I will be the first to say: success in this industry does not have to mean working in a Michelin starred restaurant. Not even to the extent of the aforementioned esteem, culinary opportunities are not limited to working in a traditional restaurant. Food is a necessity and everyone needs to eat. Where there are people, there is a need for food to be provided. This could be in a restaurant, on a food truck, in a lab developing food technologies for the masses, or even at a field station for researchers in Antarctica (hope you are staying warm down there, Erica).
Coming to culinary school, I did not have an end goal in sight because of this notion that food was a universal need in any environment and in any language. I could literally work wherever I wanted once I had the skill set to take me there. I knew I wanted to make great food for people, however, in what capacity and to what extent I was not yet sure. But, I was open to exploring and exhausting as many options until I found the right fit for me whether it be conventional or otherwise.
I always ask my students on their first day, “why are you here…what got you interested in this career field?” And the vast majority of the answers have something to do with the joy experienced when preparing and sharing a meal for family and friends. Sound familiar? My answer echoed this. The efforts of preparing a meal were just as rewarding and fulfilling as seeing the fruits of my labor bring joy to those for whom the food was prepared. In a traditional restaurant you work to create an amazing meal for the guests in the dining room, but rarely get to witness their reactions and be a part of their experience. How much that ‘shared experience’ meant to me became obvious in my early days of working on the line for a nationally recognized chef; it felt more like a job and less like that burning passion that brought me to this industry in the first place.
My fire was diminishing, but what else was there to explore? Enter the world of Private Dining. I did one stage for a private event and realized it was in this niche environment that I could have my cake and eat it too. Playing the role of both the chef and the entertaining host, I could make a career off of preparing a meal for and sharing the experience with my guests in an intimate environment, very much like my earliest culinary memories that drove me to pursue this industry in the first place. I dove in head first. Each event was essentially planning a dinner party, creating and preparing a menu that best represents your artistry on a plate, setting an incredibly beautiful table and then anxiously awaiting your guests arrival. The food was always amazing, the wine was always flowing, and the laughter and joy of the guests was infectious. Everlasting memories were created for our clients (now friends) through our efforts and attention to every detail of the evening. This was not a ‘job’, this was MY PASSION and I finally knew where I was meant to be.
I spent a good chunk of my twenty plus years in this industry practically living in a traditional restaurant. I have held a multitude of roles fulfilling front of house and back of house duties from busser to FOH manager, dishwasher to Executive Chef. However, it was not until I found private dining that I truly felt “home.”
To wrap up and put a bow on this ramble in the simplest of ways, the main takeaway I want you to grasp is that you have options when it comes to finding your “home” in this industry, some of which may seem wildly unconventional. Be open to exploring them and find your joy! And if you end up in Antarctica, pack your parka.