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Mise En Place



   Growing up, school doesn’t really teach us what life is really going to be like once we graduate. Especially mine where I had to waste my time reading and memorizing bible verses, and hearing the ramblings of the deadbeat that I had for a principal. The man was really a cocksucker, but enough about that corrupt fuck. I took a year off after high school to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life, but at that point, I still didn’t really know. I was a young adult with many interests in life, but not enough discipline to stick with it. I was a chubby kid all my life, so I decided that I do have a love for food. Not knowing much about the industry, but being a fan of Gordon Ramsay, I decided to enroll myself into culinary school.    

The beauty about culinary school was that it's the type of education where misfits, lost souls, creative minds, and those who want to turn their lives around go. If the industry was a music genre, it was definitely punk rock.  I can tell that at that point in my life, there was where I belonged. At 19 years old, I met a group of people that are in love with drugs and alcohol the same way I did. I was in my element, baby! Class was basically hanging out with your friends, reading recipes, and just cooking the dish that was assigned to you. I was passing all my exams, and all of my projects every week. It was the first time in my life where I felt that I was good at something.     

I saw an opportunity to work at an Italian restaurant in my hometown of Aguadilla while I was still in school, and I was more than excited about it. Italian cuisine was my favorite growing up, and it was what I wanted to learn. I applied, and I got the job. The chef sounded really welcoming, and I start the next day at 7 in the morning on a Saturday. It was their grand opening, and I felt honored to be a part of the beginning stages of that restaurant. I walked in with my chef coat and my knife set, and I was ready for the start of my journey as a cook. The chef had a welcoming demeanor, and had me deshelling lobsters for the ravioli that they had on the menu that night. Hours have passed, and I was still deshelling them. My hands blistered and filled with cuts. I kept going, because I felt it was an opportunity of a lifetime. Later that day, I was wondering what time I was going to clock out at. No word from the chef, and I haven’t eaten anything since it was five in the afternoon. Dinner started at six.    

The chef told me to get my “mise en place” ready for service. Mise en place means everything is put in its place. This is where I felt that I was out of my own place. The chef goes into the bathroom, for a very long time actually, and comes out guns blazing. I later realized that he was high on cocaine. Yelling and screaming at us as soon as the first ticket printed. I felt bad for the sous chef, because he was the real star of that show. The sous chef was cooking these beautiful dishes while dodging the saute pans that the chef was throwing at him. It was ten at night, and I still didn’t have anything to eat. I was even afraid to leave the line to get a sip of water. I couldn’t take it anymore by two in the morning, so I just walked out of the kitchen, and never showed up again. It was the first time in my life where I cried myself to sleep, because I felt like a failure once again.    

I was still in school, and even though my spirit was broken, I still showed up. My passion was gone, because I saw the ugliness of the business. By the end of the curriculum, they sent us out to the restaurants that we were assigned to intern at. They sent me to this resort that was very popular. Still being jaded by my past experiences, I just wanted to get it over with. I met my chef, who was intimidating as fuck. The day I met him, it was the day before I started officially. He assigned me to shadow one of the prep cooks. I could hear the prep cook in the background yelling at whatever he messed up in.    

So I started, and the cranky prep cook asked for my name. As I answered, he immediately forgot my name and started calling me by female names. One day I was Stacy, and the other day I was Sarah. The man was mysterious, but he kept showing me all these techniques from fileting fish to prepping the potato mousse. He was telling me about the Michelin star restaurants that he worked at from Chicago to New York City. I was curious about him being in that resort in a small island town, and asked him why? He looked out the window where the ocean view was and said “Because of that.”. As he paused while he contemplated his life choices, he snapped out of it and yelled “Get back to work!”. The man fell in love with the ocean, and surfed anytime he was free. He described it as “Dancing with water.”, and it was all he thought about.         Months went by, and working there was just another part of my day. I was still excited to not cook anymore, but I was also excited to learn from my mentor and the chef. In a weird way, I started to look up to the prep cook, because I felt that he understood what was important in life, and it was just the simplicity of enjoying things. He paid his bills with the little work he did at the restaurant, fed his two pitbulls when he got home, and then surfed. I was invited to have a drink with him after work one day (the legal drinking age is eighteen), and I didn’t want to pass that opportunity up to get to know him outside of the kitchen. The man had great taste in whiskey, and got me into The Macallan scotch whiskey. As he took a sip of his drink, I asked “What made you want to be a chef, and if you’re angry all the time, why do you stick to it?”, he answered, “I tried many different careers. I was even a vet tech. Cooking is a part of me that doesn’t want to leave. You will realize that you will always come back to it even though you are sick of it.”. Those words hit me the hardest. I didn’t want to be as miserable as him, but I was addicted to the adrenaline of the dinner rush.    

A couple of months passed, and I was finishing my internship, and I was ready to graduate. I cooked my last dish, shook my chef’s hand as he told me to not be a stranger, and I went on my way. I kept in contact with the prep cook after I was finished, but that faded away as time went on. Over the years, I kept getting sucked back into the restaurant life, because I am a psychopath just like my mentors. Ten years later, I’ve realized that I still don’t know what I am doing with my life as I am writing this, but I do know one thing. Everything will be put in its place. Mise en place. 

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