Critic-Turned-Cook Bounces a Reality Check
When I first started down this crazy path, radically turning the tables from being a restaurant critic to trying to cook, I took a vow: If this thing was going to work, it had to be fun. If I made money, well…that was just gravy.
But half a year into this adventure, I’m having a financial freak out. Maybe it has something to do with the six-month anniversary of the newspaper I wrote for folding, which led to a dramatic decline in my bank account. My once-healthy nest egg now looks like something you'd find perched on top of a piece of sushi. My mortgage is underwater and I'm bailing as fast as I can. Oh, yeah, and I just found out my husband's identity has been jacked.
If it sounds like I'm weeping into my PBR, I’m sorry. I don't want to be a buzz killer. I’ve been doing my best to try and stay positive during this economic downturn. It helps that I’m not alone in my funk.
Many of the cooks I've met hustle constantly, working two, even three jobs to make the rent. I've overheard guys borrowing money from fellow workers to stretch their wages to the next payday. ("I think the landlord likes it when I’m late with the rent because I have to pay a penalty," one guy confided.) If life in the professional kitchen is bloody hard and the pay's not great, why do people do it? I guess it's because they're good at it and they can’t imagine doing anything else.
Me? I’m still in the prep cook pay range. I can't even imagine a time when the boss is going to pull me aside and say, "You’ve been busting your ass, I’m going to give you a raise!"
In these challenging economic times, it seems like it’s not enough to have a Plan B. You’ve got to be creative and come up with a Plan C, D and E, too. So, along with my efforts to sharpen my knife skills, to work more efficiently, and contribute whenever I can, I’ve loaded my plate with a bunch of other projects—including one that actually pays enough to keep that bank account from going completely into the red. Right now, I’m working the equivalent of four jobs, but they’re all fun. I'm sticking with my goal of wringing the most I can out of each experience. When I focus on that, it’s hard to keep singing the blues.
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been working in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com and has just launched a story-telling project for Northstar Winery following one wine from the vine to the table.