Missing My Son, the Chef
Long ago and far away, when my son decided to become a Chef, I was very naive. Little did I know that during his quest for greatness the last time he would visit me would be long ago—and that his life would always take him far away.
In my mind I thought he would follow his dream, and being so driven he will quickly earn great amounts of money that would enable him to frequently come home at the drop of a hat to visit me. Forgetting about his living expenses (the cost of living in the big city). I pictured him zooming in often carefree and rested and we would have hours to talk about our lives and share our stories with each other. All the while cementing our mother/son bond with our lengthy visits.
I didn’t realize financial security as a Chef comes after years of grueling fourteen hour days, or that on the rare occasions that he would be able to get away (or afford) a trip home that he would be exhausted upon arrival and then again upon leaving having desperately tried to live up to and meet all of the obligations set before him at home.
Early on I noticed cracks beginning to form in the idyllic picture I had of being Chef’s Mom. Holidays started to come and go (uncelebrated) (Chefs work on holidays). I began to lose the desire to celebrate any “special” occasion. While he was toiling away on the holidays, with no free time, relaxation or family I was pretending the day was special and trying to make the best of it for those around me. He worked through his holiday serving complete strangers by the hundreds getting criticism, praise or nothing at all. He was steadily taking the necessary steps toward his goal—his future, while I was walking in place, not moving ahead. I was merely waiting.
The day my son left home for the big city and Culinary School, I began the monumental task (so far lasting ten years) of waiting.
Amid the intense overwhelming pride I feel for him, my heart left with him, leaving a void that nothing could fill …
I am now consumed with gathering information on famous Chefs, the latest techniques, obscure ingredients and all that is involved in my son’s life as a Chef. I revel in every accomplishment and each step that takes him closer to his goal. I marvel at the drive, willingness to sacrifice and length of days my son endures.
I imagine the luxury of other mothers, living in the same city as their sons, where they can be with their child when they are sick or lonely. The birthdays and promotions can be celebrated. The hard times can be tackled together.
While my son works himself to exhaustion physically and mentally, my weariness comes purely from emotional and mental sources. Whereas he is expending his strength to gain a future, my efforts are futile.
Do other mothers of Chefs try so hard to understand the career choice? Do they try to fathom what their child goes through each day to achieve greatness with such fierce determination? I can’t give up on my search to understand.
I am wondering why a young man would be so compelled and focused as to leave all of it behind while striving for personal excellence, to ultimately create the perfect bite. When young Chefs laugh and joke instead of screaming and being berated I commend them and think how they deserve that moment to be young, though they deserve so much more than that.
The life he has chosen is a delicate balance of tension and grace under pressure, deserving of high praise for functioning on a daily basis as a superhuman force.
Sacrifice seems to be the key word, not only for him but for me as well. I need to share the good and the bad times he has had. I can only imagine being able to do this with his father, which would be the ideal situation.
Long gone are the days when I sat at a table in a restaurant waiting for my menu choice to “magically” appear. I have a newfound respect in knowing how that meal was placed before me.
I spend time trying to gain insight into my son’s chosen career. I try to learn in order to have a common thread to bind us together. Now I think of such things as The James Beard Award, molecular gastronomy, Keller, Trotter, bellies and cheeks. I know what it means to sous-vide and what function lecithin plays in the kitchen. I know where Alinea and French Laundry are too. I was once the teacher and now I am learning from my son.
My son, the Chef, will make it. I will be beside him when he arrives at his goal. We will make it together.