“So, food is my passion?” I thought to myself, already knowing the answer.
The sinking feeling in my stomach was completely expected. I didn’t really WANT to get back into food. I liked the lifestyle that I had. Food would change ALL of that. At least that’s what I thought based on the beliefs I had about food service at that time.
Remember, I grew up in the food service. I saw the long hours that dad worked. I remembered the long hours that I’d worked. I remembered how much energy it took from me to work those long shifts, and I wasn’t a young man anymore. Hell, I was on the edge of forty, and not anywhere near the level of fitness that I’d been almost two decades earlier.
There were LOTS of reasons for me to ignore this whole “follow your passion” bullshit, and I kept adding to the list as the days went by. And even as the list of reasons to stay where I was kept growing, the fire inside me that had been ignited in the desert grew hotter and more intense with every passing day.
My list of resistance boiled down to three main issues. First, I was working a pretty comfortable 9-to-5, Monday through Friday job. I didn’t work weekends or holidays, and had plenty of time to spend with family and friends. I enjoyed my social life. Second, the pay was shit. I had done a few quick google searches on compensation and salary for food service workers in my area, and it wasn’t exactly exciting news. If I ever made it to chef (and let’s remember that I’d been out of the industry for 15 years or so, so that was going to take some time), I could plan on making about $45k-$50k – somewhat less than I was making at the time. And third, I was nearly forty, a little chubby, and lived a pretty sedentary lifestyle. I didn’t know if my body could handle going back to the food service. There were a lot of secondary and tertiary reasons, but all of those seemed to fall under these three main topics.
So there were reasons that I’d made up in my head about why I didn’t want to get back into the food service, and I was really trying to convince myself that it was a dumb idea. The reality of the situation was even greater than my made-up reasons, though. You see, it was a very real possibility that I could lose everything – my car, my house, my friends, even my marriage and family. Let me explain.
After 12 years of marriage, and a few ups and downs, Megan and I were in a pretty rocky place. She’d always been supportive of all of my dreams and aspirations, and several failed business ventures as well. But I knew this time was different because of where our relationship was at. Me leaving my job and taking a massive pay cut to play in a kitchen, skipping through the daisies following my dream, while she supported me one more time was likely to break us. I’d have to move out and find a place that I could afford on a shitty food service paycheck, there’s no way I’d be able to pay rent AND a car payment, and could I really imagine living my life without my sweetheart? I mean, as strained as our relationship was at the time, I didn’t want to risk losing her just to follow a silly dream!
So yeah, I had a lot of selfish reasons that I’d made up in my head to try and discourage any idea I might have of pursuing this newly remembered passion, and there were some very real and very profoundly life changing consequences that were possible as well. Did I have the courage/stupidity to step up to that ledge and just fucking leap into the wild unknown?
As I wrestled with all of these reasons and variables and consequences and possible outcomes over several weeks, the passion kept seeping through, dripping warm, gooey, delicious visions of what could go RIGHT if I were to take this step. I was usually pretty good about shoring up these thoughts, and keeping myself firmly rooted in the here-and-now reality, but these dreams of wonderful possibility always found a way back in. Be that as it may, I was still scared as hell to take any committed action.
Sure, I’d gently floated the idea to Megan, and she was less than excited about it, echoing many of the same thoughts I’d had and reinforcing the main reasons why I shouldn’t take this risk. I’d also quietly mentioned the idea of me getting back into food service to a few close and trusted friends, just to see what they thought. One of those people was my friend Jason, who’s business is providing point-of-sale systems and other support to the restaurant industry. He knows everyone that’s anyone in the Salt Lake restaurant scene, and I figured he’d be able to give me a good idea of what I could expect if I actually decided to do this crazy thing.
He invited me to come to his office to chat about a few things. I was hoping that he’d have some cold, hard “reality check” facts to talk me out of it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was VERY excited about the prospect, and was eager to make a few connections for me. He’d experienced my food and cooking at a few small parties and events with mutual friends and was very encouraging. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he asked me point blank: “If you could work in ANY restaurant in Utah, which one would you choose?”
My initial reaction to this question was one of great comfort – I’d always gotten any job I decided I wanted, usually through dogged persistence and my hardcore work ethic. My next reaction was one of bewilderment. I hadn’t given any thought to where I wanted to work. I didn’t have a clear answer for him, so we chatted a bit about the kind of food I was interested in cooking, the types of restaurants I thought might fit what I wanted to create, and so on. Eventually, I came up with a list of the top 5 restaurants in Utah that I wanted to work at. Jason knew all of the owners and managers, of course, and offered to send a personal letter of recommendation to each of them. How could I decline such a generous offer?
The next day, I visited each of these restaurants and delivered applications as well. As I’d done years earlier, I asked for the manager at each restaurant, introduced myself, and asked them to come work for them. I planned to visit each one twice a week, but that became unnecessary.
Two days after my first visit, I received a call from Karen, the owner of The Metropolitan. For nearly 15 years, “The Met” had been the crown jewel of Utah’s fine dining scene. James Beard award-nominated, and a wall full of other awards and accolades made this the single most intimidating of the restaurants I decided that I wanted to work in.
“Jason tells me wonderful things about you. When can you come in and meet the chef?”
“I’m available at your discretion – name the time and I’ll be there.” I replied confidently.
We agreed that I’d come in the next day, Wednesday, and meet the chef to discuss employment.
This was it. No going back. I made the mental commitment that this was now my path, regardless of the cost or the prices I may have to pay, this was it. I talked to my boss at the office, turned in my resignation, and made him promise not to hire me back, even if I begged him to. I told Megan that I had an interview at The Met, and that I’d quit my job. This was it. The flying leap of faith, the ships burned in the harbor, there was no going back now.
The only option was forward.