The Pain of Not Knowing

I’ve had some internal struggles during my externship at Uchiko and I think I realized today why that is. It’s because I hate to not know stuff.

Boot Camp

Working in a restaurant with very exacting standards and processes — one that is owned by James Beard award winning chef Tyson Cole and formerly led by James Beard award winning chef and Top Chef winner Paul Qui — requires one to do things a certain way. So not only is it really useful to have restaurant experience, but anyone – pro or beginner – is going to have a huge learning curve. You’ll need to learn their systems, their methods, their menu, and their people. And I am a newbie on all of those things. I am a novice in commercial kitchens, and I’ve certainly never worked in a restaurant of this caliber.

I am continually shown how to do things for the first time. And how to do things better. And how the onion rings should look like THIS not like THAT. And by the way, even though I told you how to cut cucumbers last week, here’s new information about how the cucumbers should look to make them really perfect for the customers. And why don’t you seem to understand how the dehydrators work? And let’s not forget about the mistakes I make which have nothing to do with being new, like forgetting to separate the eggs even though the recipe says “yolks only.”

Having new information come at you so often and frequently being shown how you’re doing it wrong is a test for the ego. In some ways I feel like I’m in boot camp where I need to set aside my pride and buy into the mission. The demands for speed make it tough, as well. My cooking style is pretty intuitive and conscious. Working at high speed requires almost a tunnel vision focus that makes me feel a bit detached. However, I can step back and notice that the end result is amazingly high quality.

What We All Want

It’s frustrating when you think you know what’s expected of you and then you get contrary or new information. It makes you feel incompetent. And we all like to feel competent. At this point I am craving a sense of confidence that I am being useful and that my work is going OK. And I occasionally get that feedback, but as a new member of the team, it’s simply not something I can expect much of for now.

Persistence

I have a tendency to consider giving up when the tough gets going. I remember when I was a kid and my first day of swim practice felt too hard to finish. I went to my mom crying that I wanted to quit. But I got the encouragement to stick with it and the next year I won an award for being the most improved swimmer. And I swam lots of races, did just fine, and had a lot of fun.

Yes I’ve had a few unhappy looks thrown my way at the restaurant when I didn’t understand how to do a certain process the right way. But mostly everyone has been really supportive and patient. And we all just want to get the job done and produce food at an exceptionally high level.

Anyone embarking on a career change is going to encounter this type of struggle. So, fellow life-changer, let’s soldier on together and stay focused on our ultimate goals to learn and to do good work.

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3 thoughts on “The Pain of Not Knowing

  1. Keep up the spirit, you can do it!! And luckily it´s just a short-term commitment 😀 It´s a good learning experience for sure, showing you maybe more about your mind and personality than about your cooking skills or intellect..

  2. When you’re feeling the high standards, just make sure to give yourself the room to be moody (yes, even with remembering YET ANOTHER thing like what I say in this comment) : ) All that criticism can get to you.
    Wrote some blog posts recently that might interest you. One is on respecting your mood, rather than always bulldozing over it with a demand for perfection, and the other is about how admitting you don’t know things can actually be fun, boost your confidence, and allow you to be more flexible. Check em out here:
    http://www.theworldwithin.org/2012/08/17/respect-your-moodiness/
    http://www.theworldwithin.org/2012/08/30/the-utility-and-fun-of-not-knowing/

    Good luck with all in life, and your blog!

  3. I admire your honesty and courage to say the things we’re all thinking. I imagine these are the things you must have learned in your first career, a testament that life is a journey and every step we take is a step toward where we eventually want to be.

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