I've held several jobs in my life so far. I started out as a babysitter, then moved my way up to camp counselor, unpaid intern and eventually paid intern. After college and graduate school, it was on to magazine publishing, nonprofit marketing, PR, freelance writer and eventually author. In all of my work experience though, I was never formally trained as a cook, a dishwasher or even a waitress.
So this makes me wonder how I became a short order cook -- and an unpaid one at that. Day after day, night after night for nearly a decade, I took orders, made up the meals, the snacks, the drinks and had them ready to go and at the table in record time. Almost immediately after the food was consumed, I cleared the table, washed the dishes and was ready and waiting for the next orders to come in.
I could and did cook anything and everything -- and on demand. Some of my dinner specialties included spaghetti and meatballs, chicken Parmesan and panko chicken. When my customers were really hungry, I managed to get mac and cheese (and organic no less), pizza bagels and cheese quesadillas on the table even as I was setting it.
The breakfast rush was tough, but I made it work. Eggs (any style), waffles, cereal, bagels, chocolate chip pancakes, Oreo-chip pancakes, and whatever kind of chip my customers wanted in a pancake, I managed to get in there. My customers were well-fed, happy and ready to head out the door for wherever they needed to be -- school, sporting events or a friend's house.
Full disclosure here (in case you haven't already guessed it), my customers were my kids, and I, a much too willing mom/short order cook.
I'm not sure when I realized that I had to let my short order cook gig go. Perhaps it was when I felt the need to push some kind of bell on my kitchen counter to let my customers know their food was ready to go. Or maybe it was when I started to clear the table while they were still eating. I began to hear my mother's voice in my head -- the one that said every night after the dinners of my childhood the "the kitchen is closed." She would not have approved of my short order cook status.
I wondered what made me an all too willing on demand chef. Maybe growing up with a mother who hated to cook and gave us very few if any meal choices made me think that I had to indulge my kids with whatever they wanted to eat and at any moment? Or maybe I just really liked cooking and wanted everyone to like what I made and hence like me? Ridiculous -- I now know.
I put away my imaginary bell above my stovetop. I threw away my greasy overused apron and ripped up my multi-page grocery store list. I quit and without much notice at all.
At first my customers were a little confused and upset. They had lots of questions, comments and complaints, but they kept coming back. Thankfully my kitchen no longer had a suggestion box and my customers didn't really have a choice -- other than starvation.
I scoured my giant cookbook collection, sometimes running ideas by my customers and sometimes not. My grocery list became much more manageable and so too my time in the kitchen. I now cook one meal every night for the customers, and said customers eat the one meal -- sometimes with more enthusiasm than others.
It's been almost a year since I left my job as a short order cook. And now I have a lot more time for my other jobs, which as it turns out, I am much better at without the weight of the greasy apron or the urge to ring the bell.
More disclosure: I am currently considering taking on a new job as an Uber driver what with all the driving I now get to do for my customers. I'll let you know how that one goes.