The Flying Chef | The day I died | The Flying Chef
Updated: Dec 29, 2018
Imagine a different life or a parallel universe, one where you could be anyone you wanted to be or do anything you dreamed.
Who would you become and what amazing things would you do?
Now what if you realized this is that life and you are in that universe, how would that affect the decisions you make?
Realizing that travel was my life's passion and purpose at a very young age, I dropped out of high school two years early and went searching for the best career options that would enable me to fulfill this dream.
Being a non academic practical minded person who always had to do something with his hands, the top two choices were cabinet making, a trade which I already had a great deal of skill, experience and interest in, or "cheffing", a skill I knew nothing about beyond my adolescent microwave cookery misadventures.
Figuring that no matter what, people always had to eat, I began the laborious and difficult task of obtaining a Certificate 3 in Commercial Cookery back in 1996 the small sleepy beach-side village of Lennox Head, a 20 minute drive south of Byron Bay on the north coast of New South Wales, Australia.
A chef's apprenticeship has to be one of the most grueling challenges that one can endure, a challenge which subjects you to extremely long unsociable hours, split shifts, often terrible working conditions, below minimum wages, unpaid over time, verbal, mental and physical abuse, belittlement, bullying, harassment, alcoholism, drug abuse/addiction, and a great number of reasons longer than the list of child abuse claims against the Catholic church why a staggering 90% of apprentice chefs chuck in the towel and quit within the first 12 months of donning a chef jacket and a pair of baggy checked pants.
Being a chef requires a special breed of human being, one which may not necessarily thrive in a social environment, they may not be the most literate people on the planet, and they certainly may not be the most trustworthy of people to leave unsupervised in your cellar filled with bottles of vintage wine and aged spirits, but observe this special breed of human in their natural habitat, lets say the kitchen of a packed 300 seat restaurant at 7:30pm on a Saturday night when the docket rack is full, the printer is constantly screaming with new orders, the floor staff are demanding food for their tables, there's a line of people waiting to be seated, the bar is packed, the kitchen hand doesn't understand English, two of his co-workers have called in sick, and one of the apprentices has just stabbed himself in the hand with an oyster knife and is spraying blood all over the mise en place.
It's at this precise moment that this special breed of human is in their element. With alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines and adrenaline pumping profusely through their bulging veins, the chefs mind remains crystal clear, focused with laser like accuracy on the multiple tasks at hand. Time slows down, the flames from the blistering hot frying pans lurch high up into the range hood, the glowing red char grill packed full of of different cuts of marinated and seasoned meat emits mouthwatering aromas, the steam from the deep fryers, radiant heat from the salamanders, drop down ovens and compressors from the reach in refrigeration all contribute to the seemingly unbearable heat and humid conditions in this cramped working environment, but the chef remains undeterred and doesn't miss a beat. To many people, this is what the holocaust might look like, but to a passionate chef, it's just a regular Saturday night.
I must admit there were several times during my apprenticeship when I considered tearing off the apron, making a huge dramatic scene and storming out of the kitchen, never to return. But by this time I was in too deep, it's a love/hate relationship with no middle ground, food had become my second passion and the reasons why were always strong enough to keep me coming back. What that certificate at the end of my time as an apprentice symbolized and represented was well worth all of the shit that I had to endure.
The plan when I finally received that white piece of A4 paper in the mail with my name scribed across it in black ink along with the words "Certificate 3 in Commercial Cookery" was to buy a ticket on the first international flight out of the country regardless of the destination, let the chips fall where they may and be guided by the unpredictable winds of my trade. Wherever I was to end up was fine by me, provided I was always learning something new.
The one and only thing that would prevent this plan from manifesting into reality was becoming a parent. Two months after qualifying as a chef, my son was born and life was changed forever, the dream however, remained the same.
My thoughts then turned to business. In my mind, business owners earned great money and could afford to travel as often as they liked. Within six months, I had formed a partnership with a successful businessman and our wood fire pizza franchise was born.
We had developed a quality product at a very competitive price so my strategy then became to take on McDonald's globally. It was simple, we just had to open a pizza shop next door to every one of the big goofy footed shifty looking ginger haired clown's golden arch restaurants.
For 8 years we worked hard at building our brand, and in that time I learned many things about business. The main lesson though was that the business tends to own you, not the other way around. There were a few overseas trips in that period, and I really loved what I was doing, but the whole time there was this irritating feeling in the back of my mind that just wouldn't go away, kind of like the scab on your knee that would heal, if only you could stop picking at it. I had to get out, I had to travel.
In 2008, several major events happened that impacted and changed my perspective on things, and the final straw came when my son decided he was going to live with his mother the following year.
By this time we had three pizza shops, with a fourth on the way, my rut was getting deeper, so it was a now or never kind of deal. I handed in my notice and walked away from the business partnership empty handed. I still remember that liberating feeling when I put everything I owned in a storage shed. Standing there looking at all my "stuff", realizing that's exactly all it was. Stuff that measures your social status level amongst your peers. Stuff that you think you own, when in reality, it's the stuff that owns you.
In November 2008 I left Australia with a backpack and a one way ticket, my life would never be the same again, the old me was dead.
Read the next blog Comfortably Uncomfortable