Ladies and Gentlemen of the culinary school class of 2018: Wear proper kitchen clogs.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, wearing proper kitchen clogs would be it. The long term benefit of wearing proper kitchen clogs in a professional kitchen is self-evident, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis other than my own questionable history. I will give you a few bits of wisdom I’ve gleaned through my years.
Enjoy staying up late and sleeping in. Oh, never mind. You’re going to be chefs, cooks, restaurant owners and culinary professionals. You’ll rarely, if ever, sleep in again – though you’ll have plenty of late nights. In 20 years you’ll still be waking up early to prepare choux pastry well before the other members of your team come wandering in. And even after years of sleeplessness, you’ll still be sharper than your well-rested office worker friends.
Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but worry more about that kitchen timer you set for 20 minutes, just in time to rescue your delicate puff pastries from a continually failing oven. Someone else might have seen the timer and in a sleep-deprived state used it to time the rice for crew-chow. And even if you manage to save your pastries right before they burn, they’ll likely be eaten by the busser who came in early to pick up tips left from the night before.
Do one thing every day that you’ve never done before.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s prep. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Iron your chef’s coat.
Don’t waste time on jealousy. Sometimes you get a James Beard nomination, and sometimes you get a 1-star review on Yelp. The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself, and whoever you owe money to.
Remember when people are nice to you. Forget the slights. If you can actually do this, keep your mouth shut about it. No one wants to hear it.
Keep your old good reviews. Throw away your tax records. Or at least keep them in boxes, untouched, for the federally mandated 7 years.
Keep your knives sharp.
Don’t feel guilty that you know what you want to do with your life, even if those around you don’t. If anything they should feel guilty. You’ve spent a lifetime of 80+ hour weeks cooking in a restaurant and somehow you’re still in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey every year.
Enjoy food. Eat everything you can. Seek out abalone and caviar and corn dogs. Drink champagne, fine scotch and cheap beer from a can. Get exercise so you can chase after the ice cream truck and then run back to your kitchen to make sure that timer is where you left it and your puffs are unburned.
Go barefoot at the end of a long night. Step out of your proper kitchen clogs and stand alone for just a minute before putting on your street shoes, because it feels awesome and you’re a chef and no one else gets to know the secrets you know.
Written in homage to Mary Schimch of the Chicago Tribune