August 21, 2012

The pride and perils of returning to work

So I started a new job a couple of weeks ago and despite that fact that it's kicking my butt, I am really happy.

If you know me, you know that I have had a few other careers in my life (academic, teacher, interpreter, sales and marketing person, freelance writer) but the one I probably enjoyed the most was baker. When the career I spent way too many years in school preparing for crashed and burned (...), I turned to something I loved to make myself feel better and that's when a minor interest turned into a full-fledged passion. I spent a year in the kitchen of a well-known local restaurant assisting the pastry chef and learned more than any food network show or food magazine I devoured could ever teach me. At the time I thought it was a fun way to dip my toe in the water of an industry I'd always been interested in while learning if it was something I really wanted to do.

After that year, life took me in other directions for a while and five years after starting my pastry apprenticeship with my good friend Tom, here I am in my first pastry chef job. I'm not sure why they gave me the job, except that I have a lot of heart and passion for food and my employers must have seen something in me they recognized. I may not have all the experience or qualifications another person fresh out of culinary school or with years of cooking professionally behind her would have, but I'll always try my hardest and take pride in what I do and make. And it seems to be appreciated. Besides, if I were better at choosing jobs based not on how they make me feel but on unimportant details like how lucrative or practical they are, I wouldn't be me. Nevertheless, I am really happy to have this opportunity.

Some highlights of my first couple of weeks in the kitchen of an exciting new restaurant include almost crying on the day before opening when I realized what I had gotten myself into and in that same moment realizing if I ever cried as the only woman in a kitchen full of foul-mouthed male cooks, they'd eat me alive. I got through that really tough day and made enough progress to eventually feel like I could do the job.

Then, after realizing one of my recipes was great for making one at a time (at home), but way too labor-intensive for a restaurant, and yet it was on the menu and they were already printed--I switched gears and found a great substitute that is much easier for large-batch cooking and seems to be just as well liked. Problem solved.

the chocolate pie that nearly killed me

In addition to working a few days a week making the restaurant's desserts, I also got myself into working as a server a couple of nights to 1) pay the bills and 2) have some fun. I have already discovered I am too old and crusty and I would much rather be slaving away in the back of the house  listening to loud 80s music and working alongside my fellow masochists than dealing with customers and perky 23-year-old fellow servers. But I will persevere waiting tables for as long as I can take it and try to remember the real reason I am there. At least I can totally sell the desserts.

zucchini-olive oil cake with lemon glaze, cooling

Perhaps the biggest challenge of the last few weeks for me has been making the transition to going back to work after being a stay-at-home-mom for the last two years. I could write many paragraphs on this subject, but this is a food blog not a mommy blog, so I'll spare you. What I will say is that sometimes I look at my daughter's face when I have to leave and go to work and my heart sinks and I feel that work is not all it's cracked up to be. And other times, I feel proud that I'm doing something that's hard and rewarding and also helping our family's finances at the same time and I want to set that example for my little girl so she knows that her options are many. For us right now it's all about making this transition as carefully and easily as possible and trying to find the balance of work and life that is right for us.
June on her first day back at "school"

When I came home last Sat. night at 11:30 pm and my husband was asleep on the couch while my $200 All-Clad soup pot (that had an hour or so earlier contained water in it for pasta), boiled away to nothing and were it not such a stellar piece of equipment might have burned the house down, I thought that maybe things had gotten out of balance. After all, the man has been taking on more parenting duties (which, believe me, is every bit as hard if not harder than working) and still has a physically demanding full-time job. After scolding him for his carelessness I had to thank him for his thoughtfulness: he was just trying to have dinner ready for me when I got home from work.

what keeps me going...
In closing, I'm going to steal the Bukowski quote that a friend who is a successful small-business owner and mom used when asked by an interviewer what her fears were: "Find what you love and let it kill you." Well, I may not have lighted on my life's most important work with this new job, but at least I'm headed in the right direction. I am so lucky to have such a supportive husband and sweet, loving, secure and well-adjusted daughter. If we can manage to not burn the house down, I think we'll all survive.

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