Tiffin Project

Reasons For Leaving

by Jacob Galbraith on September 13, 2013

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Where I’m from, parts of Vancouver Island that are not Victoria, you can get jobs in kitchens, be called a cook, but you can’t really learn to cook. For that, you need to leave. You can move to the aforementioned capital city, or you can take a boat ride to Vancouver.

I middled on the line at resorts and golf courses on the central Island for almost 5 years until my girlfriend dragged me over to Vancouver. My first gig stunk, but I found a better one and actually started to make something of myself in the kitchen. We left Vancouver for Victoria, and the culinary progression continued. Eventually we wound up back in Vancouver, working our tails off and ostensibly succeeding in our chosen fields. I was a Sous Chef for a busy and terrific restaurant. I was on my way to eventually taking the reins.

And then I left.

I had been working a normal amount for someone in my position, somewhere in the vicinity of 60 hours per week, and the demands were taking a toll on my mind and body. My girlfriend and I were seldom together, and when we were, at least one of us was unconscious. You can’t really date a sleeping person, so it could be said that we were in a bit of a limbo; together, but not. My closest friends in the city, outside of the kitchen, lived across the street from where I lived. I almost never saw them. Sure, I had two days off, but the first one was always spent recuperating, while the second one was dedicated catching up with real life and nurturing a relationship that had stagnated.

It became clear that I needed a break, so I booked a ticket to Hawaii and met up with my closest friend in the world. I was free from the bonds of work for 10 days, and my phone wasn’t connected to bother with me with the particulars of operating a busy kitchen. I was so overwhelmed with leisure time that I had difficulties actually utilizing it. I ate and drank, and walked around like any sane cook would do. At one point, my friend and I hiked up a mountain to get a view of the island we were on. He was fit, and I thought I was too. It turns out that I was a shadow of the athlete I was before I started cooking all of the time, and I nearly puked and gave up before I saw the sights. It was both humbling and embarrassing to be in such horrendous physical condition. By the end of the trip I was in a fully relaxed state. It had been my first real vacation as an adult. While that feeling was sweet, I was returning home with some questions about what I had been doing with my life, and where I was headed.

My girlfriend had been experiencing the same ill effects of giving herself away to her job. Our careers were rich, but our personal lives were anemic at best. I explained how I was feeling and she echoed my sentiments. We made a plan to go home, and 6 weeks later we did. We retreated to the Comox Valley, far away from logical career progression and closer to our loved ones.

I’ve always known that the life of a Chef is demanding. As I inched closer to actually being a one, my awareness of the demands increased. I wanted nothing more than to silence my conscience and stay the course. What I couldn’t do, was imagine that path ending with me being happy. I could have been a great chef, but I don’t think I could have been a great man at the same time. The kind of man that has a family, that sees his friends, that pursues passions beyond his work, and is healthy. I’ve known men who can manage that load, but it just isn’t me.

Only now am I realizing what actually matters to me. It turns out that this whole time that I was cooking, I was growing up as well. That means becoming older and fatter, but also becoming more aware of my own needs. I need to be present to be a good partner. I need to be available to share experiences with friends. I need to learn how to brew beer. I need to score goals. I need to be able to hike up a mountain without even considering turning around. I need to do all of that, and more, and I never could if I stayed in Vancouver.

It’s worth mentioning that I have plenty of love in my heart for the job. I just divide my time a little bit differently now. There are only a handful of places in my region that are doing things properly, and I am doing all the pastry work for one of them. I work a true 8 hour day, earn a reasonable wage, and have health benefits. If I work overtime, I get paid appropriately. The trade off is that I’m not surrounded by the same kind of young, driven, and talented people you find in the larger centers. I miss that kind of progressive environment, but not so much that I’m getting back on a boat to be a part of it. Instead I’m faced with all sorts of young cooks who have no intention of leaving to learn, and a bunch of tired old dogs who regret not learning how to do something more lucrative than slaying Eggs Benny every Sunday. I’m scared to death of becoming an Uncle Rico type, a faded character who clings in futility to the glory days. As far as avoiding that goes, I pretty much have to open my own shop. And that brings us back to a tilted work/life scale, which I’m prepared to deal with if it means I can make a decent life for a wife (someday), and some kids (someday later). Then they can climb mountains, score goals, or whatever it is that brings them the most happiness.

~ Jacob Galbraith

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