Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Chef seeking post-illness advice


xochi74
 Share

Recommended Posts

I am a recently graduated culinary student.

I have been ill for 14 months with AIDS, Cancer, Pneumonia, and when things were looking good, Appendicitis.

It has been an uphill battle. Yet I drove on, I had to. I must be a chef dammit!

I never gave up on graduation. I had to just finish my general education courses, and focus on healing.

Upon graduation a new restaurant hotel in my city hired me.

The place is full of alumni from Alinea, the French Laundry, Craft (NYC) and numerous top haunts in the five state region.

I am honored to be included in this cast of 30 out of 600 applicants.

Prior to my illness I worked for a local French Restaurant, and did a great job holding my own.

Post Illness:

I realized that the simplest tasks: making perfect brunoise took me forever, that I move like a snail, that I am taking a mélange of supplement/medications, to get back in the fold.

Health wise I am 75% percent there; having been out of practice, my basics require a review.

I pulled out the books, started studying ahead.

I took it upon myself to write my boss a letter, detailing my own concerns. He cried. I had reminded him of a friend of his who had passed on.

I was touched, and at once he had my loyalty. This guy is a genius. I am learning so much in regards to MG techniques.

He told me he was going to treat me like everyone else. Sink or swim.

So be it. I believe in Meritocracy.

With all the chaos of opening a new restaurant, we are daily making huge improvements.

I come to work knives sharp. A bain marie full of spoons, fish spats, et al, a mélange of pans.

My prep list pre formatted, all I have to do is set up, and focus. I roast my bones. I make diamond shaped brunoise, or they morph into paysanne. I do it slow it comes together.

WTF? I square the damn thing off. Got rid of the imperfect angled Japanese Slicer I was using, and finally just did it with my French knife.

I found a technique that works. Do what Julia Child did. I watched film of her, and it hit me.

I am wondering if there are other chefs out there who dealt with illness, bounced back only to realize that in a restaurant they are slow. That they had to rebuild skill sets, that it took a little longer to do little things?

I know you are out there, I worked for an HIV Positive chef, and he inspired me to cook.

He’s never been sick though. I nearly died on 3 separate occasions.

Cooking is pure Zen for me. It got me through the roughest of times. I remember one day carving up some venison that my neighbor gave me, and as sick as I was I cut and sliced, and cried.

I used my studies, my passion; my life’s calling to get healthier. I struggled, I used a chair, I always made my own pasta from scratch, I can make any sauce, but my knife skills just are not perfect.

So I am striving for perfection. I will do whatever it takes to get healthier. I will cut vegetables for 3 hours a day.

It doesn't matter. If I get fired; fine. But they can't take away my passion. I earned this degree.

All said and done I get nervous I am putting myself under pressure to succeed; I am walking on eggshells.

My boss is great the Sous’ are tough as nails and smart as hell.

I realize having been sick is one thing. Having total passion for my career is another.

I know what I am made of. Perhaps I need to just keep practicing. I will never give up.

I will just keep striving to get better.

My strength is returning.

I tip my glass to any person who struggled through harsh circumstances only to bounce back and the best in their respective kitchens.

I believe in mind over matter. I may not be fast but I am determined!

What are some ways that others have dealt with issues of stamina while cooking? Has anyone been in a similar situation and how did your boss accommodate your health limitations?

I am humbled and focused, knives at the ready.

[Host note: This topic has been edited for clarity with the permission of the author ~Gfron1]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't have the life experience to offer any insight beyond what you have already found yourself. You have passion, focus, technical skill and will, and that combination will take you far. Good communication with your colleagues and supportive superiors will validate if you are doing right by the standards that are set or if you have to compensate somehow or push to reach standards that aren't being met.

I guess the only advice I have is go ahead and aim for perfection, but if you do not achieve it, do not let frustration from imperfection distract you from pursuing your passion. "Perfection" is a relative term more often than not.

If this was just any job, I imagine that life priorities reach far beyond getting a paycheck. But since this your life's passion, I say find fulfillment in your cooking and strength in your abilities, but know that you are more than your physical capabilities.

Thank you for sharing your story. I tip my glass to you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't have the life experience to offer any insight beyond what you have already found yourself. You have passion, focus, technical skill and will, and that combination will take you far. Good communication with your colleagues and supportive superiors will validate if you are doing right by the standards that are set or if you have to compensate somehow or push to reach standards that aren't being met.

I guess the only advice I have is go ahead and aim for perfection, but if you do not achieve it, do not let frustration from imperfection distract you from pursuing your passion. "Perfection" is a relative term more often than not.

If this was just any job, I imagine that life priorities reach far beyond getting a paycheck. But since this your life's passion, I say find fulfillment in your cooking and strength in your abilities, but know that you are more than your physical capabilities.

Thank you for sharing your story.  I tip my glass to you.

I had 3 open heart surgeries, 13 electropsyiology studies, 14 catherizations, 2 T.E.E. 's and now a pace maker/defib combo my friend. There are days when i want to quit but i dont. I found that people saying i cant or could not do things because of this condition i have that is rare, actually helped me. When my body and mind wanted to quit, i said no and then usually passed up most in the kitchen who said i cant, then i lead the crew. A title and a name on my chef coat. I say this not to boast, i say this to help you because no one really understood me. I know the feeling. Just keep @ the pace and path you are on my friend and i am sure you will be the man left standing. I admire your courage, bravery, strength, and heart. I can promise that the obsticals you face day to day just to come in to work, will only prove as your catalyst in the end. You are a good man.

