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
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.