I have a job interview tomorrow.
Last Saturday I made a cold call on a restaurant that happens to be across the parking lot from the Unemployment Office (excuse me – the Career Center). It’s a funky little place with a really cool menu that runs ads on cable from time to time. As I was walking up, one of the cooks was picking fresh herbs from the bed planted in front of the restaurant. I asked if the chef was in and he told me to speak to the manager because the chef was on vacation. The manager and I had a nice conversation. He took my resume and told me the chef would be back Wednesday and to come back Thursday if no one had called. Later on that afternoon, he called me at home to say he thought I should call the chef at home, which I did. The chef called me back today. He sounds like a great guy and he knows his stuff; he trained at the CIA (that’s Culinary Institute of America, not the spy place). I go in to talk to him tomorrow about a sous chef position.
Six summers ago, I drove around trying to talk my way into a cooking gig. The chef at the little place where I started asked about my experience and I talked about church suppers and pancake breakfasts. A couple of jobs later, I hooked up with a friend who is also a chef and followed him to a couple of places. He is the one I worked with at The Inn. I’ve worked hard to learn my craft and improve my skills and I have still felt like I should put an asterisk at the end of the sentence where I talk about being a chef: (*his friend got him in the door). I am a mixture of confidence and insecurity when it comes to vocational things. I think I always have been.
As much as I know I have the chops to work in any kitchen, the work ethic to do things well, and the willingness to learn what I don’t know, I am surprised that a chef called me about being his assistant because of how I look on paper – not because I know someone who called in a favor, or he’s desperate to fill a position, or he’s feeling unusually compassionate. He thinks I can do the job because I have the experience to do it. I’m not a beginner anymore. I think I have a harder time convincing myself than I do anyone else.
He asked me two questions I found interesting. First, he said, “What area of the kitchen do you feel is your strong point?”
I thought for a few seconds and told him I felt I was a fast learner and I was good at keeping up with details in figuring out how to get the orders out and done well. I know how to look beyond the task that is in front of my face to see what needs to happen next to make things run smoothly. And then I said, “I also love being a part of a team. Working together to make things go well is really fun for me.”
Then he asked, “Are you self-taught?”
Professional cooking is made up of those who went through formal training and those who learned as apprentices without sitting in a classroom. Both are legitimate paths as far as the restaurant business is concerned. He, as I mentioned, was formally trained at the CIA. I would be one of the apprentices.
“Yes,” I answered.
He went on to talk about how most all of the folks in his kitchen were self-taught – and most of them had been with him five or six years. He also talked about how he enjoyed training and teaching people. (I think he must be one of the good guys.) As I’ve reflected on his question as my evening has worn on, I want to go back and answer differently. I’m not self-taught; I’ve been taught by everyone I’ve worked with.
Joao taught me how to make foccacia bread.
Carlos taught me how to make soups.
Kevin taught me how to flip eggs.
Sunichi taught me how to make maki rolls.
Eric taught me how to make a beurre blanc.
Jason taught me how to make Chicken Marsala.
Bill taught me how to test how well a steak is done.
Gigi taught me how to use the Fry-o-lator.
Jose taught me how to run the big dishwasher.
Alfonso taught me how to cut fruit with flair.
Pedro taught me how to make mashed potatoes for 300.
Robert taught me how to run a kitchen . . . and so on.
I’m not self-taught; I just like to learn.
Am I not pretty enough
Is my heart to broken
Do I cry too much
Am I too outspoken
Don’t I make you laugh
Should I try it harder
Why do you see right through me
Enough is a hard word for me, something that stays mostly out of reach, particularly if I think I’m responsible for proving my value. Very few times in my life have I felt like enough on my own. OK, probably never. If, however, I think of myself as not alone but as standing with my teachers and those whom I have taught, then I can begin to feel differently.
I am enough because I am not alone.