Chef, Mother, Wife…Me Part One
Part one of a two-part article of my journey becoming a chef, mother, and wife.
I never thought I would love working 26 hours a day 8 days a week (especially when there are only 24 hours and 7 days a week), but I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
When I chose to become a chef, I knew I was entering a man’s world; one that was dominated by male executive chefs, a kitchen full of male line cooks, and if I saw another female, she was usually in the dessert field. This only made me want to work harder, faster, and smarter than my male counterparts. And I did!! I moved up the line quicker, faster, and more productively than the other male chefs I was working against. I didn’t think I was working against my team, but it was made apparent from my first ever job on the line that was the case. I was the cute girl in the kitchen that no one respected. No one thought I could do the job, that I was capable of cooking as fast and as hard as they could.
I thought it was going to be physically hard, but I didn’t know how mentally tough it would be on my mind and my body. I have always been a strong female, not letting anything get to me, but I felt defeated at times. I admit I would run to the bathroom to cry so no one would think of me as the weak female on the line. This made me want to be even better than all the male coworkers I had. This made me stronger. I was set to prove myself. I pushed myself to the utmost.
After about a year I was finally respected. I learned every aspect of the line, worked in the basement as the butcher (in the winter where there was no heat), and got the title of sous chef. I thought I had finally become a part of the male kitchen.
During this time, I had been proposed too as well. I was on cloud 9. I was finally feeling like I belonged, doing what I was meant to do, and I was engaged to the love of my life. What could go wrong? Ha! Boy was I wrong!!
A couple of years had passed and I was ready to move on from being a sous chef. I wanted to push myself even further. I had gotten married and honestly needed the money as well. We all know there is no money in the kitchen unless you become an executive chef. I knew I wasn’t there yet, but I wanted to learn other cuisines, work with other chefs, and gain more respect (I guess).
My next four moves turned out to be nightmares. I thought I had to earn the respect in my first restaurant; boy was I wrong. That was nothing compared to what I was about to go through. I’m not going to share each grueling moment, as there are too many and it all becomes a little redundant. I think all my experiences came down to no one wanted a strong female chef with skills, a pretty face and strong attitude in the kitchen. I do not know if it was a lack of confidence, the male ego, or just plain ignorance. What did they expect? I am female; I didn’t dress myself as a man. They hired me for my skills; they knew my gender. I guess it came down to the male ego after all.
During my last attempt, I was given the opportunity to reopen a failing restaurant, and I was going to be the executive chef. I was so excited. But I had a secret…I was pregnant!!!
I was so scared to tell the owner when he offered me the position because I knew I was going to be perceived as weak, as less than, as someone who couldn’t handle the hours, the work; all because I was pregnant. Why would being pregnant stop me from working? In a woman’s world it wouldn’t but in a man’s world it would. I decided to tell him the truth because I didn’t want to hide anything. I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed that I was pregnant. Luckily, he still gave me the job. I was going to pick my own staff, write my own menu, finally become what I wanted to become, a female executive chef! Boy was my head in the clouds. Before I knew my line cooks, dishwashers, etc. were already chosen; without any consulting by me. And none wanted to work for a female chef. A male chef consultant was hired to “help” me with the menu and training of the staff.
I was scared to speak up for myself. I didn’t stand up for myself because I wanted this job so badly. I needed it for my family. At this point I was three or four months pregnant. What was I going to do? Quit? That wasn’t an option. But I know this wouldn’t have occurred if I wasn’t a female and pregnant. Anyway, I stayed, worked with this consultant, and ended up getting my recipes and ideas on the menu. He was someone who did respect me and my ideas. He encouraged me to keep designing new dishes, playing with new recipes and together we made a menu I was proud of. I thought this could work! Again, was I wrong. The minute he left the whole crew didn’t want to listen to one thing I said. I was trying to teach sauces, how I wanted certain homemade pastas made, how to make new and exciting desserts, how to cook these dishes to order on the line. No one listened and one cook walked out on me. Ok you are fired! Well, that did not go well with the boss. He was so angry at me and said he was important, and I was “disposable”. Me, the executive chef, was disposable. I knew at that minute this was never going to work; I was never going to be respected, so I walked out then and there and never looked back. Fuck the male restaurant world! I will do this on my own; for me, my husband, and my unborn daughter! That’s right at this point I knew I was having a daughter and would never want her to see her mother not being respected in this world.
I took the leap, leaving behind a paycheck every week and venturing into the world unknown. I started my own business, without any money to back it, just the knowledge I had and my talent. I was so excited and extremely scared. But I had to do it. I had to begin my journey of happiness; a journey that would make myself and my family proud! Did I think this transition would be easy? Of course not, but hard work is never easy.
So here I was, starting a new business, all by myself, and six months pregnant. How the hell was I going to do this? How am I possibly going to get clients, enough money to help support my growing family? Is the private chef and catering industry going to be any different than the restaurant world? Will I be respected? Will people like my food, my dishes? Will I make it, or will I fall? Falling and quitting were never in my vocabulary, so I went for it; went all the way!
I put the word out there; new female private chef and caterer is on the scene! Small jobs started trickling in, but it wasn’t enough to help pay bills. I knew I had to do something. My husband and I decided for me to take some money, money that we really needed for the baby, and invest in my business. I didn’t have anyone investing in me; just us. I built a website, did some advertising, and just made my presence known. I tried every avenue I could think of to get my name, my company’s name, out there. It started to work. I was getting busier, but at this point I was about to pop. This baby was on her way, and she was coming early. By the way it was winter and Christmastime (the busiest season). Next thing I knew I was in the delivery room and having this child. Now I had to put my business on hold, which meant no income coming in and we have a newborn. What did I do? At least I would have paid maternity leave if I stayed in the restaurant business. Now I have no paycheck and we are bleeding money. I kept reminding myself that I am doing this for my future, for my sanity.
The Journey Begins
This is where my journey of chef, mother, wife began. This is where my 26 hour, 8 days a week life began. And I have loved every minute of it!!!! Of course, there have been many ups and downs, but they have been my ups and downs, my challenges.
Five weeks after giving birth, I got the opportunity of being a production chef for a cooking show. I thought what an amazing opportunity. Ha, maybe if you didn’t have a newborn at home. The day started at 7 am and ended by 9 pm sometimes. I had to leave my 5-week-old child at a daycare. I felt like I was failing as a mom. Am I making the right choice to go back to work so soon? Am I being selfish? Will my daughter not know me? Will I miss too many important firsts in her life? I was in a tailspin, but I already committed to the job. I had to keep moving forward. It was only a month. I can do this. I started to figure a way to balance my new life of chef, mother, wife.