What's a chef to do?
You fell in love with cooking as a kid, and found heroes on television cooking shows. Or you discovered the professional kitchen at fifteen or sixteen, or maybe lied your way in at a younger age. Maybe you just wanted spending money. Maybe you began as a dishwasher. Or maybe you discovered the joys of cooking in a college job and eventually, inevitably, detoured to a culinary life. However you got there, the pro kitchen felt like home. And so you became a cook. And then a chef, or you were on your way.
The kitchen is all you know. Not just the place, but the life.
Over time, you’ve reprogrammed natural human biorhythms to track the vampiric arc of a restaurant’s daily cycle. You like the flow—the meditative prep hours, the adrenaline rush of service, the late-night gabfests and wind-downs.
But then the industry was decimated by an ongoing pandemic. Scores of restaurants called it quits in your city or town; others are on life support, or at the monthly mercy of a landlord’s thinning goodwill. When the smoke clears, for the foreseeable future, there will be fewer restaurants, many operating with drastically reduced capacities, which means fewer jobs or shifts for the taking.
But the kitchen is all you know.
Your skills don’t translate to another profession. Nor does your chosen educational path—you may have attended culinary school, but you probably didn’t go to college. You went all in, and never looked back.
To paraphrase Al Pacino in Heat: “You don’t know how to do anything else … you don’t much want to, either.”
Those who aren’t lucky enough to find conventional restaurant work now and in the months, if not years, to come, or to revivify their own businesses, will need to be nimble in order to continue cooking for a living. They may not be obvious, or obviously rewarding, but there are ways to keep cooking, or new directions to take your passion, whether for a few months, or until the existential moment has passed.