A sous chef I worked with once said to me, with no irony or malice, "In this business you can have a romantic relationship or friends. You will not have time for both. You will not have energy enough for both."
He was right. For most all of my 20 year career thus far, this has been true.
Another cook told me, "You will miss all weddings, births, funerals and holidays. Get used to it."
If you work from dark to dark and sleep and do laundry on your one day off, you do not become an ideal candidate for dating. And if you never RSVP to family and friend functions, you will completely drop off their radar, piss them off and it could take you another lifetime to gain back their trust enough to 'schedule you in' to their lives again.
There are many chefs who prefer working in a kitchen to being in their parents, children, friends, partners lives. There are many cooks who could work more efficiently and get out after 10 or 12 hours rather than 14 or 16. And there are chefs who prefer to go to the bar after work, rather than home.
There's not a cook amongst us who will not argue, til death, the necessity of our presence in our kitchens. Kitchens are indeed like underground clubs. They are "our" people. We "understand" each other. Our cooks "need" us. Without us our kitchens will fall apart! Days off?! Who needs them?!! Shoemakers, that's who! Our stations will be a fucking mess if we don't micromanage them 20 hours a day.
As a young cook I heard that Andre Soltner, chef of the late Lutece, stood at his stove for 45 years straight, only to take off a few hours once to have a knee surgery.
The byline of our business could be:
Where A Day Off Is A Weekend and Two Days Off In A Row Is A Vacation
All these things are true. being a professional cook/chef is hard work. It takes all of you, and then some.
But there's another truth. And they can co-exist in the same field, the same industry, the same kitchen, the same cook.
Relationships you have, start, form, keep, nourish, participate in, are present for, keep and work on intentionally-- you need these. You need love as much as you need sleep.
It's important to grow relationships outside of your job and the bar. Your family will always be there but that's no reason to forsake them for your career.
There are chefs out there who can sustain multiple "lives" while remaining consistent and effective leaders and inspirationalists at their stoves. They can have friends and lovers. They can go to the occasional wedding or funeral without having to quit their job. They can get sober and stay sober. They can get eight hours of sleep a night. They can own a dog and go on dates and make meals at home.
I agree that the first 5 years of cooking should be solely about cooking. Maybe 10. But in that trajectory a cook can begin to make life choices as well as kitchen/chef/cuisine choices.
For the first time in my career I have a romantic partner, a relationship with my family, friends from inside and outside the industry, and there's talk of getting a d. o. g. Even though I live with my partner, he and I have opposing schedules and sometimes we don't see each other, awake, for days in a row. For the first time in my career I need, but also want, to devote as much energy to building and feeding my primary relationship as I do my kitchen, my chef, my cooks and our diners. Sometimes he even calls me out if I give all of myself to the restaurant and leave nothing for him on our days off together.
There are, and have always been, chefs who buck the 24/7 rule. There's many ways to skin a rabbit.
When I was at the French Laundry, Thomas would sit down with all the cooks at the end of the night to write down the next day's menu. We would all inventory our stations and the walk-ins for mis en place and the sous chef would begin an ordering sheet. We would all start our next day's list. Sometimes we would talk shop.
One night we were discussing the James Beard nominees. Thomas was asking us who we thought he should vote for. A chef's name came up. One of the cooks really liked him and spoke up. Thomas asked the cook if he knew about an incident that chef had been involved in just a few month's previous. He did not. But I did.
This chef was in charge of a restaurant inside of a hotel, both of the highest caliber. There was no doubt his food and technique were spot on. But he offended a female server one afternoon with a disgusting comment. When the union of the hotel asked the hotel management to reprimand him, the hotel management said no, and the union staged a walk-out. Until the hotel management made themselves and that chef accountable for his actions, there was no one to serve the food, clear tables or wash dishes.
Thomas made an important point that night. He said that to honor a chef with an award was not to merely recognize their cooking abilities, but to reward their role as a leader in the industry as a whole.
As a cook you are faced with a number of options. You have to "choose the winners." You have to look for your next mentor all the time. You have to constantly re-evaluate what Chef you have chosen to inspire you and why. As you grow in your confidence and skill you will be able to take in the whole of a Chef. Your Chef as Chef, as Leader, as Human.
And humans are social creatures. We grow mentally, spiritually, physically, sexually, emotionally, psychically, when in contact with many sources of heart, inspiration.
This industry has an invisible voice. It will tell you you have to make a choice. It will tell you to choose the kitchen above all else. While I have done this, at times, I beg of you to hear the quietest of all voices. Listen hard. Hold your ground. Keep your eye on your prize. No one else's goal[s] need be yours.
You can work towards getting out of the kitchen in under 12 hours and let your kitchen be independent and learn how to make and solve mistakes and face challenges without you. You can walk into your kitchen tomorrow and choose this. You can delegate and pass it on and teach and inspire and push while you are there, and while you are not there you can go to museums and read books and make love and look at the horizon and see the stars and feel the sun on your face and get a massage and be a witness at your best friend's wedding and sleep in and make porridge and bundle up your kids for their first snow and go to the farmer's market and
all of these activities can be a recipe unto themselves for You. To marinate in, to support, to water your own garden. When all we are to our cooks is our own insularity, our own tunnel vision we do not teach them anything but what comes out of a washing machine on rinse cycle for far too long. It is important, and vital, to our abilities as leaders and executioners and food makers to see beyond our own noses. Relationships beyond our kitchens are important and necessary.
You can have more than one relationship and cook professionally. You can, and be a great chef one day.