Great Minds Eat Alike: Lauren Shockey’s Kitchen Wisdom (and Giveaway!)

We started our Great Minds Eat Alike series in order to mix up the usual BGSK offerings with interviews and submissions by cooks and eaters whose mentality towards cooking and eating meshes with ours. Today we are incredibly excited to bring you a great anecdote and some quarter-life reflections from Lauren Shockey, author of Four Kitchens, which came out this week. Lauren Shockey is a food writer whose articles have appeared in many print and online publications including “The Village Voice,” “The New York Times,” “The Wall Street Journal,” “Slate,” and “The Atlantic Food Channel,” among many others.

Four Kitchens is an adventurous, food-filled memoir of the year Lauren spent at age 25 working in restaurant kitchens around the world. Her thoughts on career, finding yourself, and cooking all the time hit home with these quarter life cooks and we hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say, too.

We’re also happy to be giving away two copies of Lauren’s book. For a chance to win, leave a comment telling us what you’d be doing if you didn’t have your 9 to 5. For an extra entry, tweet about the giveaway @BGSK @ldshockey. Good luck!

–Cara and Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS

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Just a few years ago, I landed in your standard 9-to-5 office job and almost immediately hated it. It was my first full-time position out of college, so naturally I occupied the bottom of the totem pole, spending my days photocopying and staring bleary-eyed at my computer screen for hours on end.

“This job sucks,” I told my mom.

“It’s supposed to suck. Everyone’s first job sucks,” she said.

As autumn surrendered to the gray gloom of winter, I thought more about what I enjoyed, and that was cooking. I decided to go to culinary school. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I wanted to be a chef, but I thought I would give it a try.

Several months later, I handed in my notice and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City. It was a blast. My newfound friends and I spent our days whisking and dicing and filleting and our afternoons nursing beers at the bar across the street.

But when I got out into the real world and began apprenticing in restaurants, I realized that my culinary education hadn’t really begun. When I stepped foot inside wd~50, a restaurant in New York City that serves somewhat experimental and modernist cuisine, I learned I wasn’t even holding my knife correctly. This was my first “real” restaurant job and I was slower than slow—it took me half an hour to cut long beans—a task that should have taken ten minutes. I didn’t know how to stock the walk-in and felt perpetually out of place. I couldn’t even look Wylie Dufresne, the chef, in the eye, for fear that he’d catch me doing something wrong. But gradually I got used to the hustle and bustle. Ultimately, after a year of working in restaurants around the world, I had finally found my footing. Yet, ironically, working in restaurants made me realize that while I enjoyed the energy and rush of professional cooking, home cooking was what I truly loved. When you work in a restaurant—especially at the lower levels—you rarely get to see diners enjoying your food. Repetition plays a significant role in your tasks, since guests come to restaurants with specific expectations of dishes. You can’t improvise and experiment the way you might in your own kitchen.

Now that I’ve returned from my culinary adventures, people always ask me if they should attend culinary school, and I always respond the same way. “Why do you want to go? Is it because you want to be a chef?” I’ll say. Sure school provides you with a great foundation and breadth of experiences. But it’s also very expensive, and when you’re making $9 or $10 an hour as a prep cook, it’s going to take a long time to pay back any loans.

What’s more, my restaurant experiences showed me that you don’t necessarily need culinary school to be a chef. Yes, it might teach you ten different ways to chop carrots, but if it’s not the way that the restaurant where you’re working chops their carrots, it won’t matter. My advice? Apprentice for a month or two before enrolling. Believe me, restaurants always want free labor. You don’t need to go around the world, but just make sure that you enjoy restaurant life. Yes, it might be expensive to work without pay for a month, but in truth, it will be cheaper than shelling out for culinary school and discovering you don’t want to be a chef. If you love it, amazing! But even if you end up like me and decide that being a chef isn’t for you, you will still have had some amazing adventures along the way.

–Lauren Shockey

  • http://twitter.com/bimondi128 Bethany Imondi

    If I could avoid the 9 to 5 life, I would spend it traveling throughout Europe as a globe correspondent for a fashion, food or political magazine. 

  • http://twitter.com/bimondi128 Bethany Imondi

     I could avoid the 9 to 5 life, I would spend it traveling throughout Europe as a globe correspondent for a fashion, food or political magazine.

  • danielle

    Doing what Im doing now – Im involved in my kids schools and I am enjoying life.

  • http://twitter.com/nella22 Marnely Rodriguez

    Good thing is I don’t have a 9 to 5…working from home is a great way to move around, get out and change it up! When I’m not working from home, I’m in a kitchen and that’s neither a normal schedule!

  • http://twitter.com/nella22 Marnely Rodriguez

    Good thing is I don’t have a 9 to 5…working from home is a great way to move around, get out and change it up! When I’m not working from home, I’m in a kitchen and that’s neither a normal schedule!

  • Carriesuzanne

    If I didn’t have a nine to five, I’d be a life coach. I enjoy helping people find ways to live happier.

  • Cheryl Newton

    I quit my 9-to-5, as a copy editor at a newspaper, about 12 years ago, when son No. 1 was born. Now I’m a stay-at-home mom.

  • Ali

    I would be cooking somehow, but I already know I don’t want to be a professional chef. I am not the kind of person who thrives in high pressure situations!

  • gingerthur

    If I didn’t have my 9-to-5, I think I would want to be an elementary school teacher.  The hours and effort are just as much as what I’ve got now, if not worse, but watching kids learn would be so much more rewarding!

  • Tjw28

    I would LOVE to be a recipe tester for Cooks Illustrated.

