Excellent News, Loves..!

I have started a website, and you’re invited to the party. Please come visit me xo

recoverati.com

I encourage you to read, shop and if the spirit moves you, give me feedback. Remember to sign up on the site to get the latest newsletters, essays, podcasts, interviews and more.

Sign Up

It has been an honor and a privilege to build a rapport with all of you on this blog. I am excited to continue our blog-friendship on a more expansive platform.

Sending love for the holidays,

Lucy

♥♥

Advertisements

Free Spirit

I’ve been referred to as a “free spirit” by no less than ten people in my lifetime. The first time I heard it, I bristled. What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I snarled. The first guy who made this observation was, by all accounts, a Grade A Douchebag, so I shrugged it off. He and I were on a consistent first-name basis / hook-up schedule, so I thought that maybe his comment was innocuous. Nevertheless, I had a hard time shrugging it off.

The second time I was accused of free spiritedness was at a bar, several thousand miles away from the first encounter, in front of a large group of people. My friends thought it would be funny to use it as a new nickname. Our bartender made the mistake of agreeing with them. I was offended. So I settled the score by hooking up with him that same night.

When I think “free spirit,” I think “slut.” This word has sparked the most acrimonious fights between me and nearly every male I’ve encountered sexually and/or romantically in the past decade–even some with men in my peripheral groups of friends. The slutty implications are worse for me than the trite words themselves. I can agree on one thing–I enjoyed freedom in my drunkenness much to my detriment, and my spirit carried me through some of the worst hookups on record. What I can’t agree on, though, is the false innocence of veiled insults. I sense that phrases like “free spirit” are passive euphemisms to describe women who behave in socially unacceptable ways.

When I drank, it fueled in me an unconscious desire for sex.  Very rarely did I admit to myself that I didn’t actually want to partake in the act itself, I just wanted to know I could get any guy I wanted. I admit that I behaved in a most irresponsible way. I didn’t always use protection. I rarely vetted or got to know the men I slept with; I took them on their word to be “good guys,” or people who “never do this.” I tried my best to want to be a liberated woman, yet I felt everything but free.

I have a complicated relationship with the word slut. I continue to try to reclaim it as something I chose to be. But that doesn’t cover the whole truth. Throughout the entire decade of my drinking, I tortured myself with my own promiscuity. As my tolerance for whiskey increased, my ability to disassociate with my behavior followed accordingly. When I lost my everything-but-virginity freshman year of college, I was terrified. I was 18, far away from my parents and my twin sister. I didn’t know anyone at school, considering I had only been there for two weeks. I wandered down the hall of my honors dorm room floor to the first open room I found. I asked the familiar-looking girl if I could talk to her for a minute. I had to tell someone, anyone. She was gracious in letting me sit there for an hour, spilling about the night I had. Through tears, I explained to her that I had just hooked up with someone and I was scared of how I had done it. I had no idea who he was or why I thought it would be a good idea to get as drunk as I did with someone whose name I couldn’t remember. She hugged me and assured me that everything would be ok. We became the best of friends. Months later, I sat through a lecture given by my feminist professor who examined the “Hook-Up Culture” of college campuses. She railed against derogatory words aimed at young women’s sexual choices, especially when alcohol was involved. I felt a little less alone and a little more validated.

I lost my virginity full-stop sophomore year. I was elated to be reunited with my twin at her college. I missed the comfort her presence brought me. I had decided the summer before my second year to transfer to her school without telling any of my friends, including and especially the sweet baby angel who protected me from myself. I was baffled by who I had become in college, someone I assumed no one wanted to be around. Once I got settled into my new school, my sister introduced me to a couple of her friends, knowing I needed to get into a social scene ASAP. I slept with the first guy I met. He was nice enough. I didn’t consider that I had embarrassed my twin. All I cared about was getting rid of my virginity–too much pressure.  The resulting years of college consisted of more humiliations than I care to remember. I slept with many men, some of whom cared about me. The only ones I was interested in were the men who acted just like I did when they drank–that is to say, sluts.

