Last night, as I was digging through my inbox, I found an email from a dear friend who I met in culinary school 6 years ago. Being a lot more shy and insecure back then, my friend and his wife were the first people to connect and care about me at the culinary school. They were immediately embracing and encouraging and made me feel safe in that big school of big toque dreams and fancy Wusthofs.
I had gone to culinary school as a last ditch effort to save my sanity since (I felt) everything else in my life was falling apart. I only stayed for 3 months because the travel was killing me - I was working 7 days a week at two jobs and attending culinary an hour's drive away three nights a week. It was incredibly fun, exhausting to the bone, and I even gained 10 lbs from the stress of it all. But I learned countless lessons, one of which is the very lesson I've converted into my business model here at Kitchener - that learning anything through immersion, application, and through non-judgmental trial and error is the fastest and most intuitive way to learn.
This a letter that came at the right time and I feel it's very appropriate in regards to what we do at Kitchener and the kinds of people we host out of this kitchen. Being someone who very strongly believes in doing what's right for your mind and heart - in the realms of relationships, careers, goals, etc - this letter resonated very well with me, and if I may say so myself, the Kitchener culture as a whole.
LETTER FROM A FRIEND
Good morning Sophia!
I've always believed that good things come to good people, and if that is the case, believe you me, you are staring GREAT things right in the face. I am so proud of all that you are accomplishing with your passion. I hate that I have to watch from afar, but so glad that at least I can. I hope that what you are doing gives you so much happiness, it is well deserved. I really really must plan a trip up to visit as I would love to see Kitchener.
As for me, I've had a bit of an epiphany lately. Since I have left culinary school, I have pretty much done all kinds of things culinary. I still work as a private chef for a very modest family three nights a week, and we still put on cooking classes as well. The classes go over very well but mostly they help me to remember exactly what I learned in culinary school and remind me never to take for granted what I am used to doing everyday. Besides, who doesn't like to share their addictions?! I also still cater, but purely by word of mouth.
In the past 7 or 8 years I seldom ever turn down events, sometimes questioning my own sanity (i.e. a wedding at a winery with no kitchen, no running water, 2 six foot tables; 125 guests, reception, 4 course dinner, and a VERY long ways from where the service was to be held). However, recently I had to decline two catering jobs.
The first came for a theater group that wanted me to cater their grand openings 4 times a year for about 350 people. They had an incredibly tight budget and I wanted to really help out as their current caterer never showed up themselves (just sent workers) and the food was mediocre at best. As I explored more I found out that the caterer had been using pre-packaged (cooked) food and just reheating. I guess this is common practice with caterers but is something I just can't fathom. Sorry, I believe if you're going to serve someone food, it's because you made it from the best ingredients and from the heart, and not something just anyone could buy from the store. Otherwise why are you hiring a chef, right? The people told me that the older members liked some of the food selections and would I keep them on the menu.
I wound up declining the job, which was completely foreign to me. But I learned that I was being asked to do something that I didn't believe in (which is what drove me out of corporate America in the first place) would cause me huge stress regardless of how much I was being paid. It took me a while to get past the feeling that I was being a food snob, the last thing that I ever wanted to be.
Two months later, I had to decline another job. I was asked to do a dinner for a fundraiser for people participating in a race. The person that recommended me really, really wanted to see me get the job. It was dinner for 1500 and they needed it to come in around $9 a person. Since I had been recommended, how could I say no? I talked to a chef mentor about it and worked out a bunch of things - but then it hit me. This wasn't me. This has Armadillo Willy's written all over it. That's what they do, they are set up to do it, and they do that kind of thing very well. Is it great food? Probably not. Would I want to serve anything less than great food? It would make me insane and would eat my insides if I thought I served something to the masses that was anything less than I would make for my best client's small dinner party.
I turned down a fair amount of money... and that can't be right, can it? But then again, that's why I walked away from the tech world. It wasn't the money that caused me to leave these jobs, but doing what I didn't believe in which caused me stress. My wife and I talked at length over the past couple of weeks and she painted a very clear picture of who I am and what I am about, and suddenly it all started to clear up. My chef mentor has always been asking me when I am going to expand, grow, and do different things, like get a food truck. But it has dawned on me how incredibly personal this is to me. If someone is spending their hard earned money to throw a party (celebration most likely) and hiring a chef to do it, then why shouldn't they get something way beyond expectation? To do that, I want to be involved. I could never leave it to someone else.
So I have come to the conclusion (finally) the ONLY types of events I'm willing to cater for are parties for 2- 200 people where everything is made from scratch and where I am accountable for everything. I may not make millions of dollars, but I tell you what I have learned: There is no amount of money that can compare to being bear hugged by the groom's father at his son's wedding.