After traveling in Mexico, I've made it back home to New Orleans. As soon as I stepped off the plane and felt the familiar heavy mugginess in the air, I knew I was back home and damn, did it feel good. Even though I had an amazing time eating tacos and drinking mezcal, by the end, all I really wanted to do was sit in front of my TV, watch Game of Thrones, and eat pizza. Sort of like when I was in Italy, by the end, I was so tired of all the Italian food that all I wanted to do was go home and eat Taco Bell. It's horrible, I know.
But while in Mexico City, I had the privilege of attending MesaAmerica, which was this amazing culinary conference of "the Americas" where I got to see people like Mario Batali, Danny Bowien, Alice Waters and René Redzepi speak about food and the restaurant industry. Just listening to them talk was like, well ...
There were so many great discussions about inspiration and the love of food and cooking and every time Mario Batali said something cool, like when someone asked him about authenticity and he said "is it authentic? Who gives a f---! Does it taste good?" and I'm sitting in the back nodding my head like I'm in church and saying "AMEN!"
Unfortunately, I didn't see any New Orleans chefs there. The people representing the USA to talk to the mainly Spanish-speaking audience were mostly from New York and L.A., but everyone I talked to was very interested to learn about the cuisine from our city. The first thing that came to their minds about Creole and Cajun food was that it was spicy, like their food, and they were pretty impressed by that.
Now that I'm home, and back in the kitchen, I've been working with a renewed sense of creativity and energy — and the realization that I'm very content preparing food, chopping vegetables, putting together dishes. It seriously makes me happy. And even though working in a restaurant can be infuriating and stressful, it's also much more rewarding and just plain fun than any office job that I've trudged through.
Here are a few things I've learned working in a New Orleans restaurant:
1. Sometimes it's like being stranded in the middle of an ocean — you can't drink the water. You're constantly surrounded by amazing food, but you're too busy to eat any of it. And even when you do get a few minutes to enjoy a meal, you're usually eating it while standing up, scarfing it down so you can get back to work.
2. There are really no such things as breaks. Lunch breaks are a thing of the past. Bathroom breaks are hurried. The only kind of break where you can really sit down for a few minutes is the cigarette break — but if you don't smoke, you're kinda out of luck. I'm pretty sure that's why so many people smoke in the service industry, so you can get a break.
3. You have the privilege of creating something that can bring a person pleasure of the senses. Several senses at once. Legally. It's pretty cool.
4. They say that the customer is always right, but that's bullshit. I suppose they're right in that they usually get what they want, but chefs put together dishes and flavor combinations that when done right, result in a piece of art on a plate. The dish has been contemplated and perfected. When they're asked to omit a key ingredient or to substitute something, it can be a little disheartening.
5. After getting used to standing up for hours at a time with no breaks, it starts to become second nature. I can't sit down for too long anymore. Sometimes when I'm watching a movie at my house, I have to stand up in the middle of my living room. I watched the new Game of Thrones episode standing in front of my TV. It's totally weird.
6. Working in a kitchen will do a good job at curing you of any of your sensitivity issues, either that or you won't last. People yell when things get intense and you can't take it personally.
7. I used to spend all day in my own kitchen and loved it. Now I only go in there to get a diet 7-UP out of the fridge and grab a handful of tortilla chips for a quick dinner. It's so totally glamorous.
8. I've never laughed so hard at work. This is one of the reasons why I like being in a kitchen: for some reason, most people who cook are hilarious.
9. I don't dread going to work, and sometimes it's a respite from the other work that I do. Cooking is meditative and a lot of the time it doesn't allow for your mind to stew about all the other stressful things in life.
10. Restaurant co-workers make the best drinking buddies. They can hang. I need people like that in my life.