I knew my behavior was out of control. And I couldn’t stop myself. I once wrote with permanent marker on my pelvis, “stop.” Hours later, I got drunk enough to ignore even that. The guy I went home with saw it and laughed.

I lost my ability to choose when I drank the end of my sophomore year. After my father died that winter, I focused on my studies and time with my sister. I flirted with sobriety due to the grief I felt, but that didn’t last long. Two months into not drinking, I blacked out and sustained a drunken-dancing injury, tearing my ACL. The night I popped my knee, I walked through the snow to my dorm room in order to hook up with someone. I spent the next day tormented by my actions in the emergency room. When my doctor asked me if I had been drinking, I replied, “a little.” It took several months of recuperation and surgery to repair my knee. My spirit was not so lucky.

When I got my first job out of college, I thought that professionalism would repair my reputation. It didn’t. This time, instead of the occasional degrading comments on a college campus, I endured outright name-calling as an adult. I put myself in situations where I’d sleep with someone, then a few weeks or months later, I would sleep with their friends. Most of the time, I acted on false presumptions that the original guy I hooked up with didn’t like me and didn’t care. Whether I was right about that or not, I forged ahead. I constantly left people in my wake of self-destruction, hurt and confusion. I learned to disconnect myself from my behavior in order to look at myself in the mirror.

To be clear: my goal was rarely sexual satisfaction. Rather, I participated in sex to ease my compulsions. All I knew was that if I drank, I would be going home with someone. I was never a bad person, but I knew that my promiscuity did not reflect the person I was raised to be. I couldn’t stop hurting myself or other people. I had a hard time explaining this to my friends, though. They thought my sexcapades were funny, albeit sometimes a little risky. I couldn’t find the words to tell them that I desperately wanted to stop.

I’ve known lots of guys who sleep with women and men alike at the rate I did. It hurts me to know that they don’t have to walk around with the same label. While I am not proud of my behavior when I drank, I can’t help but think that words like “slut” or “whore” are there to shame women. I don’t remember the last time I heard someone call a guy a slut. In fact, the only time I’ve seen it was on the episode of The Office when Michael Scott calls Dwight an “ignorant slut.” That’s just about the only time I’ve laughed at the name, either.

The last person who called me a “free spirit” was the girl I tutored a couple of years ago. She was born the year I graduated from college, so I knew intellectually she had no information about my past. She was simply observing that I seemed like an unencumbered person. When she gifted me with a Little Mermaid Free Spirit sign, I winced at the pain those words still caused me. Despite her actual innocent gesture, my heart ached. It was at that point that I saw I didn’t need to identify with the girl I once was. My sobriety has given me the chance to be in a long-term, loving relationship that exists despite my past. I seek to forgive myself every day for who I once was. But I don’t know if I will ever be able to separate myself from the memories of how I used to behave. The good news is, I am not the only person who has a story like mine.

As for those of us who choose to sleep around or prefer not to be in monogamous relationships, that’s your right.

Be a slut–do whatever you want. As long as you are safe and free.

Photo by Pyper Wyn Davies

A Tale of Two Drug Epidemics: The Black and White Grey Area

As a feminist, I care about two things: Who gets heard and How. As a sober person, I care enough to do something about it.

Lately, I’ve been troubled with thoughts about the opioid crisis in America. I share the deep sympathy and outrage of our populous for victims of mass addiction. Big Pharma, like the good drug kingpin it is, has carved out huge swaths territory in the heartland with its derivations of synthetic heroin. While I empathize with those struggling to claw their way out of despair, I am coming to know a much deeper emotion than empathy: anger at the disparate responses to current white death versus black death during the crack epidemic years.

I want to know how and why we are in such an uproar now, in 2018. Why haven’t we read reports about white people being incarcerated at staggering rates for drug-related crimes? Where were the documentaries about crack addiction and the road to recovery? Are we really that ignorant to the situational blindness of our biases?

