Tiffin Project

Selling Out – Part 1

by Jacob Galbraith on August 15, 2011

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I’m a large doses kind of guy, which isn’t always good. I’m lucking that hard drugs never found their way into my bloodstream, because I’d be the dead kind of drug addict, for sure. I either do something exclusively for years, like obsess over pop punk as an angsty middle class teenager, or pour myself into something entirely for a month or two, like the last few months when I tried my hand at selling the fuck out.

The last time you heard from this voice I was surrendering to an internal dialogue that was initially voiced by someone stern and trustworthy, like Peter Mansbridge, but eventually morphed into something manic and irate, like Gilbert Gottfried. I was at the end of a 6 month decline, a line cook in distress, wounded, bitter, and suffering from third degree burnout. I couldn’t think about professional cooking without imploding, so writing about the joys and perils of it just wasn’t an option. I went from full time hardcore to part time softcore, but the change of pace and scenery didn’t solve much at all. I was really lost for a while, but I’m now somewhere new where there’s a certain familiarity that reminds me of a sweeter time when I wasn’t at my wit’s end with food and cooking. That said, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t been where I was a little over a month ago. Somewhere, as legend has it, that cooks go to die. Restaurant cooks, anyway. I took a job at a hotel.

I suppose I should let you all in on how that happened. My girlfriend, or in line cook terms, “breadwinner”, is in the middle of climbing a corporate ladder, and it turns out that further advancement meant we’d be packing up her nice things and my DVD collection to set up shop in Vancouver. A few weeks prior to our arrival, I met a guy who worked at one of the swankiest hotels in the city, who took advantage of my intoxicated state and threw a hell of a sales pitch. The kind, I’m assuming, that a lot of restaurant cooks have bit hard on before me. He told me about the money, which is as close to a grown up wage as I’ve ever seen, and also of the other perks: health benefits, discounts at other hotels, a kind-hearted and talented chef, and an 8 hour work day complete with lunch breaks. I asked about the food, and I remember hearing something to the effect of “It’s better than everybody says it is”. In this case, “everybody” represents restaurant cooks, who are notorious for slandering hotel cooks. We exchanged numbers and names, he called himself “Hotel Guy”, shook hands and parted ways. I woke up the next day, and instead of feeling dirty and ashamed like I should have, I thought about “the future”.

What followed was a bizarre courtship that involved a really limited “stage”, or tryout, that required me to stand around and do little else but peel carrots and trim other vegetables. The tour was terrifying. There were more cooks spread across 2 floors of kitchen than I’d worked with in my entire 7 year career, which is approximately 70, or 65 more names than I can be counted on to remember. I eventually met Chef who lived up to his reputation. He’s a decorated cook and a very kind man, so I filed that away in a very empty “pros” list; the “cons” list was heaving. I left baffled by what I had seen, but not enough to tarnish the idea of a big fat paycheck. I declared my intention to work there and heard back from them the next day, at which point I was asked to fill out a wholly redundant and vaguely insulting questionnaire. This is where the whole hiring process truly deviated from what I had grown accustomed to, which was essentially a handshake/introduction/10 hours of chaos and constant observation, a handshake, maybe a beer, and an offer of a meagre wage and quality experience.

Apparently that strangeness wasn’t enough to grant me employment. I was then required to sit through a handful of interviews with a variety of professionally appropriate personalities. I did what I could to cover up any evidence of previous damage, and deftly avoided touching upon my recent hard times. Somehow I managed to say enough of the “right things” to merit an offer for the position of “PT First Cook” at a starting wage of “More than you’ve ever made before.”, on the condition that I keep my beard tidy, which was a pretty difficult concession to make given that the Canucks were balls deep in a playoff run of epic proportions. I signed, went home, and took the clippers to my face, crying on the inside while humming “Taps”.

Before I’d get to set foot in any one of the many kitchens they had, I first had to endure 16 hours of company ordered orientation, for which this little line cook was required to dress business casual. This experience was the cherry on top of the strange fucking sundae. Complete with combed hair and tidy beard, I sat amongst a wide variety of hotel employees (a couple cooks, servers, bellmen, doormen, valets, engineers, etc.), ate the free pastries, and drank the Kool Aid. I counted down the hours until I would be freed from the forced and awkward interaction, and paid the minimum required amount of attention, which was slightly higher than I expected thanks to a cunning HR personality obsessed with administering the corporate dope via extensive audience participation. We watched numerous videos starring employees from across the globe, who all spoke the company tongue. They seemed truly happy to work for the company, but I didn’t trust their wide eyes and perfect smiles for a second; they were obviously Cylons. It took an awful lot of will power to keep my independent spirit at bay, because the whole thing felt exactly like a brainwashing session, and I wanted absolutely no part of it. Hotel Guy contacted me afterwards and said, “Remember, you’ll still be in a kitchen after this.”, meaning that I should be far more comfortable in my whites instead of business casual. He was wrong.

Check back in a few days for the thrilling conclusion.

~ Jacob Galbraith


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Leaner August 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm

My mind is stammering and I’m biting my nails in anticipation for the conclusion!

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