Confessions of a Line Cook

An honest account of how (and why) I got my first professional kitchen job as a line cook and how I made the decision to quit after 1 month.

Line Cook

Getting the Job

Junior year of college brought the inception of my alter ego Annie Tortellini along with an unexpected itch to stray from my original post-grad plans. When I thought of life after college, I began to hear this little echo in the back of my mind wondering “what if I tried to really do something with this, with cooking?” Fast forward to June 2021, I graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Economics and was ready to start my job search. I had been looking for a traditional desk job in data analytics in the nonprofit industry for a few months at this point but wasn’t really finding anything. My days consisted of browsing endless jobs that all seemed miserable to me and getting no response from what little jobs I had been interested in enough to apply for. 

The combination of my love for cooking, my alter ego’s voice whispering in my ear and pure frustration in the current business job market, plus the financial and social privilege I have, created a unique scenario for me. One day I decided to check out cook positions near me and found one at a restaurant 5 minutes away that required no experience (!!) at all. On a complete whim, I threw together a brand new resume with my previous server jobs along with my Annie Tortellini experience and showed up to apply less than an hour after I first saw the job listing. After talking to the head chef, I was asked to come in the next day for a shadow shift. I was SO nervous but SO excited for this opportunity! The entire day leading up to that first shift was an anxious blur, filled with worries that my own cooking skills and knowledge would be no match for a restaurant kitchen. I spent hours scrolling through r/KitchenConfidential, a subreddit dedicated to restaurant workers’ experiences, and other restaurant forums and blog sites to try to get some semblance of what to expect in a real professional kitchen. 

line cook

After thinking myself into a black hole of worries, I showed up for the shadow shift and was hired on the spot as a line cook! I was extremely excited for the opportunity to expand my kitchen experience and learn all that I possibly could here. I was so eager to collect tips and tricks and real culinary knowledge that I could use later on in Annie Tortellini. This was supposed to be an open door to numerous possibilities in the culinary world!

On the Line

The first day was very exciting. It all felt brand new and fun and just straight up cool. I was doing something different from the norm, doing something I actually loved! I got to cook and I got paid for it! But unfortunately, I learned very quickly that my job wasn’t really about cooking. 

At this particular restaurant, there were four stations on the line: Pizza, Grill (burgers and steaks), Saute (fish and pasta dishes), and Pantry (salads and deep fried foods). I was on the pantry station. We made salads, most of the cold appetizers along with manning the deep fryers. Some of the dishes that came off this station were Chopped Salads, Wedge Salads, Kale Caesar Salads, Calamari, Tuna Tartar, Fried Chicken Sandwiches, Falafel Sandwiches, French Fries plus a few other things.

The day to day consisted of a lot of prep work, which was basically chopping the same 5 ingredients everyday, portioning out chicken and tuna, making guacamole and frying onions. While working with these all too familiar ingredients, I daydreamed of going to farmers markets and discovering new foods. 

During service, it was just basic assembly of a handful of memorized menu items. You needed some organizational skills to keep up with the orders, but it was pretty easy once you got the hang of it. While making the same 4 salads over and over again, I was constantly coming up with ideas for fresh and different dishes to develop at home. 

Finally, after service was all about cleaning. Two hours worth of cleaning to be specific — scrubbing the floors down, filtering the deep fryer oil, wrapping up all of the food and then scrubbing the floors down again. While mindlessly cleaning a space that would never be clean enough, I thought of ways to differentiate my photography and my business pitches for Annie Tortellini.

It’s a lot of repetition and once you get it all down (which didn’t take long), it gets pretty stale.

professional restaurant kitchen

Why I Quit My First Back of House Job After One Month

There were three main reasons that pushed me to consider leaving my first professional kitchen job. First, the hours were grueling and the pay was not the best. 35 hours on my feet a week with no breaks for $14/hour was not it for me. Second, there was a lot of grunt work that came with the job — so much prep work, so much cleaning plus typical workplace drama. And I know there’s grunt work with any job, but just let me continue. Third, and most importantly, I didn’t feel like I was learning anything. I definitely don’t know close to everything about cooking or the restaurant industry, but I felt like it would take me years at this restaurant and on the line to learn something new. This last point is the most persuading factor in my decision to quit. If I was learning a ton, the pay, the hours, the physical exhaustion and the grunt work wouldn’t matter as much.

Now don’t get me wrong, the job was good; it had pros and cons, just like virtually every job out there. But my good friend once said that if you don’t know why you’re doing something, if you don’t have a solid, driving reason for doing something, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. That’s what it came down to. I got the job in the first place to learn more about food and cooking in order to put that into practice in my Annie Tortellini projects. However, I wasn’t really gaining any new and valuable knowledge I could actually use (not that I had even had the time or energy outside of work to cook on my own). 

Once I first got the inkling to quit, I felt really torn.. Questioning my decision, I wondered if I should’ve given it more time, if I should’ve toughened up and dealt with the unfavorable parts to get the experience, if I was a quitter and this meant I wouldn’t be successful in anything food related in the future. Truly, I felt all the things. 

But I chalked it up to the fact that I felt I had more potential in my own kitchen than in someone else’s. I knew in my gut that this was not the right place for me nor was it an absolutely necessary step for me to achieve my goals. And thanks to the support of my family, I was able to move on from this specific position. Now I’m more motivated than ever to get in my kitchen and experiment and create and just have fun with it all! Get ready to see a ton more from Annie Tortellini in the near future.

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