I don’t even want to hear about how the political climate is to blame. I know our current administration is on a broad highway to hell, but this shit is not new. In 2017, a writer named Dahleen Glanton from the Chicago Tribune had this to say about our bullshit cultural responses to addiction:

In the 1980s, instead of pouring resources into counseling and other forms of treatment, America chose to tamp down on crime. Officials thought they could arrest their way out of the crack cocaine crisis and it would go away. In the end, that approach had as much of an adverse impact on African-American families as crack did. Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans across the country ended up with prison records because of minor drug violations — a legacy that continues to contribute to the decay of poor, urban communities.

I am by no means a scholar on the War on Drugs, addiction, alcoholism or any other brand of compulsive behaviors. I am, however, a white woman who recognizes her privilege when she sees it. How many times did I drive drunk and recklessly without being pulled over? Dozens. Where were the belligerent and/or violent cops when I “road dirty” on the 5 from LA to San Diego? In my rear view mirror. Why is it that I am embraced for speaking openly about  my struggles with alcoholism, rather than criminalized for “choosing” to act on my impulses? And let’s look at the way Whitney Houston’s death was covered: with endless loops of video showing her high off her ass, saying, “crack is whack.” The media made fun of her. People called her a crackhead. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died, they touted his genius and what a tragedy it was to lose such a legend to heroin addiction. The implicit media bias toward white people and against black people is clear: white people “struggle with addiction” while black people “choose to live this way.”

In the ’80s, the “Greed is Good” mentality drove a lot of polo-clad people to dive into the excesses of the time with some good, old-fashioned nose candy. Simultaneously, industrious people began to capitalize on the less expensive version of cocaine: crack. The cause and effect formula here makes total sense to me. Rich people could afford cocaine. If rich people got caught with said cocaine, they could also afford attorney fees. Poor people could afford less-expensive crack. If poor people got caught with said crack, they went to jail. Poor communities began to suffer greatly as crack ravaged their populations. Rich people went about their business making money while also spending it. Somewhere in this seemingly cogent formula, something stopped adding up: how is it that poor people became criminals when rich people skirted the law? Why is it that a disproportionate number of black people were being locked up for smoking and snorting the chemical equivalent for white people? The answer is as racist as it is unsurprising: people start to give a shit when white people die. Thus, this cold, hard fact remains: “Oppression is as American as apple pie” (Audre Lorde).

Addiction does not give a fuck about what your creed, denomination, sex or opinion is. All it cares about is winning. We are, as a nation, coming to believe this as a fact of life. We rally, we march, we lambaste politicians for their indifference to gun violence, environmental health and drug industry influence. Glanton observes our cultural shift with addiction:

White suburbanites are lobbying their state officials to help them solve a problem that is ruining young people’s lives. They are holding rallies on statehouse lawns, urging elected officials to treat their addicted children with dignity — something that young people addicted to crack never received.

It is my goal to broaden the conversation about addiction and alcoholism. Scientific advancements aside, the social and spiritual consequences of life on an obsessive loop won’t stop until we as a society jar ourselves awake. I am one person who found herself in the grips of a progressive disease. I choose the word disease because it encourages health practitioners and insurance companies to treat it like the health crisis it is instead of the choice it very much is not. Erasing the stigma of addiction is a noble cause, but I don’t want to die on that hill. I care more about what happens to people of color who struggle with not only addiction, but also being black in America. We hear from lots of white people who took the path of recovery. I want to see how we can apply intersectional feminism to other voices who deserve to be heard.

When it comes to addiction, it can’t be black and white. Let’s move into the crowded grey area where recovery applies to all who need it.

Photo courtesy of Billboard

The L.A.w of Diminishing Returns

My husband and I made a big decision last week. Other than agreeing on what apartment we wanted as our first together, where we went on our honey moon and how we spend our money, this decision is the biggest ticket item to date. I haven’t shared what we decided with many people because I worry so much about pleasing them–but mostly, I’ve changed my mind so many times I’ve even lost track. For weeks, I spoke with certainty and absolutism about my desire to move back to Los Angeles. I had two phone interviews and one video conference interview for jobs on the West Coast. It felt like the Universe was thrusting me into a dream scenario. I wanted so badly to feel content and confident in our decision to leave for L.A. because it seemed like such a sure thing. Something–many things–changed. As a result,  I’ve worried for countless hours about the integrity of my word. I worry less, now, because I did not make this decision in haste or on my own.

