My day used to start at 2 in the afternoon, just gearing up for a night of preparing dishes for customers, surviving through a long rush and cleaning up around 11 p.m. I would leave work sweat-soaked, smelling like the ocean with a smile on my face; only to do it all over again the next afternoon.
Working opposite hours from the rest of the world is not an easy thing. Every holiday is spent side-by-side with other chefs on the line, and your “good nights” were to fellow white coats. It takes an extremely particular person to live and survive in the culinary world. You must be strong-willed, open-minded, humble, creative and easy-going.
As a culinary instructor at Manatee Technical College, I now get up at 5:30 a.m. and start my day with a cup of coffee and eggs and bacon. I feed the cat and bid goodbye to my better half, making the morning commute with all the other working people of the world.
As we start a new semester of culinary school at MTC, I pause and realize how truly refreshing, yet complicated and fulfilling my job as a culinary instructor really is. I am greeted every morning with a bright, smiling, promising sea of white coats eager to get their hands dirty. They are from all walks of life joined together to learn the culinary trade. Early on, they realize they have now chosen their other family.
As we embark on building a solid foundation for these students, I remember why I became a culinary instructor and I feel blessed. I wanted to be that person who I once looked up to, to mold and guide the next generation of individuals who will be creating the plates I enjoy. I want to be a part of creating the new group of cooks.
I didn’t leave the hot box because I didn’t enjoy it, I left because I wanted to help those who have chosen this incredible vocation to better understand why we cook, and why we wear checkered pants with white coats, and from where we came.
I still get to share my “war” stories with our students, I am able to re-live my kitchen life through those stories. Along the way, the excited faces sometimes become nervous about the field they have chosen.
Part of my job is to reassure them that it is an industry that pulls you in like a mother’s embrace and never lets go. It becomes a part of you. Sure, there will be tough nights. Of course they will have scars from their knife, or burns on their forearms that will tell a story like no other. But they are now part of something so awe-inspiring. It’s a gift to be able to put smiles on customers’ faces and create a mystery for their taste buds that keeps them wanting more.
Next time you go out to dinner, think of where that food came from, think of the care and creativity behind that line. Think of the people who decided they enjoy working opposite hours when you take that bite of art, and maybe take that extra second to savor all the flavors that have been mapped out for your particular plate. Think of us.
Jamie Gregorich, Manatee County schools culinary instructor and department chair, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.