks you serve with.
You will taste the ultimate drug, adrenaline, and push the ever fading envelope of your ability to fight or to flee. You will hurt daily, and as the years progress, you will hurt more each day. You will learn what real stress means. You will know shell shock and taste the bitter grip of burnout. You will know fatigue and exhaustion and learn to reach deep inside and push just a small bit more to escape the never ending bonds of the moment. Just one more service.
You will learn, grow, change, and evolve. You will soar higher than you know you could, and fall farther than you knew was possible. You will change, your goals will change, your motivation will change. You will learn to never take the small things for granted. You will find a somber solace in the quite kitchen morning where you are left with nothing but the peaceful hum of kitchen exhaust hoods, a cup of coffee, and your thoughts. You will dream, vision, and learn, and if you are smart, you will never stop learning.
There is a brilliant and all consuming moment you will forever chase, when the restaurant is in a frenzied pandemonium, more processes are happening than you know to count, the pressure, the heat, the intensity boils over into a symphony of chaos. You stand resolve in the center of the nightmare, an island in the eye of the storm, battered by the waves and wind but pushed even farther still. You look to endure the next unrelenting assault with a resolute stoicism, eyes and mind embattled, but full of intent, full of intensity, and full of life.
You have never felt so alive, and you never will again.