We are staying in Richmond.

For the whole of my recovery — 4.40 years, 52.87 months, 1,611 days, 38,652 hours — all I wanted to do was be back in LA. I cried every day for a year upon my return to Virginia. I bought plane tickets to L.A. I could not afford, twice–only to cancel both trips. I have nurtured an obsession with Los Angeles, California, which to date has not gone away. Nor have the friends, recovery network or mysticism of the metropolis. My spiritual awakening happened between the palm trees and the graffiti. I abandoned my independence on Sunset Blvd in exchange for a more fulfilled life with other people. I woke up in the Land of the Living between Cafe Tropical and the Silver Lake Lounge. I cannot quit, L.A. and I don’t think I ever will.

My husband agreed to spend our summer vacation in California. We celebrated my June birthday in San Diego with my best friend, walking around El Cajon and Ocean Beach. We met up with my other best friend to watch him surf at San Onofre Beach. In every picture we took, my smile was triple-wattage bright and happy. Almost every person who commented on the photos observed this. I was in heaven.

We met up with several of my friends at the apartment where I used to live. It is a beautiful old hotel with poor acoustics and lots of character. Hard wood floors, built-in book shelves and decorative alcoves designed after The Missions of California. I still get excited when I think about all of the decorating possibilities of a single unit. We barbecued and bitched about life, liberty and Trump’s America. It was the most fun I’d had in as long as I could remember.

Before we left Richmond for our trip, my sponsor encouraged me to treat this time as a vacation, not as a means of getting back to L.A. I promised her to leave my schemes at home in Richmond, to enjoy the trip with my husband, no strings attached. I meant what I promised. But the second we touched down at LAX, I felt myself switching gears. My subconscious was on an immediate and urgent scouting mission for happiness. We had arrived.

We spent a week in Los Angeles, attending a Janelle Monae concert at The Greek Theater, going to meetings in Hollywood and Atwater Village, walking up and down Sunset Blvd and eating eating eating. Everything was as I remembered, but better. Everyone was hip and fun and excited to see us. It felt so right to be where I first understood who I was. The entire experience made me grateful to be able to show my husband the part of me he had never had access to. We were both over the moon with joy and excitement. He seemed to like life in the city just as much as I did. We both exchanged many knowing glances and ideas about how cool it would be to live here together. And it would be.

We got home around 7pm on July 5th and by 10PM, I had applied to three L.A. jobs. We were on a trajectory and there was no turning back. I went to several meetings in the next three days, breaking the news to my recovery buddies that we were making big moves. Things were progressing so quickly and so easily. I couldn’t believe that I was finally getting the chance to be back with My People in My City. My husband seemed overwhelmed, yet hopeful and excited. THIS WAS HAPPENING.

And then, and then.

On the advice of my sponsor, I meditated — hard. I began to sit still with our decision. I spent hours poring over pro’s and con’s lists, calculating the gains and losses. On our third pass through the Master List, I noticed something odd: the Pro’s column to staying in Richmond grew longer than I realized. I swatted away the notion that maybe there was something I wasn’t acknowledging about our life here. I reminded myself of the racism, small-mindedness and provincial attitude I’d grown to loathe about RVA. I ignored my first gut feeling to stay, and I carried on meditating.

For the next few weeks, I prayed and I meditated more. I began working with a woman from L.A. who was a huge part of my early sobriety. She and I spoke at length about standing firm in decisions and building faith in our Higher Power; that any move we make is right if we are surrendered. During this three-week period, I made amends to my former boss. He offered me the option of re-joining the kitchen — an offer to work in a new restaurant, under the direction of women cooks and managers. One dream I was not at all prepared to have realized. Slowly, I began to acknowledge a subtle shift within my spirit.

