Wow folks. 2018 was a year. Huge understatement. But life is for living isn’t it?
Warning: This is going to be a long read. Get the popcorn 😉
I apologize for delaying this post for so long but I was in a constant state of change, pummeled with forks in the road every which way! This post could really be 20 pages but I will try to give you the condensed version without sensationalizing.
The last you heard from me, I was just returning from my adventures in Europe and the Middle East. At that time, I had decided to take a year of absence from my work (in government research) to explore outside the nest/my comfort zone. Living on Vancouver Island for 12+ years was beautiful but also challenging because I never had any family members nearby. Thankfully my parents are still in the same province but there’s something to be said for just being able to drive and see them on a whim. As you all know, cooking is an unrelenting passion of mine and I was always curious to dabble in it as a career. I was tempted to move to Vancouver to do an 8 month-1 year program at a culinary school. It would fit perfectly with my leave of absence and then I would finally know if it was a calling worth pursuing. So I applied, got accepted and planned on attending.
Throughout my time travelling for two months, primarily in Lebanon, I started to question the decision to go to culinary school. I spoke with friends and people I trusted about it and the numbers just weren’t adding up. The final straw was when I looked at the course curriculum and realized I had taught myself/already made a lot of the things they were going to teach us. I’m humble and know I am still a mere student in cooking and I will always be learning more. I never expect to know everything. But when I saw the cost of tuition ($22K) and the cost of living in Vancouver for a year, combined it would be close to $50 grand. So an alternate path emerged. Instead of paying to learn things I already knew, I would work in a restaurant and get paid to learn. I felt like I had cracked the code. Upon my return to Canada, my partner and I had already relocated into my parents house and embarked on Vancouver, the big city. We stayed with my aunt in North Van for a few weeks while we tirelessly looked for an apartment in the city, despite scams and huge line-ups of people for sub-standard living arrangements. Finally we stumbled upon a cute character suite, big and near a skytrain station in New Westminster with friendly landlords. After almost a month of searching, we had a place to call home. During this time, I had been working at a little French Bistro in Kitsilano that I managed to snag by posting an open ad on Craigslist looking for a kitchen gig (easy to get a job cooking if you’re willing to work for $15 an hour). I probably had over 20 restaurants contact me so in some ways I had my pick of the litter. I was happy to be learning in a kitchen and settling into a new lifestyle in the city, taking transit and in very loose quotations, “living the dream.”
I had really given up everything I knew in Victoria; my career of 8 years, a lot of friendships I had nurtured for over a decade, and a lifestyle I had grown very accustomed to. My partner had no particular attachment to the city and I knew they were itching for change, and coming from Vancouver beforehand with some friends there, Vancouver seemed a likely move for both of us. Six weeks into working at the restaurant, very long days, doing prep and two services a day, the owner closed the restaurant. We all saw it coming; this person clearly wasn’t a business professional. Unfortunately, the food was on the high average to very good level so it was a shame. I met some great guys in the kitchen, a few of whom I still keep in touch with. A friend of mine in Victoria texted me a link to the MasterChef Canada auditions, a competition I had tried out for years before. I didn’t think I would qualify but it clearly stated in the rules that I could have worked in a kitchen for less than 6 weeks at a time. The timing seemed perfect. I applied online with a video, had a phone interview and eventually got scheduled for the in person casting (bring a prepared dish, be filmed and interview for a day with a narrowed down group of candidates from all around BC). I had a few weeks waiting, so I definitely enjoyed slowly putting pieces of my life together. I didn’t want to expect that I’d get on the show this time so I had to come up with a backup plan. I had always thought of owning my own business. So I started doing research, with the help of friends and loved ones, and eventually came up with a business plan.
This whole time at home by myself was very solitary and a bit isolating. I had to make a conscious effort to get out of the house every day. I wasn’t eating healthy, eating out too much. My partner was at work for the majority of the day and we rarely got to spend time together the way we did in Victoria when we had the same schedule. I was depressed, discouraged and confused about my life decisions. I didn’t reach out much to people over the months, and really only got to speak to my partner when they came home from work, which probably was starting to sound like a repeating record, without much saviour. I was doing work, learning about the competitive market in the prepared meals sector. I made a complete business plan, along with the numbers, had a logo and business cards made with the help of my partner, made connections through networking events, found ideal containers for my meals from China and Alibaba, targeted funding sources for grants and loans and really started visualizing the whole brand identity. This took me about 3 months.
Masterchef Canada went well. It was a huge improvement from my last performance there. The taster loved my dish. He really understood my efforts and technique and most importantly, the flavour. His immediate feedback boosted my confidence. I was comfortable in front of the camera and made a few friends from the audition process. But it’s reality television. Characters to fill, archetypes, demographics. I held my head up high when I got the same generic rejection letter as the other people who didn’t get on this season. It was unfortunate because I knew what I could share with Canada and how I wished to have an amazing growing experience through the competition. I tried my very best and it was back to square one again.
I had interviews with another restaurant, a stage at a prestigious catering operation and a high volume kitchen for a Vancouver sports team. All three offered me positions, of course all were only offering the same $15-$16 hourly wage. I declined all three politely and continued to work on my business efforts.
My partner and I were drifting apart slowly, with all the time we spent away from one another. Then it happened. I was blind-sided and dumped, at least that’s how I felt, but in hindsight I can see some warning signs that I wasn’t aware of. When you love someone, you just assume that you will climb the hill again even if you are in a bit of a slump. This was different. They were leaving me. “I’m a different person now. I have different needs. I don’t see this as a forever sort of thing.”
