Franklin: “Happy to have you aboard! I think you’re really going to love it here.”
Isaac: “Me too! I’m excited to join the team!”
The two shook hands in a symbolic consummation of their professional relationship – the gesture to make spiritually official what was already ‘official’ in a more literal sense. Franklin held the signed employment agreement in his left hand, smiling as he cordially showed Isaac to the exit with his right.
Isaac spent the evening buzzing with the sort of anticipatory satisfaction that accompanies the intuition for good things to come. His career path seemed tailor-made to have set him up for this exact opportunity.
He had started out, way back when, as a busboy at a very well known restaurant in town – the sort of 4-star mainstay that your parents went on their first date. Never the hottest, hippest spot around, but a place that maintained a pretty unparalleled image as both an employer and a bastion of culinary reliability.
Busboy, dishwasher, prep cook, line cook. Over the better part of a decade, Isaac had walked a steady path of ascent at that first place, assured of the opportunities that lay ahead. The road to creative fulfillment (of, say, the Executive-Chef variety) would be long, but Isaac believed that it was within eventual reach. Sure, he harbored an intensifying artistic ambition, but for the most part he was okay with the pay-your-dues nature of the environment. For a time, anyway.
Eventually, he came into an opportunity with one of the hotter, hipper restaurants in town – the sort of place that fashion-conscious yuppies went on their first date. Local reviewers and national publications, alike, were raving about the energy that this new player was bringing to a scene that is often guilty of serving up the same experience under a different description, so to speak.
Isaac was apprehensive of all the things that were different about this new place: the culture, the security, the…unknown. Ultimately, the allure of moving closer to the peak of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs won out: he’d be a Junior Sous Chef immediately, with great prospects of moving up relatively quickly from there. He made the leap – nervous, but eager for the chance to really begin to scratch his creative itch.
The few years he spent Chez Hipster were, on the balance of things, phenomenal for his personal and professional growth. He had been entrusted with more, exposed to more and inspired more than he had originally thought possible. He had worked under and alongside a master restaurateur who, in spite of the shortcomings that Isaac observed, was an absolute goldmine of knowledge and wisdom to someone who aspired to forge a meaningful livelihood for himself. To call it an ‘awakening’ would be that rare instance of a tired cliche that happens to also be the most appropriate characterization of the situation.
The political environment of the place had caught up with him, though. For all the things he loved about his workplace and his prospects for career satisfaction therein, he was exhausted and deeply frustrated by the non-stop jockeying and manipulation typical of the ambitious types that such an establishment attracts. So it was that when Franklin approached him with this newest opportunity, Isaac was all ears.
The New Place was, in many respects, a lot like the First Place. Mainstay of the local scene, widely respected, and known to be a pretty low-key kind of work environment. Isaac’s apprehensions were different this time: less about security and culture; more about that creative fulfillment, which continued to figure more and more heavily into the landscape of his career ambition.
This was what Franklin loved about Isaac. He (Isaac) had come up in the ‘mainstay’ tradition – thereby adept in the rhythms of a quasi-monolithic culinary institution – but had subsequently stepped out into the world beyond. As much as the New Place [Ed.: ‘New’ as in ‘new to Isaac’, not as in ‘new to existence’.] benefited from the loyalty of a very faithful clientele indeed, Franklin knew that they could use an infusion of the things that Isaac would bring to the table [Ed.: not literally]: vibrancy, vitality, vivacity. And, perhaps more to the point, Franklin was keenly aware that if he was the one to reel Isaac in (and if hirer’s hunch about hiree turned out to be true), that would be a boon to his own pursuit of recognition by the powers that be. (A pursuit – you may suspect – that tended to govern, or at least float just beneath the surface of, the actions of many people employed there.)
Beyond his desire to escape the political climate Chez Hipster, Isaac had been swayed by a few things:
- The New Place, while substantively similar, was not the same as the First Place. By all accounts, it was more innovative and less stuffy (the latter adjective being one that only through the power of hindsight had he gained the capacity to associate with the First Place).
- He knew that his collection of experience spanned a broader range on the traditional-to-avant-garde spectrum than most, and that this background would serve him well among those who had mostly come up closer to the ‘traditional’ extreme.
- Franklin sold him on the idea encompassed by #2. Isaac’s role, while somewhat lateral in title to the one he was leaving, was to include the mandate of providing creative input based on his experiences at – or near – the cutting edge of the industry. (For example, Isaac was well versed in the niggling dietary specifications of the short-pants-bright-socks-weekly-haircut crowd and their gluten-intolerant-finish-nothing-Instagram-everything dates.)
Yes, this was the place for him.
Within the first week, Isaac sensed a problem.
He calmed his instinctive uneasiness by trying to afford the benefit of the doubt to Franklin and the New Place:
I’m sure they’re just giving me time to get acclimated. Probably too much to expect that they’d ask for my ideas and opinions in week one. Sure, vegetable prep isn’t the most glamorous thing, but it’s way too early to worry that this is an indication of things to come.
