Something very significant happened on Thursday last week. It was something I had been working towards for nearly three years. There were times when I wondered what on earth I was doing; many times in fact. A large portion of that three-year period were spent being in some marginally stressful state, fear, doubt, anxiety, exhaustion. Similarly, these three years have been filled with laughter, practical jokes and a feeling of kinship. You are all on the same team whether you like it or not and you are only as strong as your weakest link. If one person drops the ball during a busy service, it has a snowball effect and suddenly the kitchen can descend into chaos.
I am talking of course about my apprenticeship. My apprenticeship which is now officially over. Without question, it is the hardest life choice I have ever undertaken. At 27 I decided to take a more than 50 % pay cut, give up all rights to my family and friends and pretty much hand my life over to whichever head chef I happen to be working under. And it was the best decision I ever made. Not only did I learn technique with food but I also learnt some life lessons. My mentors and chefs taught me strength, admittedly it was the tough love kind of strength that they only teach in the armed forces. You will peel 20 kilograms of potatoes until you get an RSI. You will work so many hours in a week that every morning when you put your feet on the ground they still ache from the previous day. You will also get a little sense of achievement over and over, every single day, when you send out meals with pride, knowing that you did the best you could.
Standing on the other side of graduation, I can smell the freedom. I now have the luxury of taking my career in whichever direction I please. Freedom to focus on writing about food as much as I’m cooking food. I am still in shock that I made it this far, there were so many moments when I nearly walked away. But I didn’t. Thanks to the support of my family and friends. My family who listened to me whinge and sometimes listened to me cry and always, always encouraged me. My mentors Mrs A and Mrs M, two generations of amazing chefs who have stood next to me every step of the way. But mostly I have been blessed with Mr T. Throughout everything, he would not let me quit, he told me to be brave, he would dry my eyes and send me back into the trenches, sorry I meant kitchen. When I was too tired he was the one feeding me, the one buying my shampoo and generally keeping the real world ticking over whilst I was off in Apprentice world.
However, I must give credit where credit is due. I did it. I got out of bed every morning and went to a job where you are not only working but you are also learning; constantly. I know that I have come a very long way and that I still have a lifetime of learning ahead of me. This is just the beginning…