Wilde Beest
Serious Food. Serious Drinks. No Serious People.
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Pages from a Chef

#3

 Chris perfects a sauce.

Chris perfects a sauce.

Burnout is real. 

I am in a constant state of assessment asking myself what I have left to give to the restaurant, my team, my family and if there's anything left… myself. 

Sometimes I question what drives me, why wake up early, why stay late, why do I agonize over every detail of service, every nuance of each plate. Why is it all so personal, bound in emotion, imperative and insistent? 

I made a lot of mistakes when I was a young man, I was angry, misguided, and lacking any coherent sense of self. I looked in a lot of the wrong places for myself and came pretty close to taking roads best not traveled. The universe acted on my behalf I think… and I found myself in a kitchen. 

The kitchen is one of the last true meritocracies, theres always a job someone doesn’t want to do, a shift someone doesn’t want to take, a supervisor who’s worn a bit thin or fed up or just apathetic. Theres opportunity, you can go as far as you are willing to work to get. I had more energy than I needed, it was burning me inside out and when I found this outlet, I saw no ceiling. I was not a talented cook, I’m still not. I work next to people all the time who are faster, more technically correct, more consistent and often have attitudes. I just wanted this, I wanted to go somewhere, do something, be somebody. 

It became an obsession, my idols were the hardest cooks, the fastest knives, the tightest stations, the most knowledgeable chefs, the best run restaurants. I wanted to be the hardest, the fastest, the tightest, the most knowledgeable, and I wanted to run the best restaurant.

I know some people who became extraordinarily talented in a very short amount of time, gifted naturally with a superb palate and raised in households that immersed them in food culture from the outset, these naturals ran world class kitchens in their 20’s. 

Not me. I have been cooking for more than 15 years, in that time, I have rarely worked less than 80 hour weeks… working two years in a single year by most peoples estimations. By normal human math you could argue I have nearly 30 years of regular kitchen work and I still consider myself a neophyte. Every single day I am humbled by an ingredient, a mistake, a particularly knowledgeable customer or just by opening a book. Sometimes its hard to imagine anyone would ever call themselves a chef given the mastery it connotes and the incredible breadth of knowledge in the world of food. 

After all this time I am finally in a position to really create. After so many years in the orchestra pit I am now finally the conductor. 

Its a straight shot of terror and delight. 

Every plate I create has the potential to fill me with satisfaction or drive me to despair… It never feels like theres enough time in the day to be sure which. I didn’t have it at first, but as time has gone on, this job has become about giving people experiences that delight them… I am as concerned for their joy as my own and the pressure and the pleasure has deepened for sharing this with my guests. 

This brings me back the the issue at hand, burnout. Theres only so much in there to give, everyone needs a little, for themselves and for the people that love them to feel loved back (this includes my staff). I was never a natural, and frankly not destined to be good at this. I showed up, I played hard, I shortchanged my personal life, burned bridges, stayed up late studying, lost friends and relationships and kept on this until things were different. Now, to a certain degree some would say I have arrived. For me it feels like it has finally just begun. I think I am writing this here for me, and for you, to remind us of both worlds. 

For all my passion I would never have made it this far without my family, my loved ones, my teams, my friends. That part of my journey is every bit as important as the skills I’ve learned and the success its allowing. Thats where burnout really burns. No matter how smart, how talented or how successful, nobody does this alone. I can’t, and you can’t, forget about the people that make it all possible, that inspire, that support, that encourage. Those are the things that you can’t succeed without, and when you go down, they go down too. Don’t forget to play with your dog, hug your waiter, kiss your wife in the morning and every now and then sneak off and go fishing. The prep will get done, the kitchen will get cleaned, and the bills will get paid, those things only stop when you do. 

Take care of yourself,

CT