The way my dad holds me. The smile on his face.
My family would have been different.
If my grandfather Harry had been present.
He was a good provider. And absent. In the extreme.
My father followed his lead.
Those were the times. That's how it was.
Work. Before home.
His loss. Mine too.
I see cooks being good fathers.
Jamie Harling and Kyumin Hahn each had babies in 2021. Months apart.
I knew them both long ago. Solid gold students.
Juli born in July. June in December.
There's been a lot of their adorableness in my Stories.
Seeing them is a balm. Like beeswax. The scent of a meadow. The yellow ruffle on a blanket flower.
Good for my heart.
I know a man. Sparkling talent. Executive chef.
He left the business. Not too long ago.
Because having a family was a constant source of conflict. For his employer. The owners of celebrated Canadian restaurants. You've read about them in newspapers and magazines.
Local cuisine. Grass-fed beef. Just harvested vegetables. From the garden out back.
Attention to detail. Real care.
Except for the man. In the white jacket.
Who must show up: On demand. No outside obligations. For all the overtime. Answering day off work calls.
Most women leave restaurant kitchens just before the top. To have babies. Peak fertility.
Sous chef is a double-door exit. We hold it open. Think nothing of the loss.
Then we prevent them from returning to kitchen positions they left for maternity leave.
They have a right. It's the law.
Sparkling crystal glasses. Natural wine. Flickering candles. Expensive art.
Attention to detail. Real care.
Except for the woman. In the white jacket.
Who must show up: Working a junior station. With years of experience. Because one year away. To have a baby. Erased all her skills.
We create ideal working conditions. For mostly single men.
Look around your kitchens. I see it.
In women-owned restaurants too.
Our culture would benefit.
If we dropped the idea. That colleagues and employees are "family."
They. Are. Not.
They're cooks. Wanting sustainable work. Real careers.
Including time for children. And partners.
Outside the kitchen. Beyond the restaurant.
It's time to trade in the pirate ship. Go for the minivan.
Witchita Lineman. If you don't like it. We can't be friends.
I can't get enough of the new Florence + The Machine. Also Bill Nighy.
You know the question famous chefs get asked? What's the best meal of your life?
Here's one at the top of my list.
First, a slight detour.
My grandmother Theo was tight with money. In a pathological sense.
She once gave my stepsister and me a jewellery set for Christmas — bought at Zellers. I got the earrings, and my stepsister got the necklace.
Another year, I got my great-grandmother's old woollen blanket. Theo wrapped it. Put a fucking bow on it.
She came to a family occasion with a box of chocolates — some missing from the bottom layer.
The stories are amusing to tell. We can laugh now.
But as a kid, it felt confusing. Is this love?
Anyway, back to the meal.
I'm 17 years old.
Theo is travelling. In some distant land. The bookkeeper is out of office.
It's just my grandfather Harry at home in Welland. He invites us for lunch, baiting us with the promise of a prime rib roast. Truth is, we all like being with him. What's on the table is a bonus.
It makes me smile thinking about him standing at the counter. His small paunch pressed against the cool glass case. A glint in his eye as he places the order. Shooting the breeze with the butcher. No other cut of meat says, 'I'm flush.' Harry knew how to lay down cash.
We're five at lunch. Besides my grandfather, there are my uncles David and Peter, my dad, and me.
Here's what I remember.
The perfectly rare beef. David cooked it — the first chef in the family.
Each of us with a bone and a thick slice on our plate. A little room for horseradish. Which quickly turns pink.
The men talking and laughing.
The taste of blood. Greasy lips. The thought of Theo's disapproval.
Big. Fat. Happiness.
We left enough for Harry to make a sandwich the next day.
I tear up thinking about it. Only two of us left from that day.
The thing about best meals.
It's as much about who you were with as what you ate.
If your knees are under the same dinner table as your biological or chosen family today, enjoy.
I've seen sex addiction up close in many of its gross manifestations.
A classic pairing. With cocaine. And alcohol.
It's devastating. It levels. With collateral damage.
I heard this from a cook who was present.
A chef in one of Toronto's finest restaurants kicked the pastry chefs out of their area during dessert service on a busy weekend night to fuck a customer.
Sense of urgency.
Maybe this was hot for one or two people.
