Chefs in their pristine whites hustling through the financial district on a clear, sunny June day, chefs mostly men but then there's me, a baker, trying to get some air while walking toward the bus on Kearny? Geary? Whatever street is it I get the 30 Stockton on, only today I get the 45 and then walk down down down Divisadero staring at the green bay and trying to meet with more chefs before work. Chefs striding across busy streets, one carrying a brown paper bag, and without my uniform I'm just a girl in an ARMY shirt and suspicious clogs. Around us, suits talk about what they drank with their lunch at the Slanted Door the day before and if they can get away with a two hour lunch today, and when I reach the front of the line at Out the Door they give me a discount and heaps of smiles and before I can even put my change away my food's done, there's some times when a uniform is just a code and you fall down the rabbit hole, and if we give each other special treatment it's because, well, we know the price of daylight and the true cost of a working lunch. Fall into the bakery at 230 in time to sift most of a sack of powdered sugar and make frostings, fall out onto the 30 once more and s l o w l y this time eke downtown, too late for chef-sighting now even though there's still a couple conversations to be had.
And what is it about bakers (or, what is it about me, or both) that we covet the camaraderie of the brigade, that somewhere in our heart of hearts while we bent over Hobarts in the space between creaming and beating and secretly wish we were butchering or working the line, just on the other side. There are many things in cake and ice cream, but they lack the glamour, the edge, the brute strength and discipline and all those other masculine adjectives hurled about by the real food writers (which is to say the chef-writers and not the food media). We feel like the geek in the corner; Anthony Bourdain calls us out as neuroscientists, Molly O'Neill rues the way we will never be rock stars in our own right, just sugar-coated early risers alone in a dark kitchen. We/I miss the company of restaurant kitchens even if we've no one to talk to who speaks our languages, even if we're out the door into the still-light evening while our rockstar coworkers mise for dinner service. We invent fake blogs and write fiction and write ourselves out of the story, even as we keep real blogs to tell the story of what we strive to do, our endless testing, our love of the pleasure business.
I once told a talented chef that bakers are underpaid and get no respect and she laughed in my face and told me she did her pastry chef's inventory and plated dessert s when her pastry chef got slammed, and the shock on my face must not have conveyed my regard for her attention, even if it is only getting done what needs to get done.
When I write about restaurants, my characters are rockstar chefs and tough sous chefs, neurotic managers and angelic line cooks, and wherever my fiction pastry chef is hiding she has not seen fit to make an appearance, for my stories begin too late at night and continue into dawn. Too soon, work.
Every kitchen has drama...and gossip is currency, but I would rather be doing.