At the beginning of August, a steady thrum of ideas took hold of my brain. One such  concept–the Law of Diminishing returns–began to pin ball itself within my consciousness:

A concept in economics that if one factor of production (number of workers, for example) is increased while other factors (machines and workspace, for example) are held constant, the output per unit of the variable factor will eventually diminish. In everyday experience, this law is expressed as “the gain is not worth the pain.”

How and why in the f*^%k was this on my brain? It has taken me many meditation and yoga sessions to come to some sort of understanding. The pain of leaving yet another place is no longer worth the gain of getting what I thought I wanted. Because what I want has changed.

The constant here is Los Angeles. This would explain my inability to love the city any less over time, simply because it continues to be awesome. The variable factor is me and my plus one. My need to be entertained, to be satiated by the constant stimuli of the Emerald City has diminished. This is not to say it has gone away. But my need to be there has.

Part of me is heart broken for my former self. I never thought in a million galaxies or years that I would turn down the chance to be back where I came alive again. This time around, however, I got to make the choice. When I was jettisoned out of L.A. the first go-round, I thought it was because I had no place there, that I should give up trying to be in such a cool place with such amazing people. Quite the contrary–I came to Virginia to heal and unwittingly meet my future husband. I think there is something to be said about accepting that I am someone who wants to put down roots. I ran for years, with great speed and agility. As I have mentioned in this blog before, I am weary from all of the running and chaos. I want to be free. What that looks like for me now is to stay.

It is time for me to finally be in Richmond. I have no idea what that looks like, except to release my expectations and give life here a real try. My husband agrees.

xo

Stay.

In high school, my sister and I ran cross-country and track. She was the prodigious sprinter, while I was the patient long-distance runner. The amount of comparisons I made between myself and my twin were alarming–her smaller BMI and legs, for starters–disqualified me from being a “real” runner. I opted for the inconspicuous art of running long distances hoping people would get too bored to notice me. The whole sport was a practice in disappearing, slowly but surely. I found it all to be a really dramatic joke, but I needed to be well-rounded. Frankly, I thought that this would help me lose weight and look good. As insecure as I was, I secretly wanted to be like Flo Jo and impress everyone, while simultaneously never being seen. My uniform was about two sizes too small, yet I continued to wear it with the hope that I would soon fit into it.

During one particularly humiliating meet, I got lost in the woods after I fell far behind the girls in front of me. I also tried to spit (like I had seen so many other runners do) while moving at a moderately-fast clip. Instead, I spit up on my extremely short shorts in front of the entire men’s team. I do not know which part was worse: my shorts riding up my See You Next Tuesday, my thunder thighs fighting each other with every stride, or the waterfall of mucus flowing down my shorts. If I were a betting woman, I would have wagered that this was the time to give up. But for some reason, I kept on running for the rest of the season. My times were ‘eh,’ so my desire to distract myself from my insecurities freed me up to socialize. Our coach used to tell us that if we had the breath to talk to each other during one of our six or eight-mile runs, we were doing it wrong. I told myself I’d rather make friends than run faster. As a result, I got team MVP for my senior year. The irony was, in a word, dripping.

All told, I did eventually become a real runner–only after I stopped practicing the sport. Drinking comes in handy that way. I became an All Star Life Sprinter. That is to say, I learned how to run VERY quickly away from things. In fact, I sprinted, hopscotched and hurdled through twelve different locations, spanning from Vermont to Florida, Virginia to California. My resume read like a well-worn map. At one point, I worked in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where I became a crowd (and bouncer) favorite at a fine establishment known as The Electric Cowboy.

The only reason I know the actual number of addresses I accumulated over a ten-year period is because I had to make note of them when I filed for bankruptcy in 2015. And those twelve were only the addresses I could remember. How does one forget where she has lived? It’s like when you’re driving down a busy street and you see a discarded pair of pants on the sidewalk–like, how do you lose your pants, guy? What happened there?

