Speak Up

Monday, June 2, 2008

Undercover Cook

Doesn't the name alone leave you wanting to know more? What is an undercover cook? Why would someone need to cook undercover in the first place? Perhaps a CIA agent, maybe a bounty hunter, or even a graphic designer?

Last fall I met a fabulous young women [name intentionally left out] who was working a regular 9-5 job behind a computer but had a longing to be a chef. What a neat concept. I've heard of people leaving their desks, suits, and ties to trade them in for chef whites and knives. However, I never knew of anyone who did it while still working for "the man" downtown. This lovely lady has worked at "resto x" and told her tales of undercover fortune through her blog. Check out her original story and her struggle to leave the advertising world to enter to the food world at her blog.

I now present my interview with the Undercover Cook.
  • 1. Cooking is such a change from your day job, how did you get into it?By eating. I've been eating my way through New York, and one day I realized I was totally food-obsessed. Not only was I eating everything in my sight, but began reading anything that had to do with food. When I had a television, I would watch food programs all night, all the while eating a meal I had just cooked, and during commercials I would read a cookbook or a food magazine. As an art director, I probably should have been reading about advertising and graphic design, and believe me I tried, but I always felt like a phony. My heart just wasn't in it.
  • 2. HOW on Earth are you doing it? Working two jobs is hard, but working a 9-5 AND cooking seems like it might be impossible.What's that saying, "Desperate times call for desperate measures?" I reached a point where I had to do something about this thing inside me (call it a passion, an obsession, a sickness). I felt I would explode if I didn't pursue this voice, and I'm suffering much less now, even though it's physically and mentally draining. Straddling two disconnected lives has been more stressful than I had imagined, and in all honesty it's nearly impossible to do both very well. I'm just grateful I'll be able to focus full-time in the kitchen this coming fall.
  • 3. How are your family and friends reacting to the change in careers?My parents have been amazingly cool. My mom simply wants me to be happy and healthy. If that means cleaning toilets for a living, great! And my dad said he was proud of me, and that's not something a Korean parent says very often. My oldest brother, Henry, encouraged me by saying any work that you truly love will require some sacrifice and years of hard work. I think my other brother, Chuck, is a bit more nervous about the whole thing and sees giving up this career as a big risk and a shame. My friends? Fully supportive and encouraging. They've been great, perhaps because they no longer have to hear me whining about how I hate this job, etc, etc. Hehe.
  • 4. You must be so busy already, what was your motivation to start the blog?It was the suggestion of my brother Chuck and my friend Gerry. It got started mainly as a place for me to take notes, ruminate on food and cooking, and share my experience with just a handful of friends. I've been really surprised to see how often people check in, and so now I feel I owe it to those friends to keep up the blog.
  • 5. My husband went to the Culinary Institure of America but he tells people not to go to culinary school unless they have loads of money. The value of on site learning is amazing. Do you have any plans to attend culinary school?Well actually, that's how this whole thing got started. I've been contemplating culinary school for at least 7 years. Every year I would call or email a bunch of schools to ask for an application. So following tradition, I began doing some research again last fall. I really respect the pool of knowledge on Chowhound and eGullet, and after digging around a bit on those sites, I found endless posts from chefs saying, "Don't do it!" "Go work in a real kitchen first to see if you can hack it!" "It's not worth the $50,000 debt!" The same words, more or less, were echoed by Jamie Oliver on his blog and endless other well-respected chefs in the book Becoming a Chef. It was invaluable advice. It's been an amazing and eye-opening experience to learn on-site, in real-time, with practicing chefs. I mean, I still have this tiny nagging feeling of wanting to go to school, but mostly for a change of pace from the "real world." Maybe if my future business takes off, I'll sign up for school just for fun, at the ripe age of 55.
  • 6. Why are you anonymous? It is completely respected of course, but you must have a specific reason.It was for the sole purpose of not being found out online by my co-workers and my boss. People do a whole lot of googling and web-surfing in this industry.
DCW_Columbus, OH
-Hilary-

3 comments:

minna s. said...

love it. more power to her! i felt a surge of motivation after reading her blog, seeing that i am in a similar situation as her, i only hope that my korean parents send the same support when i make the full-time jump to a culinary career...

brother Chuck said...

Undercover sis, I'll approve of your carefree abandonment when you give my boys jobs peeling potatoes in your kitchen!

(I'm an undercover machinist)

Undercover Cook said...

Hillary,
Wow, thanks so much for posting this! Funnily enough, come October, I will also be a chef's wife!

Minna,
Thanks for your input. I'm now doing a full-time 4-month apprenticeship at Blue Hill at Stone barns. Actually, I've moved back in with my parents, have been living on a pay check of $0 an hour, and ache all over from a 15-hour day including cuts, burns, and the stress of standing and working with my hands all day, but somehow I feel happier and healthier than I ever have in the office. Best of luck to you with your leap. You'll know when's the right time. As for your parents, I hope they'll be supportive and understanding.

Brother Chuck,
Ha! You make it sound like I ran off to Vegas to gamble on a million dollars. If J or D ever wanted to cook, I think they'd be capable of much more than peeling potatotes.