:)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am not a chef but I ride show jumpers, an extremely physically demanding profession with the same kind of muscle memory/dexterity/strength demands I assume your kitchen skills require.

Twice in the last four years I ended up with a PICC line installed for malnutrition. (I picked up a bad ulcer causing bug, which ulcer was constantly over-healing my esophagus shut. After eight seperate endoscopies with dilation, and at least ten hospitals stays of varying lengths, it was finally correctedly surgically a month ago.)

The truth is I was not able to perform to my past capacity for a long time after each serious bout. The skills were there but it took a while for my body to catch up. How long depends on the individual, I guess.

The issue that would worry me (assuming your health is your priority) is that it's more important for you to work without consistently over-extending yourself, no matter how much you want to be in this kitchen.

I hope you find the right balance for you, wherever it is. Take care.

“Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!”
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your tenacity is to be admired and I compliment you for that. But, as the Devil's advocate, I must say the issues that jump off the page is your admission of being HIV positive and your less than perfect knife skills. I'm sure there are positions that would accommodate your special situation.

Edited by GordonCooks (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having suffered a major heart attack and being diagnosed with MS within a couple year period pretty much ended my career. Not only the loss of mobility effected my kitchen skills but the MS effected my ability to multi-task. A much needed skill in a professional kitchen.

Yet each individual and case is different. My advise would be not to quit and give it your best shot. That's all anybody can ask of you. And you of yourself.

Robert R

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You say that your endurance it building - are you able to finish a busy shift? What about a slow shift? Did your docs suggest exercises that might help with endurance? What about working mornings v. nights until you're there - is there a difference for you?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You are to be commended on your dedication to your passion. I wish you all the best of luck as you get back up to speed. You sound like someone who can win the battle over illness. However, I do have to agree that being HIV positive and having less-than-perfect knife skills (at the moment) is somewhat worrisome. I have a relative who's a surgeon, who is completely healthy, and even though he is at the top of his profession he admits that about once a year he accidentally punctures a finger with a needle while performing surgery. If he had a disease that could be transmitted by blood, he could easily be sued for malpractice. I'm not a scientific expert, so I'm not sure whether your condition could potentially pose any threat to anyone else at your restaurant. Just be careful. I really don't want to be a naysayer here--your words really inspired and moved me. But do be sure there's no possibility you could be putting others at any sort of risk.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You are to be commended on your dedication to your passion.  I wish you all the best of luck as you get back up to speed.  You sound like someone who can win the battle over illness.  However, I do have to agree that being HIV positive and having less-than-perfect knife skills (at the moment) is somewhat worrisome.  I have a relative who's a surgeon, who is completely healthy, and even though he is at the top of his profession he admits that about once a year he accidentally punctures a finger with a needle while performing surgery.  If he had a disease that could be transmitted by blood, he could easily be sued for malpractice.  I'm not a scientific expert, so I'm not sure whether your condition could potentially pose any threat to anyone else at your restaurant.  Just be careful.  I really don't want to be a naysayer here--your words really inspired and moved me.  But do be sure there's no possibility you could be putting others at any sort of risk.

HIV dies as soon as it exits the body.

According to HACCP regs it is perfectly safe.

I would never have spent thousands of dollars if it were not. It was bad luck on my part to become ill in the middle of college after my core cooking classes were done. Just English, Spanish, a research paper, and an internship. I was so sick on some days that I could not climb a flight of stairs. Yet you bring up food and I lit up.

Why is it that the subject that puts me in my best place and opens me up to new ideas, is my greatest physical challenge?

Life is funny. Healthwise I am at a crossroads. Healing but not fast enough. Everyday I go to work, I am more efficient. I make sure this place runs more smoothly every day. I back up the cooks. prep two days ahead, prep all catering.

Somehow I am finding my knife skills. (Just got a sweet Masahiro)

My main point is this: we are the masters of our own realities. 3 years ago I was a terror in the kitchen. I could hold my own. I had fire in my belly, and being an ex-soldier, I am no stranger to battle.

Being sick was the greatest battle ever. I am winning, yet exhausted, tenacious, yet cautious.

I am the Phoenix, rising from the ashes, just opening it's eyes. I have some sweet Japanese knives.

We all have our challenges. Those of us who have suffered, and risen up. We are the strongest people.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You say that your endurance it building - are you able to finish a busy shift?  What about a slow shift?  Did your docs suggest exercises that might help with endurance?  What about working mornings v. nights until you're there - is there a difference for you?

Our shifts go from noon-1 am. 5 days a week. The kitchen never closes.

I am a VA Patient. It seems that all they do is issue me pills. Talking new ideas is a challenge.

I am doing Yoga.

I also requested a reduction of hours. Time and a half is good, but healing comes first.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 9 months later...
Why is it that the subject that puts me in my best place and opens me up to new ideas, is my greatest physical challenge?

I feel like this about my career. I am not really a chef, though kitchen work has always paid my bills and it is a big passion of mine. The thing I am in school for, though, is investigative psychology. Resistance has come from all sides, not least of which because I am blind and mentally ill. The hell with that, I am going to succeed at it no matter what, and you will succeed at your career, too. You are doing what needs to be done and it sounds like your skills are coming back, slowly but surely. I admire you. Keep fighting, no matter what.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...