So, last we left off, I was leaving the lakefront and went to go check out the kitchen and pantry, get an idea of the layout so I could prepare my menu in the time alotted. The tasting was supposed to be two dishes in-line with their fusion concept and two of my own choosing. Here’s where I’m going to gloss over some bits n’ pieces, because I can’t (read: don’t feel I should) talk about the name of the restaurant, the concept, or even the location. I guess that sort of sucks, since I would like to be as open and honest as possible, but I’m also not stupid and I like the people I interviewed with.
I met with the Sous Chef, who went through the program a few years prior, and she gave me a tour, told me to let her know if there was anything she needed to get for me. So, I’m a white girl, from Kansas. Yes, I’ve lived in other big cities, have been to countries that are not just in Europe, but I’m still a white girl. It’s neither here nor there. It just is. And even though I love spices, love cuisines from all over the world, it’s not exactly what I grew up with. So, the establishment was a little outside my wheelhouse, but after the tour, I felt fairly confident, get me? Still a bundle of nerves, but just less so…because of what I saw, ya dig.
I’m going to tell you right now, that this wasn’t my first choice for the restaurants I applied for. They know that. It’s the honest truth. My goals are not fine dining. My goals are more elevated comfort food. When I applied, I first chose from restaurants that were within a day’s drive (in case a family emergency, or a health issue came up). So, I went with Chicago and Louisville. I chose to move forward with this one because, who the hell says no to this opportunity, and I appreciated, very much, the candor and drive of the owner. I respect and admire what she has started, not just with her restaurants. That’s also the honest truth.
I went back to the hostel and went to the bar to write everything out and plan. I was supposed to spend the train ride up there planning all of this out, but honestly, I work better under pressure and I’d rather just work with what is available. With the exception of some black beans, potatoes, carrots, peas. I used only what was in the fairly limited pantry/walk-ins.
So, when it came time to do my menu the next day, it went fine. It went better than I hoped in some areas, worse in others. I got flustered with the one recipe that I KNOW I could have nailed otherwise (veggie curry mini empanadas), and did well on the one dish that I’ve only made once before (seared scallops. I made them at home once just to try it). I made things up, I improvised. I simply FORGOT to roast off the chickpeas for the salad and found some puffed chickpeas, so I spiced them up and used them. I made a radish slaw, because I was obsessed with radishes at the moment. I didn’t know where it was going to go, I just wanted it. Turns out, it balanced nicely over the scallops, with wilted spinach and toasted nuts for texture. She said it was the best of my dishes. Frankly, I didn’t spice everything enough, which was a blow for me. I LOVE spices. Love them. I am currently sitting in Wisconsin (more on that later) and the one kitchen item I brought too much of, spices. Like, an entire cabinet’s worth. And then I ordered more when I got here. (I have a “problem”.) BUT, not having a clear picture of what was going on in that pantry, how they work as opposed to how I’ve been trained/how I work, I guess I fumbled. I’m still kicking myself for that. So, mental note, if I do this again, BRING YOUR SPICES. I need Linda Belcher’s “Spice Rack”.
So, the feedback was good. Honest. I knew I’d messed up on some things. All in all, having been taken completely out of my comfort zone, only a year and some change into culinary school, I feel it went well. I was taken to the back office where we had another honest conversation that involved taking over the entire kitchen, 12-14 hour days, having to move and find an apartment in two weeks, if not less, the opportunity to travel to NYC every so often to cross-train, my health issues, my concerns, my fence-sitting, It was between me and two other candidates, but I got the feeling I was in the running. I was still 50/50, could not tip the scale in either direction. I was hoping she would decide for me, but she laid it at my feet. Told me I need to get to 100% and then let her know. I said I would spend the train ride back only thinking about this and let her know by the end of the day after I got back. She seemed to guess, because I was not already at 100%, that the answer might be no, and she let me know again, how charming I was, how great my essay was, that this was not the end of our connection, even if I decided not to proceed. All the issues I saw in that place aside, the person in front of me was authentic and caring and had I not had such a hard time with my health, I probably would have thrown roadblocks aside and said yes right there.
In the end, I could not work it out, could not get close to 100% and appreciate her putting it on me. It was my decision and I feel like it was the right one, even if it was going to be me and I just turned down a James Beard mentorship. I tried not to talk about what happened to many people because I TURNED DOWN A JAMES BEARD MENTORSHIP. But physically, it would have made me miserable, and I was never 100% with the concept and direction my life might have taken. My heart was not in that particular location and it wouldn’t have been fair to either of us. I knew then, just like when I turned down that PA job in L.A., that this was one of those moments, those moments where your life breaks off and in an alternate world, you take that other path. There’s another Jill out there, crying in a studio apartment in Chicago because she’s so tired and worn down and in pain and is only looking forward to New York.
So yeah. Maybe I got it. Maybe I didn’t. But it was my choice and I feel better about not taking it than if I had. I’m just ignoring the James Beard-ness of it, the 16 year old me that screams, YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO LIVE IN NYC. Because when I got home and made that decision, I knew something had to change. I thought it was Chicago. I thought, “ok, here’s my out, my life-shift.” But that wasn’t it. For years now, I’ve been wanting to do workamping. It’s where you travel around, usually in your own camper/RV and do seasonal work in campgrounds, parks, etc. Just for shits n’ giggles, I checked the job postings, even though we were nearly halfway through the usual season. I saw one in Wisconsin, in the Dells to be exact. I briefly lived in Racine, WI for a few months, and even though it was the dead of Winter, I still loved it. I knew it was beautiful up there, so I said, “eh, why not” and applied. I figured I could feel it out and decline if it seemed like it wasn’t going to work.
Well, it worked. After that, everything kind of fell into place and here I am, over a month into my first workamping gig (one of the only ones I’ve seen with housing provided, for a small fee). I work in the office, in housekeeping, and most importantly, the kitchen. I cook breakfast on the weekends, I close up on Sundays and fry, fry, fry all of the things. It’s not glamorous. It’s basic bar food and I’m pretty sure I’ve done my dishwashing hours for school (which I’ll need to deal with when I get back, since TECHNICALLY, I’m not supposed to have left). But, we’ve worked that out too. Jill just needed a break, to decide what she really wants to do, and if she’s physically capable of doing it. It’s been difficult, I won’t lie. The back brace is getting lots of use and there’s much floor laying and adjusting and yelping. But I also found a hard foam roller that someone left in a cabin (! I know.), so that’s been helpful too (I have an appointment scheduled for when I get back). I just have a problem staying in the same place for too long and thank god my parents seem to understand this by now. They don’t like it and I feel guilty. But there it is.
So yeah, next up….WisCANsin updates and realizations…