The short answer is, I panicked (I suppose you could say the same for the man who lost his pants). I have had plenty of opportunities in my 12-step program and through therapy to spiritually and psychoanalytically analyze my past behavior. It is clear to me that time is not what slowed me down. In fact, I have moved on four different occasions in recovery: once when I couldn’t afford my place after the accident, several times when I kept breaking up with my boyfriend (staying on friends’ coaches), the move from Los Angeles back home to Virginia (at my mom’s house) and finally to Richmond in the apartment I share with my husband. What has made the difference between my pathological moving while drunk and my displacement while sober is an indefinable sense of finality. I am who I was always meant to be, even as I continue to grow. And more honestly, there is nowhere else I have the energy to be.

I used up all of my panic. And then I ran out of steam.

Two weeks ago, I began seeing a life/career coach. This is a huge deal for me, and here is why:

One of my favorite activities while wasted was chatting up Uber/Lyft drivers. At times, I broke out into French if I sensed the driver was Haitian or from some francophone country. As presumptuous as I was (and still am), I did meet quite a few interesting characters–one of whom was a life coach. He sensed my lost-ness (and perhaps my vulnerability) when I yammered on about how much I hated my job at the time, seizing the opportunity to take on a new client. We exchanged information, which I naturally forgot as I closed the car door.

A couple of days later, he called me. I was a fastidious drunk, therefore I always kept clear notes on whoever left their number in my phone. Very specific things, like “Uber man coaches life wears too much paco rabanne <emoji emoji.> We talked for about five minutes, wherein we set an appointment to do a phone session the following week. Time flew the drunker I got, so a week came and went pretty quickly. I will never forget where I was when I got that phone call. I will never forget because it was one of the last angry drunks I had. I was angry at myself and my life choices, but mostly angry because I could not actually get drunk. I had spent the ensuing week since my phone chat with the Uber man in a cosmic haze of vodka and cocaine, sidled up to a man whose father was a semi-famous producer with a Malibu beach house. He was a writer, something I wanted to be but was too drunk to follow-through with; he was a rich kid, which is something I was fascinated by because I had no money; he had unlimited liquor, which blots out anything else I knew about him. He poured me Bloody Mary after Bloody Mary and I was bloody pissed because nothing worked. After two hours went by, with no drunk luck, we all went outside to watch dolphins pop out of the water over the dwindling horizon’s pink backdrop. Even that miracle of nature bored me. I began to feel the sting of tears emerge from my eyes, and suddenly my phone rang. No one noticed as I slipped away through the window-to-ceiling glass french doors to take the call.

Uber driver began asking me rapid-fire questions about my childhood, my hopes, my dreams. I became increasingly irate as he continued to press the issue of why I seemed so angry, so dismissive. I sputtered off some incoherent ramblings about my mother, my dad’s death, my sister and my Catholic school experiences, but he would not hear any of it. Instead, he simply asked me to talk out loud to myself as if I were a child. I was furious. I told him to shove his Freudian platitudes up his ass, in so many words. We never spoke again. And I never did get drunk.

So I ran until I fell. Straight to the bottom of my pitiless existence.

And then I got sober.

Four years later, I find myself sitting across from a woman I’ve known only through the recovery process. She is a friend who I’ve asked to help me decide what to do with my life, once and for all. During our first session, she recommends that I do not make any job or career moves–no quitting a job, no starting a new job. I felt my ears ring and my chest tighten. I was about to start a job I was convinced I didn’t want. I was there to beg her to tell me anything that would encourage me to leave. But instead, she told me to stay. I was horrified.

Through a series of questions and answers, meditations and surveys, I’ve prayed my way through 1,000 forms of escape fantasies. Every cell of my being screamed at me to turn and run away on my first day at work. Who did I think I was? Why would I start a job with as many doubts as I had? What if I wasted my time, stayed, only to become staid? The vicious memories of conversations I’ve had with past lovers and friends floated to the surface–“I promise, I’m not going anywhere” was my infamous line. I never meant it then, and I did not want to mean it now.

But I am here, staying.