I bet the air was feral. Wonder if the female chefs in the kitchen felt nervous. I've known that.
Imagine the pastry chefs returning to the space after — the smell of sex hanging in the air.
The cooks exchanging glances when the executive chef comes back on line. Straightening his apron.
The unspoken messages. Being transmitted. By the "leader."
The problem with turning a restaurant into your nightclub is people work there. They don't get a say.
Celebrity chef culture complicates it.
Blind public adoration and ego-stroking. Leads the weak astray.
Imagine working for a beloved male chef.
Watching a trail of young women. At every event. Some unaware of the power dynamic.
Sex addiction is bleak up close. There's the palpable fear of having to grow up and grow old. The boyish good looks receding.
Imagine the emptiness of waking. Still lonely.
The women who see the wound. The hatred for their kind.
Infidelity in restaurants. The serial adulterer. The sex addict family man.
You can't imagine how many restaurants come to mind.
One of the problems with working all the time is staff turn up in a bed. Kept nearby.
Because chefs and owners never get out. Like humans.
The world beyond the kitchen door — where they're not the big shot. The great unknown.
Those relationships seldom work out. Someone else comes along.
The staff talking in whispers. Calling it out is complicated when it's the boss.
Blurred boundaries become part of a restaurant's DNA.
Addicts and codependents gravitate to your establishment. Like attracts like.
Good humans take a pass. They get out.
A young man once told me he'd exchange sex for a passing grade.
All those years, I worked to grow my French knowledge. To work at the top.
My hard-earned credentials. Between us. Inconsequential.
There for the taking.
Women practice the same desperate grasping. I've listened to them brag about the number of conquests.
I can't label anyone an addict. But compulsive behaviour is a hallmark.
We've talked a lot about substance abuse in restaurants. While stepping over an elephant.
Sex addiction doesn't care about who you get it on with, how many cookbooks you've sold, the lists you top, what New York journalist you text with, who your publicist is.
That's why you want a mix of humans in your restaurants. Lots of eyes to spot dangers. To recognize a predator who made it past an interview. Or who owns the business.
You want a professional environment with cooks who know about consent and labour laws.
So no one acts out sexual impulses with impunity. Behaves like everything around is their possession.
I draw conclusions when I see an all-male kitchen crew. The same goes for restaurant groups with a token woman.
I can see your commitment to a healthy culture.
Diversity is hard. Often because of your reputation.
I've been around.
Dear Lila, Esther, Jonathan, Heather, Karen, Rabia, Pim, Karen, Nictoria, Sonja, Lindsey, Ron:
These are my new glasses. The ones you bought me.
They mean a great deal to me.
I want to tell you about that.
I went on social assistance in November 2021.
The insecurity was awful. I felt so scared.
Acceptance was hard.
I'm not seeking pity. I want to be seen by anyone who is struggling.
Because I'm not alone.
There were benefits. Access to health stuff.
I don't know when I stopped seeing out of my old glasses.
It had been a while.
I received a voucher to get new glasses.
The thought of an eye exam lifted my spirit. I went on a Friday.
My blue eyes welled up when the optometrist dropped the correct lens down.
It was like looking through clean windows.
I went to the rack and found frames I loved.
I had them for about three weeks when I went for a long walk. On a Monday night.
And lost them.
I was so distraught. I cried so hard.
Something inside me broke.
It felt like good had been given to me. And then taken away.
You saw my distress on Twitter.
Within hours I had double the voucher funds.
I tried to reorder the same glasses.
But the discount rack is 'the lasts.' There was a similar pair, but the frame was smaller and didn't look right.
I left the store. Managing my disappointment.
I was going to leave it for a few days.
On the way home from the grocery store, I stopped at an optometrist.
I showed the woman a photo of me in the glasses. She came back with these frames. First pair.
They cost more.
I put them on. Power. Restored.
You gave me that.
I'm working to cross the bridge back to security. Like countless others.
Someday I hope to pay it forward.
This is to say thank you.
For the glasses.
For seeing my distress.
For holding me in your thoughts.
For sending care.
For being generous and kind.
For softening my heart.
Everyone is afraid of losing
Even the ones that always win
Hey sleepwalker, when the mountain comes back to life
It doesn't come from without
It comes from within
© Deborah Reid, 2021 - 2024. All Rights Reserved.