Pizzaland Memoirs: Back on the Line

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The above photograph is part of the station I work at during my hours as the “sub guy”. After roughly 30 years, I’m back cooking on a line making so little in pay I have to laugh so as not to cry. But thus far, the adventure has been fruitful to meet my needs. I’ve got my timing back and reacquainted myself with equipment and practices. The funny thing I have found with my jump back into food service is for all of the advances and changes which have occurred in several years, very little has changed. There is the obligatory oven or burner which doesn’t work, the ancient cooler which leaks and dies from time to time, surly teenagers who need to be supervised, journeymen cooks who are itinerant and often high on something, wild rushes, mad dashes, bizarre incidents and so forth. At my age, I find it amusing at best.

I must admit, I have been having a pretty good time. I’ve got the station down and I can weather the wicked rushes which are the bane of a “pizza joint” in a resort area. Being designated as such, very little of the food has any healthy quality whatsoever. A lot of stuff frozen in boxes. A lot of stuff in cans and containers shipped in from outside with exception to the handful of vegetables used in the business. This is typical for a restaurant of this style. The business model is based on volume and mid-level quality which works well in a beach area. The learning curve isn’t very intense and there is no sense of creativity whatsoever, yet I work on perfection all of the time which is a hell of a lot more difficult than I had expected. I basically make sandwiches, salads, desserts, pasta entree’s and appetizers in a one man station which can be pretty wild. I feed off of the chaos which ensues when the service hits its peak, as well as the crazy adrenaline rush which leaves me in physical pain at the end of the night. Quite honestly, I’ve learned about all one can learn from the experience with exception to some details on business or cooking technique as I have yet to make a pizza. My goal is to make it through the summer to re-assess my target of starting my own business.

There is a beautiful sense of freedom to working in a kitchen again. Myself being a part of a shift team trying to scratch out a living in a society which tends to look down upon “the help”. My decision to leave my last “big” opportunity at a corporate job and avert respectability was a life quality choice. The drop in pay was very painful and very pitiful. If not for my magnificent wife, I could have never done this without selling everything I own plus working an additional job. I personally find it disheartening for food service workers. The work is very physical and some thinking is required which is a commodity in food service. The low pay, often times but not always, attracts people with few skills, little concern and dubious education which I find frightening. I’m on a mission to change the aforementioned circumstances in any way possible. I’m thinking of my dream businesses every day and cooking as much as I possibly I have time to cook which includes late nights. My part in the revolution is to cook and cook well.

Pizzaland

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Roughly one month ago I walked away from a good paying corporate job with great benefits. I worked in a cubicle taking phone calls in customer service. The sky was the limit insofar as upward mobility. The retirement plan was excellent, the people I worked with and around wonderful for the most part, I had personal time, vacation, sick leave, you name it, but I was so miserable and stressed out that I felt as though I was dying inside. Matter of fact, many of my cohorts are and were in the same position. Working jobs they hated or hate because that has become the expectation for the American worker. An existence or survival to run to the finish line of retirement with tons o’ retirement money if you played the game right and ran the maze known as “the rat race”. You could then go into your “golden years” knowing you spent your life doing something you hated to do and die with that “accomplishment”. I finally exploded inside and flew apart one fine evening in October 2016. Needless to say, I had to seek some help and get medicated with happy pills and sedatives to calm the desire to strangle someone out of anger and frustration.

I knew what I loved to do which is cook. I tried to tell myself it was wrong that somehow it was a mistake as many know the pay is extremely low for a vast majority of cooks, chefs and whatnot unless, of course, you are one of the very few “celebrity” chefs or successful Haute Cuisine masters with your own place. Cooking is hot, intense and requires constant cleaning unless you don’t care about sanitary practices which will eventually get someone sick or killed. Over the past 8 years, I have cultivated a dream to have a food truck or small restaurant/bistro with my cuisine. It was a dream to take me away from the troubles and issues with my numerous careers. None of which satisfied my soul in any way even when I made good paychecks. I felt hollow and passionless right up to my recent adventure which ended abruptly in October 2016 followed by my resignation one month ago.

Within a week of my final departure, I received a lead on a job to cook for a local pizza joint. Someone at the corporate torture chamber referred me to a young man who manages the place about 8 blocks from my house. Now mind you, I’m 50 years old and I have not cooked on the line professionally in 29 years. I filled out an application and submitted a resume’ and with the grace of God or whatever powers of the law of positive attraction, I was hired right on the spot. Funny thing, I never felt nervous or scared. I finally reached a point where it seems as though I had little to lose other than my house, my wife and everything I own. Out of those aforementioned items, my wife was the only thing I was concerned about as I have burned out on the version of American society which requires the need and desire to own stuff. I simply do not care anymore. I get to cook and feel the accomplishment one dish at a time, one pizza at a time. I see the smiles of people who look forward to “pizza night” like I did when I was a kid. I don’t make much money which has strained the household finances to the extreme, but I’m chasing my last dream I have time to accomplish. It’s a small step. Most of the people I work with in the place are probably half my age. There are many who will label me as an idiot, lunatic or loser, but I’m happy. I have recently been involved in discussions with the manager, who is a remarkably responsible young man with a love of cooking, about being one of two assistant managers which is a ray of sunlight. The smell of the pizza oven is simply amazing. The feeling of action, cooking and excitement gets my adrenalin flowing. I feel alive, very alive and even young again. I’m one step closer to my dream.

The only conflict I have within myself is the concerns about healthy eating which is not associated with pizza, but this is a start. I am a fortunate man that someone much younger than myself saw my passion and decided to take a chance on me when there was no reason to do so. Yes, cooking is really a young persons pursuit, but I have decided to live and die for a dream to change the world in my own little way. Every revolution starts in a kitchen, living room or back alley as just an idea and you can’t kill an idea. Especially an idea which liberates the soul.