I am, for all intents and purposes, a fraud. I have always had this feeling deep in my gut and I am always waiting for someone to wrench it out of me and force a confession; that I don’t know what I’m doing, that everyone is more skilled and talented than me, even the commis chef, and that it is only a matter of time until the game is up, I’m found out and my true face revealed. It came as quite a surprise when after sending over my hesitant CV, that I were later offered a trial shift at a Michelin starred restaurant and the most highly decorated and known restaurant in the county. It must have been a mistake, they must be idiots or just plain desperate to even consider letting a fraudster into their tight operation of fine dining. The only consolation is it would offer an end for me, a sacrificial moment where I plunge myself into my own downfall and can be over with the charade of being a chef. It should be known that from the point organising my trial shift to the day of the trial, I were shitting myself. I could feel my nerves work their way up my oesophagus with the burning, wretched sensation of when you are about to vomit. I could be nerves fill up my tear ducts and I could feel them in my sweat glands as they would seep out of my pores and leave a trail behind me. I wake up on the day of my trial and my anxieties are already awake, they didn’t get any sleep, they were waiting throughout the night, dreading the hours that passed and how my end drew nearer. Soon enough and there’s no time left to worry, I wish I still had the time to worry.
I am approached by a young chef in the reception, he’s too rushed to be polite and probably too unaccustomed to being outside of a kitchen. He shows me around the kitchen in a way that suggests that he has better things to do than show my fraudster arse around their inner sanctity. I’m handed over to another young chef called Irish, presumably given that name due to the impenetrable wall of language that spews out of his mouth. He gives me a tray of girolle mushrooms, gives me an order only he can comprehend and I get to work; trimming and peeling the stalks of one hundred girolles, as the natural world is far too ugly and deformed to exist when working in these standards. I work in between two young chefs already making themselves busy, one is only eighteen and only on his fifth shift working here. His boyish looks are a world apart from the grizzled faces around him, he still has a brace and a thin amount of hair across his top lip – he hasn’t even learnt how to shave yet but is learning the ways and world of cooking at the highest level. He is picking through individual leaves of chervil, measuring their beauty as if they were lined up for a pageant and deciding which ones are worthy to be put on a plate. He then does the same with leaves of thyme, sea purslane and parsley. No leaf too bruised, too misshaped or of too dissimilar sizes. Fine dining doesn’t give a damn about equality, it only wants perfection.
You learn about discipline, I don’t know how much you learn about cooking. How many stalks of spinach do you have to remove before you are afforded being allowed to learn something you actually wanted to learn? It’s all just a series of mundane tasks one after another, designed solely to test your resolve and see how enthusiastically you can move on to the next boring task without complaining. Perseverance is the necessary trait, that and not thinking twice about working sixty or seventy hours a week with the minimal amount of time to eat or sleep; if you are single-minded enough to not consider a life outside of a kitchen, then you may just have a chance to move onto something more interesting than cleaning shrimps. A lot don’t make it, places like this churn through chefs like they do ingredients that don’t meet their standards. I know I’m not like one of these young chefs, I’d like to think I’ve gathered enough sanity over the years to not exert all of my energy into making someone else successful. Fraudster or not, you’re a grunt, taking your orders no matter how grim and standing to attention when you are ready for the next one – if you have the willpower to ask for the next one. Like any grunt I am a patriot to my fellow professionals and the work they do but if I really wanted to join the military, I would have joined the military.