Hello friends, readers, and reading-friendly strangers. Welcome back to Young, Poor, and Hungry. As some of you may know, I’ve been entertaining ideas as to how to bring this blog back for years and failing to find inspiration. I just looked back at my post history and confirmed that this baby started back in 2010, which seems absurdly long ago now. A lot has changed since then and reconciling my new life with that of a struggling, curious college student has proved challenging.
Between my last post and now, so many things have changed in my personal and professional life. Previously, I lived in a dining room, worked in HR, and didn’t really know how to multitask or function efficiently in a kitchen. After doing some traveling and reflecting on my life, I decided to quit my job and really pursue my passion for cooking, which brings us to today.
Both culinary school and my job as a line cook in a professional kitchen taught me a lot about cooking and drew a very distinct line between cooking for fun at home and cooking during a rush for paying customers. In school I learned how to quickly prep vegetables, balance my acids and fats, cook 200 portions of soup at a time, along with other necessary kitchen skills. I made friends, I lost my temper, I shouted at vegetables in the walk-in, and I looked forward to going in every day and being taught by men and women I deeply admired. At the time, I got everything I wanted out of culinary school. I had been lacking direction working at a company I loved but couldn’t find myself in. I went to Burma hoping to connect with the people there, to understand myself as a Burmese American. Instead, everyone knew I was foreign and I felt like am outsider there in a way I’d felt back home, alienated in a way I couldn’t really identify or understand because of things I couldn’t control.
In the kitchen I found control. I could work fast and manage people and make things happen. I could learn quickly and actually retain the information being thrown at us every day. It was fast-paced and demanding and exciting. I felt at home searing hundreds of salmon fillets and learning how to make patés and cheese. I had spent the summer before culinary school working in a cafe making sandwiches and salads, and I was glad to move beyond that through my education. Persistence ended up landing me a dream job cooking on the weekend at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market for a company I had deeply admired for two years. By the time I met with the Sales Manager to discuss a position, he remembered me from previous company events and recognized my name from emails about ordering products and job inquiries. I was ecstatic.
I spent a year and a half working for that company and worked myself to the bone. I used to be tired after spending six hours cooking in culinary school, and now I was putting in ten-to-fourteen hour shifts moving equipment, flipping burgers, and packing product. It was tiring and mind-numbing at times but it was still mainly exciting and rewarding. However, as I delved deeper into my career as a professional cook, my time and passion for home cooking quickly dwindled. Why would I want to spend more time making dinner for myself when I had been up and working since 5:30am? It was always easier to warm up something frozen or have something delivered. The company opened a restaurant in the spring and I launched into an intense existence that involved long days on the line, late nights drinking with coworkers, and a horrible diet. I was spoiled by the equipment, produce, and dishwashers at work. If I didn’t have it at home, why bother cooking? I just wouldn’t eat or I would have a frozen pot pie and call it a night.
Every now and then I would look back at the blog and think of the things I used to enjoy doing when I had free time. I still have fun kitchen equipment and I would go grocery shopping every now and then on my days off. Then I would go back to work and produce would rot in the fridge and my poor roommates would have to throw it out and text me about expiration dates. I was often tired and my moods fluctuated from strained happiness to manic sadness and detachment. I mostly remember always being tired. Sometimes I still had control; I was promoted into management positions and trusted with unsupervised work, but it didn’t feel the same. My social relationships and my finances suffered. I was barely making any money, I wasn’t seeing my friends, and I hadn’t eaten a salad or vegetables in months.
After an intense summer that involved a weekend spent cooking thousands of cheeseburgers on faulty propane grills in a tent surrounded by drunks and an escape to Oaxaca for a school trip, I felt myself losing my grip. I wasn’t excited anymore. I wasn’t happy to go to the restaurant. I spent my days off lying in bed or complaining to my friends and family about work. I didn’t want to talk about my job with new people I met, even though in theory I should have been proud of what I’d accomplished and what we were doing as a company. I was lucky to have also started a side project with my talented cousin and best friend. It was a light at the end of the tunnel. Our magazine, Compound Butter, helped me realize that I used to love cooking and food and that a life existed outside of the one I was currently struggling though.
This past winter I decided that it was time to move on. I wanted to be able to look back on my time spent with them happily, and not with the resentment and bitterness I felt slowly bubbling to the surface. I was working 50 to 60 hours a week and it was finally time to admit that I wanted to take my life back. I left a few days before Christmas and spent the next two weeks reveling in my newfound freedom. I saw friends and family that I hadn’t seen in months and I slept in whenever I wanted to. After a 5am call time, sleeping until 9am felt like a revelation, so sleeping until 11 felt like overindulgence. Of course, that never stopped me.
By my third week of unemployment, my last paycheck had finally run out and it was time to face reality. Luckily, one of my wonderful old coworkers connected me with a chef at a tech company and I quickly started a week-long stage. Those of you who know me well will know that I keep it calm and collected on the surface while internally I’m a nervous, paranoid wreck. I did a two-week tryout and then, thankfully, I was offered the position. The past five weeks have been incredible. I now work a roughly 9-5 schedule with weekends off. I make more than enough money to support myself and I have time to see my friends and family as often as I want. It still feels a bit surreal but it’s an amazing experience to work in a creative, supportive kitchen with people that are so kind to me.
I guess I’m telling you all of this to explain where I’ve been and where this blog and I will be going. This post doesn’t include a recipe because I’m still not back on the home cooking bandwagon. However, it is one of my greatest desires now to get back into cooking for myself and to share everything I’ve learned and experienced in the past few years with all of you. I hope to write about techniques, basic kitchen skills, and what to do when you accidentally start a grease fire on a flat top while hungover at 7am. Food was and will always be an important part of my life, my profession, and my personality. I will cherish my memories of baking cookies in high school just as much as memories of crushing a 600+ cover service with a line out the door. I want you to love food as much as I do and I hope to help by sharing my cooking stories, awkward life experiences, and recipes. So thank you all for being patient, for being supportive, and for demanding my return to blogging. I’m back and I couldn’t be happier about it!