As I sit here on the Air Canada flight 113 on my way to embark on a new adventure and job endeavour in Calgary, I can’t help but to think about what I’m leaving behind. A lifetime full of friendship and laughter, days full of imagination and hard work and the only life I have known for the past two years. I have become part of the close family of Chinched Bistro- a family I have been so blessed to know and love with my whole entire heart.
My name is Jenn May. I was the Sous chef at this brilliant restaurant up until last week. With no intention on ever leaving, I was surprised with a phone call in the middle of the summer with a job opportunity in Calgary. As some of you already know from Tim Corbett’s all too kind blog about me last month, my passion is charcuterie as a whole. Charcut in Calgary specializes and hones the skills of sausage making, working with offal and more. So I took the bait and began my exciting journey to the next chapter of my life! The only thing I can’t wrap my head around is that I’m approximately three hours away from my new life, and why I left something so absolutely perfect behind. Here’s why…
Two years ago I was in a cook slump. I was an arrogant 24 year old who thought I knew everything there was to know about cooking. I went school and obtained my red seal without much trouble. However, a red seal exam is all book smarts. It doesn’t test your hands on skills in the kitchen like it undoubtedly should. My Mother (love you Mom) could write that exam with enough study, but if you put her into the kitchen and asked her to apply those skills there would be problems. I wrote my exam after finishing the third block of the cook program. During which I met Shaun and Michelle. They too were writing the red seal and while we only crossed paths for a brief moment in time, I knew they were the kind of cooks I kid myself about being daily. A few months later I applied for an unnamed Bistro opening in the downtown area and received a phone call the next day from Michelle. I felt like the bullet of luck I haven’t much encountered in my life had struck me. I took the job almost instantly and so it began.
The beginning was rough. On top of the stress of starting a new job, there was the sudden realization I had no idea what I was doing. Well okay, I knew about just enough to get me through. My self-confidence was shattered. I found myself second guessing things I have known for years. My very first night at the Bistro I burned a piece of salmon when I had been cooking salmon for years. Crushed and vulnerable, Shaun and I had a new and strained relationship at the beginning. He was trying to run a new business, not needing my little skill to effect his finished menu ideas on the plate. This continued for a while. Learning new skills and building back a crushed ego doesn’t happen over night. I was in the presence of two magnificent cooks with no like skilled cook as me around. So I pushed. Shaun pushed. Michelle pushed. We all continued to work through mistakes, misunderstandings, fights, and tears. For the first while I went in everyday wondering in the back of my head if it would be the day I was fired. I wouldn’t have blamed them. And I thank the restaurant Gods every day that they didn’t.
With time came skill. With skill came confidence. With that confidence I started trying new things that Shaun had an obvious passion about. Sausages. Nothing fancy at first, nothing new… just sausage. What I didn’t realize was how much a 26 year old women could fall in love with grinding pork and fat with spices. I didn’t think dealing with intestines for stuffing meat would give me such pleasure. And no one could have prepared me for the pride felt when someone tried the sausages I made and said “mmmm” in response. Even more surprising, taking a full pig’s head and butchering it has been to date one of the most fun things I have ever done in my career. Twisted I know, but true.
Shaun and I began to understand each other. We started to learn how to communicate. We became friends first, partners in crime later. I started to laugh at work and then I couldn’t stop. This is the place where jokes go to not die. I learned countless things everyday and started to gain my own creative voice. Shaun took me from a slump cook to a self-confident skilled (Editors Note: Highly Skilled) sous chef. More than my mentor, he became a dear friend along with Michelle.
Through the two years there was an amazing staff keeping things interesting at all times. From Shauna to Christina the first crew at Chinched were a mix of crazy to chill. You all taught me something along the way, but mostly friendship in every way. Tim, you taught me how to peel a piano and I will take the skill with me everywhere I go. Tess, you might be the only person I every allowed (or will ever allow) to slap me. I will miss dressing Michelle up like a Barbie doll (I still can’t believe I’m going to miss the wedding dress shopping) Heather-it was me and you from the beginning and it still is. You taught me the little bit of crazy I now have embedded in me. Panda, you are my hero. Liz & Em , I don’t think there’s two better interns out there that could take over a whole station for summer while dealing with me the whole time. All the staff parties, the work hang outs, all the jokes and great stories, all the skill and support from each of you guys. There are no words to express my thanks for the person I am today. Only to say I am me because of you. I love you all very much. I’ll miss you more than that. But mostly I’ll keep you all in my heart with warm wishes for the rest of my life.