This is something you probably didn’t know about me: I used to cook in a French restaurant in Singapore. I was in my early 20s, and I had gotten fired from my office job. I used to always think I’d grow up to be some kind of a designer, but my mom (RIP) wasn’t keen on that idea, because such jobs paid little unless you had a degree, (then it paid okay), and unfortunately we were not rich, so taking risks wasn’t an option, and office jobs paid the most (at least for people like me; I went to business school).
I was the worst cook, of course, it’s me, but I lasted almost a year. I took instructions in Mandarin. I don’t even speak that language. I didn’t work Saturdays because I had part-time school (which made my colleagues hate me) and the only reason I had gotten the job in the first place was because I was cute. True story.
I like cooking. Your first mentor in the kitchen world is one of the most important people in the ecosystem, because the habits, approach and techniques he imparts to you can either set you up for success or failure. For example, my first mentor was extremely neat, almost OCD in the kitchen. He took mise en place, and hygiene, well, basically the whole food hygiene thing, seriously, and even though in the beginning I struggled to make sense to make sure preparation was done (and in the kitchen world everything is never-ending), adhere to common sense and basic food hygiene, and know whom to approach for what, and basically what to do in a day, I was on autopilot mode once I grasped the system. Your first mentor is very important. I had another mentor who basically was not up to scratch but because I had already learnt from a developed system it was easy to avoid bad practice in the kitchen.
Before the kitchen job, I worked somewhere I didn’t have passion for. My supervisor then hated me a lot, and always looked for little ways to sabotage me. Little eventually added up to a lot, and while I was proficient in my job I lacked the necessary skills to prevent sabotage from happening to me, and I’d always allowed my work to speak for itself, so I never ‘promoted’ myself. Most people in higher positions in that job knew me by name and face, but it was a lot for 19-year-old me, and because I kept getting sabotaged for little things, I eventually committed career suicide by asking for a transfer, and in my new role I hated it more than my previous role, which made it impossible for me to succeed. I think my main goal then was to just get away from my old supervisor. Eventually I had gotten fired. They called my mother! This was before privacy laws came into place.
The kitchen world is not without its problems. They pay very little. It is considered menial work. It is male-dominated, so it was common for females (non-gay females especially) to be made fun of, sexually harassed (in some form) or generally treated poorly, but when you’re thrusted in this environment you do whatever it takes to survive and protect yourself. Eventually you learn to be confident and have faith in yourself, tenacious, understand what it means to work hard, work smart, and find joy in your vocation.
I eventually left the kitchen world because it was unsustainable to continue working for very little pay. Passion is passion, but realistically speaking not many of us can monetise that. However, the lessons I learnt in the kitchen world helped me become the person I am at work today.