Devastated. This was someone I really saw going to the end with. Someone I had proposed to a year earlier. Someone I knew was afraid of the big commitments in a new relationship (and one of their first serious relationships). The business idea completely grinded to a halt. I had to grieve what felt to be a massive loss. The one thing I was confident with surprised me with big news. My heart shattered in many pieces and I felt lost, and very fearful. I didn’t have a job. I had just resigned from my government job thinking that I was going to stay in the city and build a different career. My safety net was taken away and I had to think fast. Whilst navigating the awkwardness of cohabitating with someone who just decided for me that it was over, I reached out to the arena that offered me a job in September. Thankfully, they still had some positions to fill. I went in for a refresher interview and the job was mine. I started at the end of November and gave me some solace that I wasn’t going to be homeless. My partner moved out eventually, after staying with friends most of the month. I helped them move into the moving van which was the most painful day, literally packing up the things you shared and seeing the person you love so dearly just drive off. I think I cried more times in that month than I have cumulatively in my whole life. I’m not a cold person but rarely am I so emotionally connected to something that could move me to tears. This was the love of my life.
The job ended up being in the main kitchen, a catering kitchen feeding the owners of the team, the media for game days, the players and their families. The team was fantastic. I earned their respect quickly. I worked hard despite the menial tasks I spent time doing. Peeling 50 pound bags of carrots and potatoes, making curries for 600 people; everything was supersized. Even at the restaurant I was used to only preparing portions for maybe 20 people per entree, and that would be a busy night. This was a different scale and really lent itself to the type of cooking I’d have to do for my prepared meal business, so I saw it as a very transferable experience. The chefs trusted my palate after getting some rave reviews from some of the sports players and other clients. That’s when it hit me.
I moved to Vancouver to validate my cooking. Culinary school would validate that I am trained. Masterchef Canada would validate that I know what I am doing. Working in a restaurant would validate that I can keep up with people who went to school. Working in a big catering kitchen would validate that I could do this as a business and charge money for it. In some ways I knew I was capable of all of this already. But the feedback I received was priceless, because now I had the clarity. I don’t need to make $15 an hour to prove myself. I see how my friends and loved ones react when I present them with some tasty food. That’s really all I need. I can do this! It was a roundabout way of coming to this realization but this is how it happened!
In 2017 I had purchased a pre-sales condo and I was getting possession soon. I had received a lump-sum payment for my years in my previous job. Thankfully I had that, because I needed to cough up the money alone now that I was single. I had originally slated those funds to put towards my business as capital. But now I had drained the whole of them and the odds for starting my business were stacked against me. I didn’t want to start out by borrowing a bunch of money. I was working 5 days a week at the arena, barely making enough to pay my basic rent (which my lovely landlords had reduced to help me out during this time). I had met with my previous Director General and she was kind enough to give me some constructive CV tips and life advice. Something that stuck with me was that she too, was a creative and artistic person in a science career. Her career provided her with a lifestyle to do her passion of art comfortably, without forcing it to be her paycheque for survival. This helped preserve the passion. It made me reflect on if I was trying to force cooking to be something that pays me enough to live, just because I enjoy doing it. I e-mailed her to keep me in the loop if any opportunities came up and she mentioned they hadn’t filled my position yet as I was supposed to be returning in April. Enough salary to pay my new mortgage, benefits (ooh, a dental cleaning sounds good right about now) and holidays. All in all, I would be able to have a lifestyle where I too, could pursue my passion and hobbies in a comfortable way without forcing them to be my main pay cheque. I accepted the offer.
And there you have it folks. Full circle. I’m heading back to Victoria to the job I worked for 8 years. At first I felt like a sell-out and a failure, my tail between legs, not starting a business, not getting on Masterchef, losing the love of my life in the process. Then I picked myself up and looked at how much life I had lived in the last 9 months. I took a risk. I gave it all up to pursue something I love doing. I held my own on the line, in a catering operation, on a competitive TV show, in a new city, travelling to places I wasn’t familiar with; all totally out of my comfort zone. I put my feet in the water and got a taste. I have shown myself that I can really do anything if I just throw myself at it.
I left my job at the arena after 6 weeks too so who knows, maybe you’ll see me on a different season of Masterchef another year 😛 I am heading to Hawaii to meet up with some family who are also going there because why not? Then when I get back, it’s packing, moving, saying some goodbyes and some see you laters.
This year of living on the edge, doing things that I had only thought of, was worth it despite some of the tough lessons along the way. I’ve realized how full my life is of love and passion, friends and family. I’ve always been in relationships throughout my life and now after this one, I will be making a conscious effort to just enjoy my own company doing what I love doing. I have lots of beautiful people to spend time with that don’t expect anything from me other than to just be myself and I couldn’t ask for anything else!
My Youtube channel has hit over 22K views which I never thought would happen. I have started posting on my photography Instagram: @robravenphoto again which is another outlet to share my creativity. I have been writing and reading a lot, volunteering, making new friends, connecting with likeminds. I have a lot more time on my hands now that I am not setting aside time for a romantic relationship, accommodating someone else. It’s quite liberating and really anything is possible. 2019 is bringing me new perspectives and energy. I have goals of learning how to edit my own videos, so I will see where that takes me. I have been cooking a lot, so hopefully once I get set up in my new place in February you’ll be seeing a flurry of tastiness. I have also toyed with the idea of teaching simple cooking classes in my condo, or even hosting private dinners/private chef services. Really anything can happen. I’ll use my internal compass and see where I end up.
Congratulations if you made it to the end of this. Love you all. Cheers to a productive and exciting 2019 my Simmerlings!