A Recipe for Success



If there are two rules I have learned to live by, they are: don't be afraid of anything; and don't underestimate yourself. I tend to have a natural aptitude for most things, and so for me these two rules are not too hard to abide. But sometimes, you find yourself so far out of your own element that it becomes hard not to doubt yourself. For me, that time was the period of a few weeks that I began working as a cook at a Japanese restaurant.

Every morning at eight o'clock sharp, I would walk through the front door of the restaurant and shout "Ohayou Gozaimasu," (that's "good morning" in Japanese) to my coworker, Tatsu-san. When really he should have called himself the sous-chef, one of his many rules is that the three of us who worked the morning lunch and prep shift were equals- hence "coworker". Tatsu was a very unique character, and being a middle-aged gay japanese man, it was not very hard to like him instantly. So it happened that with my limited knowledge of Japanese I began to refer amiably to him as Tatsu-hime, or "Princess Tatsu".

Tatsu was immediately impressed with my skills- while they're nothing to sneeze at, his first impression was more likely to do with the fact that I was the first in a long line of replacements who possessed both cooking skills, and a little knowledge of Japanese culture; typically it had been one or the other. As I quickly learned the different sections and recipes I would be responsible for (ie. all of them), Tatsu presented me with a remarkable opportunity. I was to be responsible for next week's lunch special. Besides the obvious cost analysis and consideration of preparation time, there was only one rule, which proved to be a little problematic for me; It had to be Japanese.

Unfortunately for me, Japanese cuisine was something not found in my repertoire of cuilinary expertise, which is mostly limited to North American cuisine like Soul food. But fortunately, I could get away with "Japanese-inspired". And so it was that a week later, the owner was congratulating me on the success of my "Spicy Red-Miso Jambalaya", and one month later (and a couple more specials later), I received a raise in both pay and position.

It was a few weeks after this that my beloved Tatsu-hime gave me the bad news. He had been offered a Job at the best Japanese restaurant in Montreal (to which we were the runner-up). It was impossible for him not to take this. While I was sad to see him go, I was excited because of what it meant for me. For some many reasons (general incompetence or laziness seeming to be the predominant ones) Tatsu was the only person in the restaurant who could efficiently fulfill both the cuilinary and administrative duties. Even Chef had problems keeping track of his staff. Consequently, in the weeks leading up to Tatsu's bittersweet farewell, I was trained again for one final time on absolutely everything.

I should also note that I had been the one exception in the long-and-ongoing line of replacements, as within my first month I had already trained three people who, for one reason or another, had come and gone. In other words, I was no stranger to responsibility at the restaurant. When Tatsu's last day arrived, we said goodbye. As he ceremoniously handed me the keys to the restaurant, it became official: I was the new sous-chef -- but only for a week.

The owner of the restaurant, despite having faith in my abilities, didn't feel comfortable putting so much responsibility and pressure into the hands and onto the shoulders of someone as young as I am. To help with the restaurant's transition, he hired a friend of his with cuilinary certifications and expertise greater than my own to become the new sous-chef. It fell on me to train him, as the most experienced person in the position available at the time. After the training was complete, I found that in the following weeks we took on the role together. I felt as though a weight had been lifted; I still was able to enjoy the authority and duties that the position entailed, but I was free from the pressure that such responsibilites tend to carry with them. To this day, however, I still do carry a small amount of the responsibility -- the keys to the restaurant in my back pocket.

Leave a comment