  • http://cassiecramer.wordpress.com/ Cassie Cramer

    If I could avoid the real world of working my 8 to 5 job, I would be running a doggy daycare, boarding and grooming salon with a boutique. I am in love with my dog and have a great time pet sitting for friends and family and would love to make it a business. It would also give me more time for my hobbies like baking.

  • Leigh

    If I didn’t have to spend my 9 to 5 in the office, I’d happily spend my days outside with my dog, reading the books I don’t have time for now and testing out even more new recipes on the bf :)

  • Iris

    Travelling, volunteering, and definitely working on my cooking skills!

  • Kristenash23

    I’d open my own like breakfast/lunch place on the Willamette River. Beautiful life. 

  • CelesteShort

    If I could avoid the 9 to 5 grind, I would drive a huge bus filled with books, serving as one of the world’s smallest bookstores/libraries, while also offering services such as editing/proofreading, story time for children, and resume reviews. 

  • jill green

    Great advice, I think that goes for all schooling! Not always what it’s cut out to be…
    Awswome site, even though I’m over twenty-something, I can definately use all of what you have pulled together here!
    We have a mini-farm and we love what we do!

  • Nicolette_jonkhoff

    If I wasn’t punching the clock everyday I would love to resettle somewhere very green and live a simple life.  My main of transportation would be my bike and in the afternoons I would tend to my garden.  I would have friend over in the evenings for dinner parties and we would laugh, drink wine and be merry.  

  • http://twitter.com/culinarylibrari Culinary Librarian

    If I didn’t have my 9-5 I’d spend my days cooking, reading, writing and exploring. Living in Manhattan there are always so many opportunities to attend so many events and a lot of the time I can’t go if they are during the day. I’d want to be my own boss and cook when I want, read when I want, write as much as I wanted and go to events and the market during the daytime instead of only on the weekends and at night. 

  • potlikkery

    If i didnt have a 9-5 id cook with my daughter write Blog take photos ramble outdoors and fill my day to the brim with beauty.

  • http://twitter.com/GFreeBlondie Katie Kaulius

    If I didn’t have my 9-5 (well, 10-6), I would be a part time food blogger, part time gluten free caterer in NYC, whatever-part-is-left dog walker.

  • Rebecca Lee

    If I didn’t have my 9-5, I’d be a globe-trotting photographer by day, and sing karaoke in random cities by night. 

  • Kate

    I am fortunate that I am in a job that I absolutely love. It is hard to imagine wanting to do anything else. I would say a chef I suppose, as I do enjoy cooking. I’m just not good enough at it.

  • Jocelyn_west

    I would travel anywhere and everywhere I could.  Seeing the world has to be the best way to decide what’s most important to us in life.  I would dive into other cultures and allow myself to be absorbed by them.  I’d practice my photography and cooking skills all along the way.  Most importantly, I’d try to learn about the needs of people I encountered and hopefully devise ways to help make the world a better place for them.

  • Tricia

    I work from home so my 9 to 5 is a little different in format.  I love what I do, which is cookbook publicity, but if I didn’t need to work, I would travel with my husband and 8 year old daughter more and eat great food everywhere.  : )

  • Tricia

    I work from home so my 9 to 5 is a little different in format.  I love what I do, which is cookbook publicity, but if I didn’t need to work, I would travel with my husband and 8 year old daughter more and eat great food everywhere.  : )

  • http://twitter.com/1byspike Francine Fogel

    I’d love to eat my way around the world (assuming I was independently wealthy).  If I had to “work” at something other than my “9to5″, I’d probably have a cookie-baking business.

  • D Gernetzke

    I love Lauren’s ideas about cooking~I feel the same, just cooking for pleasure and for a few people is really where my heart is:}  I’ve been learning new techniques and have thought about going to culinary school but realize it’s not the most important thing ~I think being a personal chef would be way more fun and help people who otherwise would eat at fast food restaurants because of time constraints.  
    I am not a 9 to 5er and very happy for that~life is too short and there are many ways to make money and still have a quality life.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4CJSQ65N3PV7W4WE5JZQULMWHM PC Queen

    If I could avoid the 9 to 5 life, I would be an event and wedding planner.  I love the bustle of organizing everything and seeing everyone’s faces when the event comes to life.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4CJSQ65N3PV7W4WE5JZQULMWHM PC Queen

    If I could avoid the 9 to 5 life, I would be an event and wedding planner.  I love the bustle of organizing everything and seeing everyone’s faces when the event comes to life.

  • http://www.cookinghealthyforme.com/ Ann

    I love the 9-5 life.  I happily did office work and could shuffle paper with the best of them!  However, my first love, greatest passion and favorite hobby is cooking.  If I didn’t have severe food allergies – I would go to culinary school….

    ….so there you have it – I’d be a chef!

  • Tpot

    If I didn’t have my 9-5, I’d probably be taking quilting & sewing classes at some cute local places!

  • Bm

    i’d probably be baking all day long!

  • http://www.owletteschirps.blogspot.com/ Caroline

    I would travel the world and cook. No fancy taveling just one bag living in one place till I made enough to move on totally free:)

  • Hterry02

    If I didn’t work outside the home I would have more time with my daughter and we would do more crafts and things that she likes to do. We would just have more quality time together. :)

  • Mirakol S.

    I know this is old, but I’d like to share that if I wasn’t working and doing undergrad…I’d be in somebody’s pastry school and on my way to opening a bakery/cafe shindig place where I bake love into every single morsel and make sure that people are blessed by the love of Christ through the food I create :)

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