Ever since I started cooking on my own, I’ve had pipe dreams about quitting my life, going to culinary school, and becoming a chef. I know this is derivative. So many people think that culinary school is the answer, a solid plan B that will pay off in the future. I know it’s not: opening a restaurant takes a work ethic I probably don’t have, and a functionality on no sleep which I definitely don’t have. Becoming a chef wouldn’t fulfill my innate need for academic discourse, nor would it leave me with any social life whatsoever. But to be able to create in the kitchen – to be able to dream up flavor profiles and have an instinctual knowledge for how to cook for patrons – those are skills I wish I had.
For a week over the summer, I was away in Montreal with my best friend, taking a well-needed respite after the bar exam. Called our “Ashram It and Undo It Tour”, we went to a yoga center up in the Laurentian Mountains for four days, and then spent four days wandering around Montreal. The yoga center’s daily schedule was simple: meditation, chanting, yoga, lunch, karma yoga (co-operative work service for the upkeep of the ashram), free time, yoga, dinner, meditation, chanting, sleep. Since I’d done nothing all summer except for thinking, this physical challenge was welcome. On our first full day there, our karma yoga assignment was to help in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure Dani and I shouted “SCORE” and high-fived at the thought of this – we both love to cook, and as I said, “I can chop vegetables like nobody’s business.”
Unfortunately, this task ended up being much more onerous than either of us had expected. We showed up in the kitchen at 2pm, only to discover that the real kitchen staff had been given the night off and that there was essentially no one in charge. And then, we were assigned the task of making hot soup for 75 people. The person assigning the task? A megalomaniac British dude who knew nothing about kitchen management. In a kitchen we’d never set foot in before. With no idea where to even begin.
Dani and I are not idiots. We know how to make soup. But throwing us blindly into making soup in such a large quantity in an unfamiliar kitchen when neither of us had ever even seen a robo-coupe before was terrifying. We quickly divided tasks – Dani robo-couped a dozen heads of cauliflower and I sautéed it in the kitchen wok that was bigger than the two of us put together, and then we added the cauliflower to some stock that the kitchen already had, put in a lot of milk, butter, thyme, salt, and pepper, and hoped for the best. During all of this, however, Meglo Brit Dude was wandering all over the kitchen, poking his fingers into what everyone was doing, and essentially freaking out. Three hours into this experience (after we missed the yoga class we’d come there for), he shouted in the middle of the kitchen “STOP. Everybody stop! I need to know exactly what you are doing. I cannot lead this team if I don’t know what you are doing!” Dani and I stood sheepishly at the stove (okay, that’s not true. I stood sheepishly at the stove. Dani walked into the sink room because she was about to punch Meglo Brit Dude in the face and she knew it.) After I explained to him what we were doing with the soup, he tasted it and asked “doesn’t it need something extra, like cumin?” I looked him straight in the eye, and very calmly said “do not put cumin in this soup. You will completely ruin the flavor profile.”
After he walked away, I talked Dani off the ledge (he’s yelling because he feels like nothing is in control, let’s just make soup) and we left the soup slightly simmering while we left to wash off the cauliflower that was all over us. As we walked back to the kitchen at dinner time, ready to serve, I thought “well, I should thank Meglo Brit Dude. He has completely cured me of any desire to ever work in a restaurant kitchen.”
We got raves about the soup.