Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2 years on...

It has been 2 years since I left the world of kitchens. People ask me all the time if I miss it. My answer? Not even a little bit.

Not long after writing 50 things they never told you about being a chef, I quit my job. It was getting too much. The list itself was written on an night bus home after having missed the last tube train, again. If I missed the last tube train, my journey home would take 2 to 2 and a half hours, meaning that I wouldn't be home until around 3 in the morning. I would then have to get up in time to be at work for 8. Knowing that there were always problems with public transport at rush hour, this would mean leaving the house at 6:30. you do the math.

I wrote this list as a way of reminding myself why I was doing this to myself. Why I was putting myself through living hell. In kitchens, they brainwash you. You end up believing that anyone who doesn't put in at least 60 hours a week is a lazy "part-timer" (the worst insult there is in kitchens). You are taught to feed off your passion for what you do. Never mind the poor working conditions, never mind the abuse, both sexual and emotional. Never mind the ridiculously low pay.

I had spent years slaving away for a pittance while my friends complained about only earning £35-40K a year and needing a raise. I was always horrified that they all gopt so much money for so little pay, when I was working my arse off and yet not able to pay rent, bills, feed and clothe myself, and take the cats to the vet if I needed to. My housemate kept on telling me I was wasting away. She kept on telling me it was slavery. But I didn't listen. I was stubborn. I had taken this decision in life, and I had to make it work. At the time, I was working in a new London hotel that I had helped open. y head pastry chef was being exceedingly abusive towards me. I had been so excited to work under him. I had worked alone on the pastry section of every place I had worked in. I wanted to learn from someone. I was over-enthusiastic I guess. He hated me. He treated me like shit, and he loved doing it. He was manipulative and ruthless. A proper sadist. But I kept at it, thinking he was doing it to bring out the best in me. Then, he employed two other women. They were your regular girly girls, all giggly and cute. He was so nice to them. He let them relax and chat when they arrived at work, eating their breakfast before starting. There was something wrong here. I knew it. He wasn't pushing them. They were allowed to eat. He didn't talk to them like they were dirt. He didn't like me. That was what it was. He didn't like me, and he enjoyed picking on me. That was it! I was out. Fuck kitchens. Since coming back to England 2 years earlier, I had gone from a size 14 down to a size 8. I was skin and bones. I looked sick...

I decided that I needed to find a relaxed job, at all costs. I am now 2 years into a new career. My time in kitchens has served me well. I learnt a lot from them. My time in Canadian kitchens was wonderful. I met amazing people, the employers cared about their staff and made sure we weren't overworked, we were not paid great, but we were paid fairly. London though is a whole other ball game. It's purely and simply slave labour. We worked so hard that sometimes we would sleep in the staff cafeteria rather than go home, since we only had a few hours between shifts. We were extremely poorly paid. not enough to live a life in London. I lived in one of the shittest parts of London, and my rent, not including bills and council tax, was half my net pay. Add the rest on top, and public transport, and I only had about £150 left for the month. This was how I lived, in my late twenties, after years in a career for which you need to be highly trained.

Looking back on my life, the best piece of advice I can give to any cook is this:

Work for a few years, learn as much as you can, then get the fuck out of kitdchens before they eat you up and start your own business. Not a restaurant, but something that will give you the time to live. I spent years missing out on the most important part of life: living it. And I am now hellbent on making up for those years.


  1. I can't say marriage was like slavery, but the manipulation and mind games and the big fat waste of most of my 20s are the same reasons that I half-joke now about being free to work twice as much, make half as much, screw it, live in my car if I want to, just to finally be in a kitchen like I've always wanted to. I'm glad you rediscovered sanity though.