While cleaning up our work kitchen tonight, my supervisor looked at me for a beat too long. I asked him what was up. He says, “There are times when I look at you, trying to read your face. I keep thinking to myself that you will be just like the cooks before you, ready to run away from this place. I see you and I wonder if you have the desire to be here.” It was like getting that call, to hear those words–heartbreaking and entirely justifiable. I looked at him with awe and glee. For the first time in my life, I said it and meant it–

I’m not going anywhere.

xo

 

Photo Courtesy of The Indianapolis Star

 

 

 

 

Don’t Kiss the Cook Feature #3: Robin Stolinski

How long have you been cooking/baking?

My grandfather emigrated to the US from Ireland in 1948.  After returning from the Korean War, he took the skills to his dad (also a baker), gave those to him and his GI Bill and opened his own scratch bakery.  I started working there when I was nine.

Robin's GD
This is Eddie Boran, my grandfather and biggest role model, around 1983. He passed away November 2016.

How many restaurants have cooked/baked in?

6

At present, how many female cooks/chefs/bakers do you work with?

I’m in between positions, but at my last job I worked with two other BOH women.

When was the first time you remember being treated differently than your male coworkers?

My summer job during culinary school, about three years ago.

Has anyone spoken to you or about you in a derogatory way?

All the time.

What’s the worst thing someone has ever said or done to you in the kitchen?

I was in a walk-in getting stuff out the the freezer area.  The dishwasher was mopping the cooler part.  When I went to leave, he cornered me and wouldn’t let me out the door.  I had to physically push him out of the way.  He was uninjured but I was disciplined.

When and how do you feel valued as a woman in the kitchen?

When I’m alone or with other bakers on my level, I feel valued.

Do you perceive differences in how men and women cook?

I guarantee you wouldn’t know if I–or Tony–was running sauté by tasting the food.  My plating is cleaner, my mise en place is more thorough, and I work clean. That’s where you’d see a difference.

Why do you think a woman’s place is in the kitchen?

I actually wrote about this for my hospitality honors thesis for culinary school.  I think a woman’s place is where she wants to be.  Professionally, women were never thought to be strong or good enough to cook for royalty, so men did it. They organized the brigade system to mirror the military for a reason.

Please share your worst/best story as a woman working in back of the house.

The being cornered in the cooler was one of the worst.  For me, I’m older than most, so they know now that they can’t get away with stuff, because I’m smart enough to know my rights.  There have been nasty comments made, though. And casually coming behind my line and rubbing against me.  Not cool.

The best was our first Mother’s Day brunch.  It went off without a hitch, and I got to run a live crêpe station.  I also got to show my skills with sugar and chocolate by making centerpieces and decorations.

Don’t Kiss the Cook Feature #2: Tracy Chabala

How long have you been cooking/baking?

I started cooking professionally in 2011. Prior to this I never did much cooking, although I did like to bake and come up with clever dessert ideas. I’ve worked for a total of four years in the business, and have taken time off to write at various times.

How many restaurants have cooked/baked in?

I’ve worked in a total of seven kitchens.

At present, how many female cooks/chefs/bakers do you work with?

I’ve just left the kitchen again to focus on my writing. At my last job at Little Dom’s, my direct boss was female (she’s the head pastry chef), and I worked with two other females. There are way more females on pastry in any given kitchen. Outside of the pastry team, there were no girls cooking in the kitchen.

When was the first time you remember being treated differently than your male coworkers?

I think from the first day at my first kitchen at Whole Foods I noticed that men treated me differently. The first guy who trained me spoke down to me in a way that both surprised me and pissed me off. Another guy did the same on the same day, and I found myself getting very stubborn and refusing to be bossed around by dudes who weren’t my boss. I became bitchy, which I normally never have to do on the job. I grew determined to kick ass just to show them who’s boss, that I could hold my own.

Has anyone spoken to you or about you in a derogatory way?

Yes. One time at Water Grill, the most male kitchen I’ve ever worked in, I asked the chef if I could be transferred to the hot line (I started on prep, then worked pantry, and he put me on pastry, definitely because I’m a chick), and the entire kitchen burst into laughter. I was infuriated. There were no women on hot line.

What’s the worst thing someone has ever said or done to you in the kitchen?

