I can't believe the past two years have gone by so quickly. The culinary department graduation ceremony took place last weekend and I had been chosen by my peers as a speaker. I wanted to share my speech, so here is the full text.
Good morning friends, family, teachers, classmates, chefs, administrators. It is an honor to speak before you today.
So the only reason I was able to finish this speech was because I was starving. I’ve known for a good two months that I needed to write this, but it wasn’t until a couple of days ago, where I made myself sit at my desk and literally did not allow myself to eat until this speech was finished that it actually got written.
Starving reminds me of the past two years here – especially in the beginning, when I had just moved here from New York. I had almost run out of savings, was taking class in eight-hour blocks. It wasn’t uncommon for me to skip meals. And it was always ironic to me, going to culinary school – cooking food for goodness sake, and starving at the same time.
But I didn’t mind – that much. Before I came here I was starving in a different sort of way. I was mentally, creatively starved. Working in a square box of a room, staring at a computer screen and filling out forms all day. I’m sure many of you career-changers came here to leave that kind of life, and I’m sure most of you are here because you want to avoid that kind of life.
But beyond that, I wanted to work with my hands. Actually make things that another human being could touch and be fed by. And here, I got to do that. Every day we would make food, that was sold in the cafeteria or the Latin Quarter (now Café Med) or the Pierre Coste (PCR) Dining Room and people ate it (for whatever reason, probably because they too were starving).
Anyway, in those past two years I have learned so much. Not just about how to make food, or how to work with people, but about how to work hard. For me it meant working, usually two part-time jobs, so I could actually feed myself while going to school. I’ve watched so many of my peers work full-time jobs, only to squeeze in a couple of hours of shut-eye before waking up at the crack of dawn and tackling a full day of school just to go to work and do it all over again.
And it wasn’t just the schedule that was hard but the work itself. When they say blood sweat and tears, let me tell you, I didn’t know I could sweat so much. I had to learn to be okay with it. Some days, it seemed like all we did was sweat. Flipping omelettes with the broiler, frying mounds of potatoes on the flat-top, baking loaves upon loaves of bread in the rack oven, stirring soup with a paddle the size of an oar in the steam kettle, packing the convection oven with ten pound roasts, trying to keep track of all the tickets in PCR, taking down the endless cafeteria lines that were always a blur of people, faces, steam, food on plate after plate after plate.
Besides sweating, culinary school was also a place where I got to work out some of the regrets I had in life. Like with scholarships for example. When I went to college before for my bachelors, it was straight out of high school and I didn’t apply to any scholarships because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t possibly be chosen so why bother trying. But when I came here and was starving and working two jobs and barely making ends meet and on top of it all, sweating every day, my “fear” didn’t really matter any more. I had nothing to lose, and I applied to every single scholarship I could get my hands on, and I ended up being accepted to a few. Enough to allow me to attend Chef Mark’s summer in Oaxaca program, which was amazing. But the most gratifying thing was being able to cross that regret off my list.
Another thing I got over? My inability to start a blog. When I used to work for the Red Cross, I would often think to myself: “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I wrote about my disaster relief experience? I’m sure people would be curious to know how the operations actually work and where the money actually gets spent.” But for the life of me, I could never start. There was never enough time, or I was always too tired, or the things that I wanted to say were said already. But when I came to culinary school, I knew it was another one of those intensive life-altering things that I wasn’t going to do again, and I didn’t want it to go by undocumented. So I did it, I started a blog and kept it up through these two years. Maybe when regrets pile high enough they avalanche and... I started a blog, Ms. Reinhertz starts a blog, everybody starts a blog! Just kidding. Point is, when regret piles up and avalanches, something happens.
So when people tell you to live life without regrets, maybe they’re being idealistic, overly simplistic. Because I’ve found that regret is a powerful motivator. And when people tell you not to sweat the small stuff, or “don’t sweat it”, whatever “it” is, maybe that’s not so right either. Because sweating is literally your effort visualized. And when you’re motivated, and putting in all the effort, that’s when things change. Life changes. You change.
So to you I say: sweat it, and yes, sometimes, regret it. Starve, for this thing, and the next. Go out there and make this world yours – I've worked with you guys, I believe it.
Congratulations to all of you. It’s been a honor.