So that’s me for you - Part I

30.4.13 § 0 commentarii

It pains me to note that I have not updated this blog on a regular basis for at least six months. This is hardly for want of anything to blog about: rather my life has been embarrassingly full of incident since last October.

Daccapo, then. It should come as no surprise to long-terms readers of my oft-drunken rantings here that I have for some time felt a certain dissatisfaction with my life and its (lack of) direction. This has, over the years, manifested itself as periodic bouts of despair and rather more frequent bouts of alcohol abuse (the two not being unlinked). By September of last year, I had become largely resigned to my lot, however, and was busily mentally preparing myself to knuckle down to as much of a career in hospitality as I could scrape together, and to put all thoughts of postgraduate study and its financial infeasability as far out of mind as possible.

Then something wholly unexpected happened: the general manager at the Bear was fired, and the head chef Jimmy was promoted in his place. As his sous-chef, I was unceremoniously pushed into his position; as locum tenens at first, formal promotion and linked pay rise six weeks later. Adjustment was difficult for both of us: for my part it was difficult to stake out a claim to the kitchen as my own domain, with my own stamp on it (Jimmy had been head chef there for a full twelve years), and for his part adjusting to his new rôle as GM took an entire change in thinking. More difficult for him perhaps was to stop regarding me as his sous-chef and right hand man, my previous experience in front of house management not making my life much easier: for a period I found myself trying to run the kitchen on my own while simultaneously supporting him in his new rôle. Throughout the period leading up to Christmas my own position was rather schizophrenic: head chef one minute and de facto assistant manager the next. Eventually, however, we both settled into our new positions and the umbilical was cut. The addition of a proper assistant manager to the team and gaining my own sous-chef greatly helped on both counts.

It turns out that we make a surprisingly good team. Takings are up on the previous year, and positive reviews on Tripadvisor (that vile nest of vipers) for both the food and the quality of the service soared. Since I’ve taken over in the kitchen, the food has become distinctly more Mediterranean in outlook, which has not gone unnoticed by the customers. One even said that the Bear is now one of the best places in Twynham to eat Italian food, which made me blush rather.

By February, then, we were feeling fairly confident. It was then that we got our first review in the local rag since the management changeover. It was good. Very good, in fact. The reviewer praised the food far more than it deserved, and we saw something of an upsurge in custom for a few weeks. This was my first proper review as head chef, the first time that my work had been noticed and commented upon in the press. I should have been absolutely thrilled: the first of many triumphal moments in my career as a head chef. Instead, I found myself struggling mightily to actually give a shit.

Yes, mes chers lecteurs, turns out that being head chef just ain’t all that. I found myself utterly indifferent to the entire affair. The following week I (deliberately) fucked up an entire weekend’s ordering, just to see if getting in any kind of trouble would move me to actually feeling some kind of involvement in what I was doing. Nope. Not at all.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t actually dislike my job. But nor did I actually enjoy it. Predictably, this set me off on another bout of mental crisis, with commensurate reliance on the help of Messers Jameson and Walker. This was not at all helped by me undergoing yet another late-twenties crisis, in which I firmly convinced myself that oh my God, I’m almost thirty and have achieved almost nothing, nothing goddammit. Of course, I was entirely beating myself up with no real reason. By most measures I was not unsuccessful: ten solid years of marriage, running my own well-regarded kitchen at the age of twenty-nine, a good academic degree under my belt, decent enough prospects in my chosen profession.

The last, however, was the real foundation of my fug. Catering isn’t my chosen profession, and never has been. I fell into it by accident after I had totally fucked up my actual plans for the future through drug addiction. Since at least 2005, my life has essentially been a series of fitful attempts to rectify this situation. Realising this, and recognising that resigning myself to an unsatisfactory situation has never been something I’m good at, I decided that it was time to consider my options.

Post-graduate study was out. While I would love to apply for an MPhil at Oxford in Historical Linguistics (and am reasonably confident that academically at least I would have few difficulties in being accepted), this is really just an instance of intellectual vanity: what on earth would I do with such a degree after two years aside from being pretty much in the same situation as I am at the moment, just rather more inappropriately qualified? I looked at getting a job outside the trade, and realised quickly that I am woefully underqualified for any but the most entry-level of positions in essentially everything. I even considered working in a call centre (for all of five minutes), but quickly thought better of it[1].


1) I have worked in one before. Aside from the entire affair being wholly soul-destroying and responsible for severely aggravating a case of agoraphobia I never even knew I had, the milieu of a call-centre is actually not at all dissimilar to that of a restaurant: people in their early twenties looking to make money to be spent on booze and nights out. These days, one’s twenties appear to be an over-extended adolescence, and frankly on the threshold of being thirty this is exactly what I wanted to get away from. It is a sign of my increasing removal from this demographic that entirely unexpectedly I now seem to own more blazers than I do hoodies.

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