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The Irony of Being A Chef
By Feature Writer Curt Sassak
"Damn I am hungry!"
I'm staring at all the containers of food in my kitchen wondering what the hell to eat. It is my nightly ritual that goes on for about 10 minutes or so as I stand there with a blank stare like a deer in headlights. I compare it to going on a shopping spree. There is all this food which is free for the taking but I just don't know what I want. Everything looks good but at the same time nothing looks good. It is a culinary form of torture. You see a leftover piece of steak and think "that sounds good" but then you see a piece of fish and think, "No, I'll have that instead. Mmmmm, that last piece of leftover roast chicken from the buffet looks good. Damn, I just can't make up my mind. Oh, there are a few French fries left. I will just grab a few and dip them in some Caesar dressing." When there is some type of sliced, roasted beef on the menu those end cuts are the ones that everyone goes for. It is like watching the Animal Planet when lions fight over a zebra carcass.
Of course what normally ends up happening after all that indecision is you get fed up and end up just leaving work on an empty stomach and then you go to the bar have a few (or more) cocktails. Plus, drinking on an empty stomach makes the booze work quicker. There is a logic to it. Remember, empty calories.
Scraps of food lying around are the staple chef's diet. You could say chefs are more like bottom-feeders. I liken a day in the kitchen to a race. Once you start, you are off and running, meeting the relentless demands on your time which usually make eating more of an inconvenience than a thing of pleasure. As hunger settles in you fill that void with empty calories such as coffee or soda and tell yourself you will eat later, which of course never comes. That is the beauty of empty calories. When I need a quick bite to eat (which is almost always) the pastry kitchen is a sure bet. There are always croissants, muffins, cookies, cakes or any other form of baked goods that are ready for the taking. Pick it up and eat. Convenience is the name of the game.
The irony is that chefs spend huge amounts of money sourcing and utilising the best products money can buy but for the guests but they treat their stomachs like trash cans. Chefs love going to great lengths to provide our guests with the best possible dining experience but the last thing we want to do is to go through any effort to feed ourselves. Even making toast is too much effort. I imagine my stomach looks more like a colander at this point.
People are under this misconception that chefs are always eating gourmet meals. It reminds me of an occasion that happened the other night. I was in a bar talking to a fine young lady and she asks what I do. "I am a chef." I replied. Her eyes lit up immediately as if she was at a singles bar and found her match. She then replied. "Really, I would love to be your girlfriend, I bet you cook gourmet meals for your girlfriend all the time." Since I wanted to sleep with her I did what was necessary. I lied. "Sure I love cooking for girlfriends. If you were my girlfriend we would have gourmet meals and fine wine every night." Of course as this conversation progressed my nose was growing an inch a minute. "What would you cook for me?" She asked. I thought for a second and said. "How about we start with an effervescent Moscato di asti as an aperitif and then we will move on to an tantalising appetiser of sautéed Moroccan spiced prawns and blah blah blah blah." I could see her going off to never land, mouth watering as if she had a culinary epiphany. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I eat only delivery and take out food. There have been times when people found out what I actually eat and they had this look of disbelief in their face as if they found out the surgeon general smokes cigarettes.
I don't even have a plate or cutlery in my apartment. What do I need them for? Take out and delivery food always comes with them. The only reason I have glasses is because it is hard to drink from your hands and since I am not a dog I don't drink from the toilet. Hell, I don't even need a kitchen. Going from cooking in a professional kitchen to cooking in a home kitchen is like going from watching colour TV to black and white TV. You can do it but it but most of all it is just frustrating. All I need is a freezer to put my frozen pizzas and lasagne in and a microwave to cook them. The kitchen cupboards are used to store take out and delivery menus. I have so many of them that when it comes time to eat at home I have the same dilemma that I do at work. I can't figure out what to eat. I just sift through menu after menu deciding what I want.
When I think about how chefs dislike cooking for themselves and how they neglect their own diet, it makes me wonder about other professions. Do doctors neglect their own health? Do comedians only watch drama at home? Do accounts have trouble balancing their own check books? What about housekeepers? Is their house a mess? Do musicians have a stereo in their house? Do cab drivers take a cab on their day off when they need to get somewhere? What about actors? What about hookers?
People are often afraid to cook for me because I'm a chef. They always think it won't be good enough. I work 6 days a week, 12 or more hours per day so I am happy to have a meal I didn't have to cook. It doesn't even have to be great. It doesn't even have to be decent. Hell I will settle for edible. That's why the only time I enjoy eating is when I don't have to cook it. I wish there was a pill to take so I wouldn't have to cook for myself. There was an episode of the Jetsons where Elroy was having lunch and Mrs. Jetson was feeding him food tablets. They were tablets that gave the same taste experience and nutrition of the food they represented. Pizza tablets, omelette tablets, peanut butter and jelly tablets, etc. Can we fast forward to that point now?
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