Culinary Sense

Adventures with Food and Life

Shades of Gray

I was unpacking and re-arranging things in my new apartment this evening, trying to clear out all the clutter of the cardboard boxes. I’ve been gradually shifting all my STUFF into plastic containers – you know, that New England humidity really does them in. So of course I came across my box of photos.

Looking at photos of my past almost always makes me sad and nostalgic. I look at myself as a baby; as a toddler; smiling in first grade; smiling at Christmas, decorating the tree with my brother; photos of me and best friend at the beach; my big Italian-American family sitting round the table, eating pasta; photos in Germany; photos in the U.S.; photos of me with braces, … you get the picture. I can’t help stare at myself in those photos, and think about the person I was then, and how much things have changed. How things always change, and how I seemingly have so little control over events in my life.

When I think about myself now and compare it to who I used to be, I have just changed so much. I am a totally different person now, and every morning I wake up a different person. Now I have a little more control over what I do, how I live, and where I’m going.

One of the great things about being in a professional kitchen is that every day, you get to start anew. You get to make fresh food, set everything up for service that day. Every three weeks in culinary school, I get to start a new course. And it’s great: it’s renewal, a chance to do better than yesterday, a chance to change.

And yet, I still struggle with change. Even though I’ve changed so much, it’s still so hard. I want to hang on to older versions of myself because they are known, they are familiar, they are ME. I am all of those people. And I’m still charging into the future, into the unknown. Change happens, and I just can’t stop it.

I’m working on it, I’m working on being flexible, on being accepting of change. But it’s so hard. One way I try to cope is having a plan, being organized, being prepared. I am so hard on myself, trying to be good, trying to be my best. And sometimes (well, more than sometimes), I expect the same of others. I expect others to be like me.

Perhaps that’s my downfall. Both that I expect so much of myself, and that I expect so much of others. Everything is black or white. There is a right way and wrong way. In the kitchen, I watch others as they prepare their stations, cutting vegetables, making vinaigrettes. Sometimes during this prep time, other students borrow my tools, my knives, my spatulas… And then they don’t bring them back, or they don’t clean them, or they don’t even ask in the first place. They don’t even realize how this affects me, how much this messes with my preparation, my efforts to be my best, my goal to be a professional. I see myself getting upset about these things, and I realize how relaxed these people are, and how frustrated I am. I try to communicate, and it doesn’t work. I try to tell them I need my stuff back, preferably clean.

But this way of being isn’t working for me. After all, I just end up being upset. I can’t keep being black or white. It seems like this is a lesson I have to learn over and over and over again, even after all the work I’ve done. After all, there will always be people in the world who aren’t like me, who don’t get me; and there will always be things in the world that I can’t change and that will force me to change.

It’s the gray that gets to me. And I have a feeling that it always will. So with a big sigh I prepare for tomorrow. I brace myself for what might be, for what might happen. I need to practice venturing out of the black and white and step into the shades of gray.

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