Nanny to Line Cook: How I Unexpectedly Discovered My Dream Job
By Betsy Mullally
October 2013 was one of the worst months of my life. I moved to Russia after college to teach English and the minute I got to Moscow I knew it was a mistake. I did my training month, began working at my school, and started to realize I was depressed. I hated my job – it rained every day in September, and I dreamed about going home constantly. In October I decided to move back home to Baltimore. I was supposed to be abroad for a year.
I felt like a failure. I was unemployed for months. I wrote lists of jobs I could get and things I thought I might like to do with my life. I wanted more than anything to begin my adult life and move out of my Mom’s house. Like so many millennials who desperately need to make money, I decided to become a nanny for a few months. It was okay, but I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I needed something more fulfilling.
Every day after I finished nannying, I immediately thought about dinner. At least a few nights a week, I would kick my Mom out of the kitchen and try a new recipe. I got pretty good with a few things – chocolate chip cookies (a snow day favorite), pulled pork, eggs, and I could always make a mean sandwich. I wrote down recipes to try all the time. I had friends over for dinner and started manning the grill. I realized at some point that I loved food and cooking more than your average nanny.
On June 26th, I decided to apply for a job at Woodberry Kitchen, a very popular farm-to-table New American restaurant in Baltimore. They didn’t hire me right away but asked me to come back the next day to try out. That day was a blurry, thrilling nightmare. I didn’t hold my knife right, I didn’t know what fennel was, and I grabbed the last ice cream out of the freezer without telling the pastry chef – not knowing I screwed her over. I kept my head down and hoped they could see that I was a hard worker and that I was ready to start from the bottom.
Much to my surprise, I was hired on the 27th.
The first months were hard. I wasn’t allowed to work the line at first because I was so slow and knew so little. I got kicked out when the health inspector came because I had no idea what I needed to do. I pissed off most of the other cooks because I couldn’t keep up with them. I didn’t know about any famous chefs. I didn’t know that taking a picture of a fish in the walk-in wasn’t funny because they were in there all the time. My ignorance seemed like it would never end, but slowly, after a few grueling months, the chefs were asking me things like, “Hey, what did you put in that onion dip?” I made shrimp salad and seasoned it perfectly. It wasn’t taking me 45 minutes longer to clean up than everyone else. I made friends and started buying cookbooks like a madwoman. I started training my new coworkers on cold side and it hit me.
Shit! I, this young twenty-something with no previous experience in the restaurant business, am a line cook!
Now I feel like a completely different person than that depressed girl in her apartment in Moscow. I am still learning a great deal about food and the ins and outs of working as a line cook. I still mess up all the time, but I have grown so much in these past three years. I love working with my hands and crushing a busy service. I love watching people smile and enjoy the food that we make. I love to read cookbooks and talk to my coworkers about new recipes. I wake up every day and I do not dread going to work. I LOVE being a line cook.
I won’t be able to be on my feet for 60 hours a week forever, but cooking these three years has taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. If you’re not happy, do something else. Try anything and everything until you find what makes you the best kind of crazy – that thing that makes perfect sense once you find it. Work your ass off, surround yourself with people who support you, and refuse to give up.
These have been the most insane, burn-inducing, fast-paced, beautiful years of my life, and I could not be more grateful. Thank you to everyone who has helped me and supported me along the way. I can’t wait for what’s to come.
Bring it on, year four –I’ve never been more ready.