You may also recall how I had a bit of a meltdown during this past semester when I realized that what I wanted to do (shadow a chef and get away from MIT) did not necessarily coincide with the norm. Most of my friends are off doing awesome internships and making money. And while it's a lot easier for me to say that I'm extremely happy with my decision now (I got to help put up drywall for a ceiling at a house for Habitat earlier this morning, go to lunch with Mike and Myla, see the kiddos afterward for "kissy monster" time, and am literally in a swim suit sun bathing as I type this), it was a hard challenge to not feel inferior among my peers while I was back at school. My decision to come home has been more relaxing, rewarding, and hermit-like than I anticipated-- and I am so grateful that I had the guts to say "guys, I need a break." I'm a heck of a lot more content just being alone and making my decisions without second guessing what others want from me. Furthermore, I'm happy that I gave myself the respect to realize that my passion isn't just building robots/being an academic. My happiness is significantly increased whenever I'm cooking/around food. With this realization and Mike's suggestion, I've decided to launch an Indiegogo campaign to hopefully get help funding my dream of enrolling in a culinary academy in Italy during my gap year after I graduate from MIT before I start my masters program (hopefully at MIT). Given that from my rough estimate it's going to cost about $30K for the whole year abroad (flight, tuition, housing, living expenses), me not working this summer is rather nerve wracking. But, where there's a will, there's a way. Right? And if there's one thing I've learned from my mom's jokes about my pestering for something, it's that when I want something, I won't stop until I get it. Period.
So you may be wondering, what sparked this renewed enthusiasm, what rekindled the flame (now freaking BONFIRE) of determination? In a word:
One of my earliest items added to my bucketlist (if not the first, seriously) was owning a restaurant/cafe and living in the flat above it. I realized that owning such an establishment might be too stressful and thus changed that item to "befriending someone who owns a restaurant to level of comfort where I am able to walk into the back and make myself something to eat."
Yesterday for lunch after making a crap ton of ravioli, I made myself a arugula with gorgonzola, mozzarella, blue cheese salad, topped with candied walnuts, mango, apple slices, and some beets, all lightly drizzled in a fig vinegar.
I'M FULFILLING A BUCKETLIST ITEM AT THE AGE OF 20! Seriously, it's freaking awesome. I never imagined I'd get to fulfilling stuff on that list, and especially not an item as epic as this one, until like, I don't know, at least post undergrad. I'm not getting paid a cent, but I'm so giddy about work each time I go in, I don't even notice! I even love peeling a 5 gallon bucket of potatoes! WHO DOES THAT?! I do. And I do it with a smile and some dance moves to whatever (generally mexican) music is playing.
Interestingly enough, Leonardo (Leo is a fellow cook who really does most of the food/dish making, if not all, during lunch hours and is one of three chefs during dinner, Giancarlo and Guillermo being the other two) asked me if I liked working there yesterday and I said yes. He asked me "why?" I was caught off guard. The sincerity with which he asked seemed genuinely curious. I always start each evening before we open for dinner by asking the chefs "are you excited?! I am! It's ok, I'll be excited for us all." and I guess that maybe provoked the question? It makes sense. I'm not making any money and I get so tired/my back aches enough (oh joy arthritis, how to suck the fun out of some things sometimes! :P) that I have to stop and do some stretching before I can continue on. I don't know, I just, I've never enjoyed "going to work" so much in life. I responded to his question with "At school, it's really hard. I have think with my brain A LOT... all the time... and no matter how hard I try, I always feel dumb. I always feel like everyone else is smarter than me. But here? In the kitchen? I feel content. I feel like, I have a task, however small, and I can do it well." I've been thinking about that response a lot lately. I realized that I initially responded with that because I wasn't sure how to respond. To stop and put into words the reason behind why you feel this way or that is a surprisingly challenging task! That, and I wasn't sure how much English he could understand. But on some level, it's absolute truth. There is a great sense of importance one gets from being able to complete a task and to do so well. No matter how small and perhaps unappreciated. Those ravioli, most anyone could make, but I made them. I lathered the noodle in a egg and water paste to make it stick better when I fold it over. I scooped out just the right amount to make it full and not too filled (pretty good at getting that on the first go now). I carefully folded the pasta over, squished out the air, cut and trimmed the excess noodle, and forked the edges to seal the goodness in. And yes, the customer will most likely devour that ravioli in the same amount of, if not less, time that it took me to make it without even a moment's thought about what work went into creating that, but I don't care. Each ravioli is a sense of pride in my book. I made it. Don't get me wrong, the fun people, the learning new recipes, learning what it's like to work with an Italian (read: emotional, not always timely, slightly crazy but you gotta love that about 'em) are all aspects I am cherishing greatly. But this sense of accomplishment is certainly something I did not anticipate but have very much enjoyed. Also, the fact that I'm finally taking my passion for food seriously. Like, taking myself seriously about it. That's nice.
Story time: I have been befriended by all the Spanish speaking staff there. I tell them that I want to practice my Spanish so they kindly speak to me in Spanish while I try to respond in Spanish. (They also get a kick out of me being so white and half Mexican, hah!) Anyway, one evening near closing, I was hostessing (oh yeah, I go in later mornings and work through the after doing food prep ~11:30-4:30, then hostess at night, 5-10ish! :) I'm learning all aspects of the restaurant business. I love it!) and asked my amigo (not me being racist, we chefs refer to each other as "amigo, pass me x") to make me a pizza with BBQ sauce, caramelized onions, arugula (LOVE THAT STUFF), and gorgonzola. He informed me that they didn't have BBQ sauce and I was SO sad because I was craving that like mad. Anyway, 10 min later Guillermo comes back and asks me to taste a sauce he made so I did. IT WAS FANTASTIC! He had made me a BBQ sauce from scratch!!! Let me tell you, I have never had such a delicious pizza in my life. Needless to say, I freaking love the camaraderie that having fun workmates produces! Shout out to Cora, a sweet new girl that started a couple days before me. She's made working there tons of fun!
P.S. I'll post some pics of dishes I made in a little bit once I go inside and get my camera. :-)