Chapter 8 - Torment
The meeting adjourned, my back slumps and curls into the shape of the chair and slides down a bit. My chest level with the edge of the table and my eyes become glossy staring at everything yet seeing nothing. Voices become only a distant murmur and soon fade into just the hum behind the voice that screams in my head. "It can't be done, you are a fraud...just be honest and walk away, it can't be done and you will fail...everyone will hate you...you are such a loser" The voice in my head becomes a roar as the freight of the moment becomes more enraptured with my being, some deep seeded part dancing with such joy at the idea of being proven right. I know that I will fail, I know that all the ego can't compensate for the truth and the truth is this is beyond me and my skill level.
A full menu redesign, from grubby pub to gastro-pub, in two weeks. Including the time to train the staff, order the food, write the recipes and have the concept. A blank paper with my hand holding the only pen. Slowly the outside world forms around me, my boss smiling at me, proud. All I want in this world is to make my boss happy to prove that the faith that she has in me is not without merit and yet I sit curled into my seat, hoping to hide but knowing that I am the center of attention. I sit up, force the smile on my face. It was after all my idea. I grab my papers and push up on my weakened knees only finding balance after I focus my attention on the table and my hand holding the table in position. I walk back to the kitchen and soon, the printer starts to produce order after order and as I pin them to the rail my mind drifts to the ever more concerning situation about what menu am I going to create.
After the lunch rush, I begin to prep for the dinner rush by grabbing my pack of cigarettes and ordering the staff not to fuck up. The kitchen staff knows what to do, knows what to prep and the clean up but soon this will change. Outside with my lit clove cigarette, my mind wanders back to the staff, the ease of which they can produce a largely heat'n'serve menu and how much this will change. Creative and inspired locally source pub menu all from scratch and promised that I would be able to deliver this with a dramatically reduced food cost and without and additional labor. I promised my boss that I could do this, that I could train a staff that has never worked in another kitchen or been professionally trained and I could get this staff cooking gourmet gastro-pub food. All within two weeks. We launch the new menu the Friday of our busiest weekend of the year, again my choice. My hubris.
As the cigarette burns to a stub I take out another and light it. My hand holding the pencil scribbles down some of the most well known gastro-pubs that I can think of, later in the night I will check out their menus to see if there is some inspiration I can acquire. Next, I look at what strengths the resort has: on the ocean, dedicated clientele, a big workable kitchen, experience fantastic owners and enthusiastic staff. Soon, I see the kitchen staff eating their meal cuddled around the table. I start to sweat and think that they know, they know that I can't teach them what I thought I could, that my menu won't be this great document that in 5 thousand years scholars will analyze and talk about. I continue to ponder, writing down ideas, the staff finish their meals and soon join me outside to smoke. We all go back into the kitchen and soon the supper rush comes and goes. As the final clean up comes, I go to the bar, smile as people call out to compliment the meals or to make jokes . I start to sip my pint and write out some menu ideas.
After the second pint, I go back to the kitchen and turn the light and equipment back on. I start Josh Ritters album, Golden Age of Radio and start to cook and create, writing down what tastes good and what doesn't. This soon becomes my daily routine, me cooking till three or four in the morning after working a full day and during the day trying my best to train the staff on how to actually cook. Feeling the bitter, self imposed pressure, I continue to push, my beard grows haggard, my eyes darken and become red and friends become only a distant memory. For the first time I feel lucky to be single as the only thoughts that would play around my brain are those of food and recipes and more famous and greater chefs, sleep becomes less though it is needed more and I find that only by smoking some pot can I calm my mind down enough to sleep.
Wednesday, two more days until the launch. I wake early, push and pull my tooth brush around my mouth and run down to the pub and the kitchen. Today, my boss is coming by for a test of the food and I want...I need it to be perfect. I start to prep the food, make a plan for the day and with a vigor and enthusiasm pour my fourth coffee as my boss arrives, gives me a hug and we sit down to talk. "You don't look good" she says. Stunned silence on my part, then laughter and I start to talk about the dishes and their inspiration. As with most people I talk about food with, their interest is usually only in the final product and not their provenance, my boss's attention starts to dissipate. One of the cooks start to bring out the dishes one by one, she samples them and lets all the staff around try them and I get all of the feedback but the one person whom I am most interested in their feedback stays silent. Her face straight, not giving away any indication on her feelings, my mind thinks that she hates what I have done and she is just thinking of a way of telling me. Afterwards, she asks the staff if they could handle a lunch without me and soon we are driving away for a coffee and a bite of lunch.
Once our food arrives. She tells me that she loved it and that it was exactly what she thought of when I first described the change of pace in the kitchen but she is worried that the staff could really pull this off. She continues to tell me that I look terrible, I gained weight, look like I hadn't slept in two weeks and she doesn't believe that I would be able to keep this pace up. She tells me that, her and her husbands dream was always, doing the work you love, in a place you love with people you love. She wants me to think about if I am doing this for me or for what I think she and her husband would want. We drive back to the resort, quiet. My eyes catching each tree as we pass, anger and frustration enraging my heart, though I would be able to say why.
That night instead of going back to the kitchen I go for a walk. The rain having left its puddles I stomp through, I grab a cigarette and make my way up and down the streets and past trees and wildlife. My mind races, I know the answer, I know that the staff can't easily pull off the menu but I know that this is a good menu, a great example of modern and fresh pub food. Each step through along the wet pavement brings me closer to the realization that, while I wanted to prove to my boss that I could do this menu that it was actually me that I wanted to prove the I was as good as I thought I was, that my confidence isn't a false sense of bravado, that I was really as good as I thought. I knew what this meant. I summer, glued morning till night in the kitchen, seven days a week, drinking too much coffee, smoking too many cigarettes and pot but waiting for that moment when the fall arrives and guests stop coming, when I can sit back with a satisfaction and a sense of achievement. I did this.