Sooner or later it was bound to happen: the existential crisis. This week was mine.
I find myself spending much of my time in a perpetual state of wonder and anxiety. The days go by in a bit of a blur (are we really already heading into week 5 of the 2nd term?!): this is the wonder portion of my life. Whether I’m learning how best to prepare livers, or trying to detect the varying complexities in six different varieties of red wine, it’s wonderful, it’s new, it’s amazing… and it’s hard work, it’s confusing and, yes, at times, dull. But the dull parts are few and far between, usually it’s just my brain trying to absorb as much of it all as possible, eager to learn more, my eyes drinking in every slice, dice and fraiser.
In the kitchen I try to work faster, more efficiently (I often fail at both of these things); I work by the book, doing my best to recall the techniques we were taught that week or in previous sessions; I wash up so much that my hands peel and crack, so much that even rubbing in hand lotion stings and nothing can rid me of these hands that, in only a few months, now resemble the paws of an old crone. In the kitchen nothing else matters – only service. My plates are cleaned and warmed, my food is prepared to the best quality I possibly can, my table wiped down, cutlery at hand; and at the end of the session, all my food marked, all feedback given, I let out a heavy sigh and drag my tired feet down to the changing room. But even though I’m tired and have been on my feet for a good 3 hours, I still mentally pinch myself, asking, “is this really your life, now? You get to do this every day?”
Then I go home and the anxiety portion of the day hits.
Why am I doing this? What do I want? Do I have a viable business plan? Will anybody want to hire me? How can I be so arrogant to think that just because I’m doing a year’s professional course I’m in any way good enough to do this for the rest of my life? Oh God, what about that meal I had in Cambridge? I’ll never be as good as that! Oh GOD, I’ll never be as good as that!
And then I put on my pyjamas, I brush my teeth, I go to bed and the next day… I do it all again.
The further I go in this course the more I’m learning what I’m really passionate about and, strangely, the more my confidence diminishes, rather than grows. I now genuinely feel that instead of becoming a better cook I’m actually getting worse. Why? I have no idea.
When I first started I was convinced I knew what I wanted, what I was good at; now ask me what I want and I’ll tell you, falteringly, what I thought I wanted. What do I want? I’m not sure. All of the things I thought I wanted are still interesting to me but in a slightly detached way and, honestly? The thought of leaving Leiths in 6 short months is slightly terrifying. It’s so overwhelming, so completely and utterly alien and I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not alone here, I have a myriad of people I can talk to, but – and maybe it’s because TS has been away for the past 2 weeks and so I’ve been mostly on my own in the evenings when the anxiety hits – it doesn’t stop me from feeling a little bit lost.
The one thing I do see a marked improvement in is my presentation. It’s not like I didn’t already know these rules – odd numbers on a plate always better than even, centre height is attractive, no more than 3 colours on a plate, keep it simple – but suddenly they make a lot more sense to me than they ever did before.
Today a good friend and I had a catch-up over tea at one of our favourite breakfast spots and when I showed him some of the stuff I’ve been making in class he looked me square in the eye and asked if I’ve thought about food styling as a career. I was genuinely floored – me? Food styling?! I felt the panic and dread set in – I’ve tried my hand at some styling and I’m simply horrible at it! Styling for the camera is totally different to styling for a diner and I found myself pulling all sorts of faces and stuttering out excuses, all whilst my friend raised an eyebrow and looked rather bemused. “You should think about it,” he told me, drinking his tea and still giving me that look, “this stuff looks really good.”
If the comment had come from any old joe I’d probably dismiss it but this particular friend is a professional food photographer. So I shut my mouth, put my phone away and ate my breakfast.
I still think I’d be horrible at food styling but here’s what I know: I love food; I love piping things; I love making things look pretty; I don’t like being rushed; I love finicky, delicate things; I love baking. So where am I going? Not too sure… but I’ve still got another six months.
Until next (and potentially a more stable) time, peace and love.