Monday, February 01, 2010

Been busy the past few weeks, and I have a couple of blog entries in progress that I can't seem to get around to finishing. But this one is very important to me, so it takes priority.

As I have previously blogged, my lovely fiancee, Lura, is the pastry chef at Sage, a French-Mediterranean-American fusion-thingy restaurant in Aria, in the new City Center complex on the Strip. A couple of weeks ago, we were pleased to read her first professional review, which singled her desserts out for extremely high praise. This would be a critic who reviews restaurants for local TV and radio news, as opposed to amateur food bloggers (who also love her desserts).

That was nothing compared to what the same critic posted Monday. I am so proud of her that I don't have the words. But I'm going to try.

Before I met Lura, she had been through a lot. She was working as a pastry cook at a fine dining restaurant, and was being treated like crap. Watching her cook dinner at home, especially crafting menus for the occasional party or social dinner, I could clearly see the passion she had for not just cooking, but for creating dishes. In a lot of ways, knowing that she wasn't able to express that side of herself at work was almost worse than the meager paycheck or being asked to come in and work without clocking in, or to clock out and stay and keep working. (Actually, being asked to work without pay was probably worse. And more illegal.)

She was making such little money at that job, and being treated so badly, we decided we could afford for her to quit and just live on my income until she found another job. Fortunately, she was offered the job at Sage before it actually came to that. Even more exciting, she learned that the assistant pastry chef position she thought she had interviewed for was actually a head pastry chef position.

As anyone who has made a similar transition knows, this is a turning point for her. From this point on, she will always be a chef, and going back to just being a cook would be a significant step back. Which is for the best: she's too creative and passionate to just be a pair of hands for someone else, and from what I've seen of the restaurant industry, they need more chefs like her.

It seems to me that being an effective professional chef is twice as hard as most other jobs. You have to be a good chef, with all that entails, plus you have to be a good manager. Just one of those things is hard enough to find, but both, in one person? From what I can tell, pretty much impossible. And the priority seems to be on cooking ability, which makes sense. Customers care about how their food tastes, not how the chefs treat their crews. Plus, if a chef is raised up in a system that places a higher value on cooking skills than management skills, then they're just going to perpetuate that system, because they don't know any better.

However, despite being beaten down by that system over the past ten years or so, Lura does know better. And her crew sees that. They see her come in and work her butt off for 12-14 hours a day, working alongside them and teaching them, instead of barking orders at them and then disappearing into an office somewhere, like her former employers. And--from what I can tell--that inspires them to work just as hard for her. And those cooks are hopefully going to take her example with them as they move on up, and be similar good examples to others, and so on and so forth.

Plus she's a damn good cook. That's not just me saying that. It's John Curtas, and, and all my friends who have come over for dinner or parties, and all my coworkers who gobble up anything she sends to work with me.

But without the management skills, all she would be is a cook. That's all a lot of her former supervisors will ever be, regardless of what they call themselves. Because being a chef is a profession, so a chef has to act professionally. The industry needs more chefs who understand that. Lura does.

And, yes, I am totally gushing about her, because I love her and that's what you do. Doesn't make the rest of it untrue.

She's been working hard since even before the restaurant opened, and sometimes it's been hard. Even though we live together, it sometimes feels like we don't get enough time together. We almost never have a whole day off together, and even when we do, she's tired from working six 14-hour days in a row.

I find myself feeling selfish sometimes. I have my cushy job with regular hours and the freedom to take almost any day off that I want. When I want time to myself, I get it, because she's usually at work. I can take my time reading all my RSS feeds online, working on my blog, updating my Facebook and Twitter feeds, reading books and comics, and watching TV. When she finally gets home, I'm ready for her to pay attention to me.

And she's ready to pay attention to me, but she's also ready to eat dinner and read books and check her favorite web sites and update her Facebook and Twitter and play games and do all the stuff I have hours to do, all crammed into about a quarter of the time.

It used to be a lot harder to get the balance right. We do it better now, but I still miss her when she's not around.

And then I read a review like the one she got Monday, and I remember that this is what it's all for. It may be hard sometimes, and I wish we had more time together, but we've got our whole lifetime together for that. Right now, she's working long hours and too many days in a row, but it's not for nothing. People are noticing. She's doing good work, and making an impact. I love her for that, and I am so proud that along with all that, she has still chosen to be with me.