I suppose if I had stayed with 1 employer for years instead of jumping from one job to the next, I would have had a more impressive CV and rose in the ranks of the kitchen hierarchy. But that wasn’t my goal to begin with anyway. My goal was to learn, and learn fast.

I have changed the names of establishments and people to avoid any trouble (chismis – that is, gossip). While some of my stints were an awesome peek into the hell-raising world of stress as wonderfully portrayed in movies and shows like those of Gordon Ramsay  (cuss-shouting, plate-throwing, and bin-kicking chef’s who could not keep their shit together because their reputations were on the line), my personal experience of the culinary world was left wanting.

Oh, Gordon… (Photo not mine)

Let’s take a look at your regular office job in the corporate world: banking, finance, real estate, what have you. I’ve never had one, but I assume it can get quite boring at times: punching numbers, making calls and reports, attending meetings. Well, kitchen jobs can get pretty fucking boring too. But I didn’t know that back then, I envisioned a chef’s life to be one of excitement and artistic work.

The most common reason I left my jobs was boredom. I’m not saying all kitchen jobs are boring, some are very hard and fun at the same time, but in my particular case – most were.

They weren’t challenging enough. I was impatient, I wanted to learn everything right away but just because you wanted to, doesn’t mean you got to. I was spoiled, but it worked to my advantage in the long run.

In comes my first real job at the Blue-Footed Booby Grill: I was pretty damn excited and ready to work hard and excel at whatever was thrown my way. I was assigned to the Seafood section, which I didn’t mind at all. It took me a short time to master the dishes that came from my section. It was an easy seafood menu with quick and simple cooking techniques: Pan Frying, Roasting and En Papillote (wrapped in paper and cooked in the oven, ergo, steamed and poached in it’s own juices).

It was so easy that everyday I had about 3 to 4 hours of “free time,” in between lunch and dinner. By “free time,” I don’t mean I could leave the kitchen and go watch a movie or go home, I mean I had to be there but do nothing but clean and disinfect the benches and chiller spaces. It was painfully monotonous.

The all-too-familiar stainless steel surfaces that most professional kitchens use. (Photo not mine)

Day in and day out, I did exactly the same thing at prep time: cut the same vegetables, scaled the same fish, filleted them, made and portioned the sauces, and cleaned my work area.

Lunch and dinner service were exciting enough: dockets coming in, orders piling up, mind shutting off while the body goes into auto-pilot from the training – multi-tasking with the pressure at service time was always fun.

In the half year I was there, the only different day I remember is the time I dropped my knife on my foot – it wouldn’t stop bleeding so I was sent home before my shift ended and someone filled in for me.

Unfortunately, the Blue-Footed Booby Grill was not a super popular place – it was never packed, so we were never swamped with guests and orders. I would recommend it though: good food, good quality, good standards. The chef was also very nice (although I was looking more for a Gordon Ramsay type, to be honest) and never gave me any trouble.

Typical stove-top burners, pots and pans. (Photo not mine)

One noteworthy difficulty: there existed a gaping language barrier between me and all the other staff. My Filipino was terrible, and no one else spoke English well except for the Head Chef and the Sous Chef. Everyone could hear from the way I spoke on my first day that I wasn’t a native Filipino speaker.

I didn’t know how to count to 100 or even tell the damn time (in Spanish) the same way most Filipinos did – WTF, right? I didn’t know the words for chopping board, funnel, tweezers, scale or any of the other dozens of kitchen terms I would need to fully communicate in a Filipino kitchen.

What a lack of foresight, honestly. I should have taught myself beforehand to save myself from the ridicule, pain and exclusion.

As you can imagine, some of the staff used me to take the humdrum routine out of their boring days: jokes, insults, banter, condescension – all under the guise of friendly chatter, surely, something not uncommon to Filipino culture. It was completely unexpected. It was my first real immersive experience to work with people who didn’t English as their first language. I had classmates in high school and college that preferred to speak Filipino, but I either simply spoke to them in English or never engaged them much.

I came into the Blue-Footed Booby Grill thinking we would all treat each other equally, with respect. Hardly any of them went to culinary school: most started off washing dishes and mopping floors, then becoming a kitchen assistant, then a cook. And I have great respect people who really made it work out for themselves. My father is one of them.

Having started from the bottom must have given them a thick sense of pride, enough to look down on any and all anak mayaman – (“rich kids”) children of affluent parents who, suddenly, were on par or had an even higher position than them because of money and education. I can see why there was some bitterness and resentment.

I lived through it well enough. I learned to cook their food and speak the language, which I am very grateful for. This job shed light on the many inadequacies I had which never came to my attention.

I divided this post to make up several parts of a series. Continue reading here, for the next part.

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Something I made recently – Curried Cauliflower with Quinoa, Chickpeas, Lentils and Yogurt.

2 Thoughts on “4 Years in the Life of a Line Cook (Part 1)”

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