For the last ten years, I've gotten quiet. Silent even.
It seems we go from avoiding the chatter in our head, to listening to the chatter, deciding it's not as scary as we thought it was, then learning how to float the chatter away on a cloud without judgement with a promise to look at it later. Some people call it meditation, but I think I'm too unpracticed for that. It's more like the backwash setting on a pool pump to get all the sludge out of the sand filter.
Move out these rocks so the other rocks can fall from the top ledge. Heavy metal detox is much the same. Move all this first tier junk out of here and the next hidden layer can drop down and you can address that. It seems too simple some days, really. Go get quiet and do nothing for 15 minutes. Or 8. Or 2. Breathe. Really breathe.
When I was cooking in the restaurant, I would stick my head in the cooler, walk in preferably, and take 15 seconds. Head in the herb bucket. Forehead to stainless steel. A high paced restaurant thrives on focused calm acceleration, but most nights it's fueled on noise, heat, discomfort, witty banter, being unhinged, espresso, ibuprofen and whiskey if we're honest. I don't work in that industry anymore and I've had to find a way to feel like I'm still doing while not doing and to get my ya yas in a less endorphin spiked fashion. I'll admit that when the pendulum swings in my career, it swings HARD. Sometimes so hard that it flips to the other side and chokes itself.
But I had no choice. The adrenaline fueled panic and competitive nature of staying one step ahead in a trendy bistro lets no chef sleep. Rest on laurels. Enjoy a day off. I'm ten years out of the business and have just started to find a stride in a wellness capacity that would allow me to walk the talk. I'll freely admit that there have been days that I have attacked a big order of oils like a 5 alarm fire on a Friday night dinner service. I catch myself. What are you doing, even? Nobody cares. Chill out.
I have no deadline. No boss. No team mates counting on me. No pressure except to get this new venture off the ground before I can't pay my mortgage. But after years of endless foot traffic and new daily dramas, it's hard to embrace the calm. Even if you thought you'd pull your hair out from the chaos, the no shows, the special dietary requests, the sullen salmon that arrived 10 minutes before service frozen solid and not what you ordered and the wine that is stuck in traffic on 285 and the printer is jammed because you insist on printing a new menu on a daily.
It was, to be sure, unsustainable. And as my health eroded and my nerves frayed like a rope that snaps when you tow a truck out of a mud hole, I had to quit. I usually say retire but I think quit is more accurate. Sabbatical is for the intellectuals. I just sorta snapped and went to live in the woods in a town where I knew no one. But I've never gotten the zing back. I've healed, learned, slowed, talked to trees, made compost, learned how to cull and butcher hens, discovered that I could not take another life without getting physically ill for three days, stopped eating chicken altogether, taught classes, developed a product line.
But nothing has ever set a rocket off like the pace of the restaurant. I fear nothing will. Like getting weed from an ex heroin addict, they're not in it for the mellow. It's too much power. And you can't go back.
I wonder if that's what happened to Bourdain. We all wonder what happened to Bourdain, I for one refuse to believe that this razor sharp, mature, generous soul offed himself because of a childish romance gone awry, but none of us will ever know. Part of me thinks it got too easy. Too comfy. No dopamine.
Restaurant people out of the restaurant often do not thrive. The good ones anyway. If you were lousy, you'll do okay on the other side. But the rest of us are doomed. I wonder if Bourdain didn't miss it too. It's not about the money, really. It's the thrill of choreography. Winning a knife fight---with a spoon.
We lost another patron saint of the restaurant industry today in Jonathan Gold. I started reading Gold as a young travel writer when I got my first gig with Travel and Leisure and I think it was he who put the This is A Real Calling pen in my hand. Funny, astute and a lover of all foods. I hesitate to call him a critic, he was a story teller. Who ate. To him and Bourdain, I thank them for the inspiration, the heart and for sharing their great minds with the rest of us adrenaline junkies. They are missed.