I finished culinary school and got a part-time job with a chef who owns a terrific little neighborhood restaurant on the west side of Milwaukee. She took a chance on a newbie like me, but I think most of the time we’re both happy with her gamble.  

The one thing you sort of know about, but not really, when it comes to restaurant work is the repetition (or maybe I just didn’t think about it–wouldn’t be the first time). I make the same things over and over and over again.  For example, chocolate cake. Every week I make chocolate cake. Not a different chocolate cake as I might if I were baking at home. The same chocolate cake every week. It can be mundane, but I mind it less than I thought I would (you know those days when your brain is about to explode because you have to think so hard about a problem, and all you want to do is go sit in the mailroom and stuff envelopes? Yeah, that’s part of why I don’t mind it so much).  I try to learn something new everytime I repeat a recipe, but honestly, sometimes I just want to get through it.  

What I love about it is touching, tasting, arranging, beautifying, watching, learning, and taking pride in the things that I made from scratch, and now people are coming to the restaurant and eating the food. They’re paying for my food! OK, it’s not really my food. It’s the chef’s food, but I try to treat it like mine, respect it, and respect our diners who are paying good money for it.

And you know, occasionally there’s a little victory. Like the time my chef-y peanut butter pretzel curry cookies changed one of our regular’s minds about peanut butter cookies. I know it’s lame, but hey, it made me feel good. And more importantly, it’s little things that ward off regret about the decisions I’ve made.

I made hoppin' john (black-eyed peas in smoked ham stock with rice) and greens for new year's day. It's supposed to bring you luck and prosperity throughout the year. It tasted far better than it looks. Trust  me on that one.

I made hoppin’ john (black-eyed peas in smoked ham stock with rice) and greens for new year’s day. It’s supposed to bring you luck and prosperity throughout the year, and I could use all the help I can get. It tasted far better than it looks. Trust me on that one.

I’m also still rocking my office gig. You know, the one that lined my pocket with a bit of cash while I was in school. Turns out, it’s a good job with incredibly smart and talented people, and while I don’t love the work, I’m finding that most of the time I don’t mind it.  That said, my passion is still with food: learning more, preparing more, experimenting more.

The weirdest thing about this arrangement is that I’m straddling two worlds. I don’t feel completely a part of either, and that’s a kind of strange place to be.  I’m OK with it for now, but I think eventually I’ll want to immerse myself more completely in food and cooking.

It’s funny, I thought the hardest thing about this journey would be quitting my high-paying job and going to culinary school. And that WAS hard. But it’s not the only hard part.  Everything about my working life has been in transition since I made that decision. Transition is hard, always, even if it’s a good, life-affirming transition.  I think it’s because it involves uncertainty–the kind that you can’t ignore or hide away.

I’m living with that uncertainty right now, and I haven’t lost my marbles… yet.

That’s a win in my book.