One cook asked me in the walk-in how often I fuck my boyfriend, and another one told me he was going to “tear my ass up” when he got mad at me. The same dude smacked my ass with a vacuum-sealed rib eye, right in front of the head chef who did nothing. Another time, at Spago, the pastry sous told me I needed to use my brain because I wasn’t. She was female, but as I detail below, the culture of that place is very toxic and this comes from the old-school leadership of Wolfgang Puck.

When and how do you feel valued as a woman in the kitchen?

I didn’t start feeling valued by the entire kitchen until I moved from Water Grill to Suzanne Goin’s Lucques. That restaurant is owned by a James Beard winning chef, and her business partner is also a woman. I found the entire place had a softer energy. It was still a very demanding workplace, but I felt respected as a woman. There were no instances I can recall where I felt sexually harassed. Of course, the cooks would draw dicks and balls on stuff at times, but that is very mild bad behavior, and totally typical.

Do you perceive differences in how men and women cook?

I don’t think I see differences in how men and women cook as much as I see differences in how they treat fellow cooks and subordinates. At the same time, restaurants under younger chefs or female chefs have a totally different vibe. Water Grill’s kitchen, which had a Michelin star at one point, historically operated under head chefs who were very old school, all brigade de cuisine, and they opened in the early 1990’s. The same holds for Spago, where I worked for a brief spell, and it was so toxic. Though the head pastry chef was female, the culture ran as Wolfgang Puck wanted it to run. It was a brutal job with lots of talking down to one another. There is a big contrast between these spots and newer spots with younger millennial chefs, even if they’re male. The chefs and owners set the tone. I have heard gnarly stuff about the kitchen of Jon and Vinny—the guys from Animal and Son of a Gun—from a female chef, though. I think the way both women and men behave has to do with their training and the kitchens they are “raised” in. I always resisted the militarism and the mean way of speaking to people. It seemed senseless. I have found that those with higher education are kinder and have a much greater understanding of how people learn differently and how yelling at people doesn’t always get the job done. At my last job the head chef who was male was far more mean than my pastry chef boss. So there does seem to be a difference there. Women seem to have an easier time admitting mistakes and asking for help as well.

Why do you think a woman’s place is in the kitchen?

If we’re talking about the kitchen in the home, that is just due to the need to break up tasks. Historically, men have been the breadwinners so women had the task of buying food and preparing the meals.

As far as the professional kitchen goes, it’s so ironic that women have to work twice as hard (in my experience in male-dominated kitchens) to get rewarded as opposed to women, given women are the ones who have done all the domestic cooking over the years, that this has historically been their job. It makes zero sense. So, I think women make great chefs, even though they’re rarely acknowledged in the media, because they are effective leaders who don’t seem to need to “break people” to motivate them to put out good food and do their best. Again, it comes down to the vibe of each kitchen, and I think the brigade de cuisine is a perfect example of an antiquated patriarchal hierarchy that is not necessary in 2018. It was formulated after the French military, and has no place in modern businesses. I’d say women are quicker to spot out the myopia of sticking to this old school think.

Please share your worst/best story as a woman working in back of the house.

I was super pissed when my two buddies at Water Grill got raises and I didn’t. We all started work around the same time, and I threw an absolute fit about it. Not only did they not give me a raise, they had actually increased my responsibilities by moving me to pastry and pantry (up from prep) with no compensation. The managers and chef immediately gave me a raise when I confronted them about it.

The best story was when, during a busy Friday night, on hot apps, I absolutely killed it despite all the guys thinking I’d go down at Water Grill. I was talked down to and patronized loads there, and it really grated me, so I was extra determined to “show them”. This meant that when we had ten or twelve tops come in for fixed menu parties, we had to bust out stuff fast. I remember pleasing the chef when I got everything out right on time. I felt vindicated. The head chef was definitely not a problem for me there, despite him coming from the same lineage as Gordon Ramsey (he worked under Marco Pierre White). It was the younger guys that gave me so much shit.

 

Tracy is a freelance writer for various publications including Broadly, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and The AfterParty Group