A chef with over 15 years of experience got in touch with us this week, we wanted to share this as a way of opening up a conversation that a lot of us are having at the moment. And that conversation is around feeling rusty, plunging back into an environment that you’ve been away from for a year. You’re not alone, ever and by sharing stories and talking about how we are getting on we can only help each other. The chef has asked to remain anonymous.
So it’s the 17th of May and we’re back in action. I’m in an hour early and the head chef has already got duck fat melting ready to confit some duck legs. I’m nervous and excited at the same time, the team is working 5 doubles which means we’ll start at 8am and won’t be getting out until gone eleven. But who then again who cares? We’ve had a year off. And if ever there was a time to dig deep, it’s now.
As the day goes on, I find myself getting really stressed and things start to go wrong. I manage to overcook my potatoes, split an entire batch of bernaise, undercook a piece of fish and then burn my hands, over and over again. I feel like a jittery mess, is it just me?
By the end of my shift, I’m an absolutely drained and all I can think is that I’ve got to be back in tomorrow and I’m dreading it.
The week goes on and I still feel rusty, the voice in my head keeps reminding me of what it was like for the past year. The cycle is in full swing, late nights, early starts, no life and
no energy. My gym routine is out the window, my daily walk seems impossible and all I want to do is eat junk out of a lack of time. On my day off I slept, my feet felt like they were pulsating, why do I feel so unfit?
I know restaurants are struggling, it’s like Christmas on speed at the moment, the kitchen and front of house is full of new faces too which is not a bad thing. It just slows everything down, I should be setting an example but even I feel like a novice again.
Instead of keeping this in and going round in circles in my own head I decide to speak to my Head Chef. I said I was struggling and felt fearful of failing, I said I wasn’t sure if this was for me anymore and I don’t know what else I could do. It was as though this conversation instantly unwound me, my shoulders felt like they were up to my ears. My chef shared that even he was feeling similar and felt a lot of pressure. We spoke about having regular check ins and monitoring our energy levels. My chef reassured me that this wasn’t going to be the norm and reiterated how important the team is so we put proactive steps in place:
The daily doubles are only for the first two weeks, which I can get on board with.
Healthier staff food as a priority
Mandatory breaks with fresh air, even if it means stripping one dish off of the menu
Having regular check-ins
I didn’t expect that, it was almost as though the head chef needed to talk too, we’ve worked together for years and never spoken so bluntly with each other about how we feel. It felt weird but it lifted a weight off my shoulders.
The next couple of days were like clockwork, my section was boxed, the food was coming out beautiful and the team started to help each other a bit more. So, the difference between me before lockdown and the difference after is that I would’ve internalised this instead of speaking about it. I am only sharing this as a way of encouraging you to do the same, I love my work so much and the thought of having to leave fills me with dread. Workplace culture is so important, we’ve all got to work together.
Now I only wish it would stop raining so I could actually sit outside on my break!
Photo by Steve Ryan @_steveryan_