And yet, it was.
In week four, Isaac got a chance to sit down with Franklin. The salient part of their conversation (after some opening banter about professional sports that each pretended to know more about than he did) went something like this:
“So, I wanted to quickly touch base about the game plan here. The hands-on stuff is cool, but as you know from our conversations before my coming aboard, the thing I’m most excited about is getting involved in some of the more creative discussions.”
“Absolutely. And that’s why I hired you. We need people with your enthusiasm and outlook.”
“Okay, awesome. I’m really glad to hear that. So I guess…”
“Yeah, totally – I know these first few weeks probably haven’t been super exciting, but my goal is certainly to move in the direction that I know you want to go. For now, all of this stuff has been about getting you familiar with the menu, the pace of the place, etc.”
Isaac left with a discernible bounce in his step. Everything was going to be okay.
The first few months ticked by. Isaac’s nervousness mounted.
Most of his time was still being spent on vegetable prep or other plebeian activities. There was the odd, fleeting moment where he’d be an incidental party to a conversation with the Executive Chef. The EC spoke a language that Isaac was familiar with, from his time Chez Hipster – that concerning the business’s broadest considerations: the diner’s experience, the restaurant’s identity, the menu’s motif.
Invariably, Isaac left those conversations feeling energized.
And yet, he was only ever incidental to them.
The routine tasks persisted.
More than once, he heard Franklin allude to “the promise I made Isaac”.
It seemed Franklin was aware that not only was Isaac keenly interested in having a say as to the direction of the establishment, but that the prospect of such an opportunity was – in large part – the reason why Isaac made the decision to join in the first place.
Isaac never explicitly asked the question, because Franklin’s vaguely regretful hinting was clear: this opportunity wasn’t (yet) being provided because the restaurant really (for now) needed Isaac as an agent of labor, and because its longstanding modus operandi came with – let’s call a spade a spade – some degree of inertia.
Isaac’s frustration was mildly assuaged by Franklin’s assurances that he was “working on” creating the capacity necessary to reassign Isaac to more meaningful work.
On the other hand – Isaac was starting to get the strong sense that, even if he did create the ‘capacity’, the this-is-how-we-do-things culture so plainly evident in the surroundings was going to result in Franklin’s never being able to deliver on his promise.
Then came the PB&J sandwiches.
“Uh, hey Franklin – you got a minute?”
“Sure – come on in. What’s up?”
“Umm, I just want to make sure I’m understanding here… Judy asked me to look after the PB&J sandwiches.”
[Ed.: The reader may find this particular request for suspended disbelief – that a time-tested establishment of wide culinary repute serves peanut-butter-&-jelly sandwiches – to be a bit much. To this, we offer a reminder of the founding premise of this website: that it is the work of one amateur buffoon. In fact, despite what this and the prior parenthetical interjections may suggest, this story is required to pass literally zero editorial muster. It is hereby requested, in light of the fact that this bit of creative licence makes the analogy work nicely, that you either suck it up or deal with it. Reader’s choice.]
“Well… It’s just… Okay, look. I get that we serve PB&J. That’s cool. But – uh, I’ve been toying with a few things at home. I’ve actually got this great take on the concept. Blackcurrant confit and organic cashew butter on Lavash, with shallots, swiss chard and a few other things. I think we could – ”
“Yeeeeeah, I’m gonna go ahead and ask that you just stick to the menu…”
“Like, the menu menu? Skippy & Smuckers on Wonder?”
“Actually it’s Jif, but yeah. You got it.”
Isaac pauses. Franklin continues…
“Look, I get it. It’s not glamorous, but PB&J is what the people want, so PB&J is what we have to give them. I have no doubt that you make one helluva blasphemous version of it, but we’re just…not there yet.”
“But what about those times we’ve talked about – ”
“Sorry – we’re just not there yet.”
That evening, Isaac reflected on things.
He reflected on the fact that he has a job, and on the fact that he’s thankful for that, and on the fact that he takes pride in being someone who takes seriously the responsibility to do his job.
He reflected on the selfishness of his feeling entitled to do more than what he was being asked, and of the arrogance of his feeling that he was somehow above his work.
But then he reflected on the fact that his frustration was not purely born of a desire to do more. It was born of an expectation that he would be given that opportunity. An expectation that he didn’t independently formulate, at that. Acknowledgment of this demonstrable bit of bait-&-switchery made him feel a little better, at least insofar as his own selfishness was concerned.
He reflected on laughter as the proverbial best medicine, and on the fact that even if his work did not particularly fulfill him (a problem for which he would, in due time, find a solution), there was plenty of comedic salvation to be found in his surroundings.
He reflected on the self-indulgence of his desire to share his stories and observations, but concluded that such desire was more about wanting to scratch that ever-nagging creative itch than it was about suggesting that anyone should care.
And then he started a blog.