Warrior Chef 3: Round 5

Phung: @Walking into the kitchen, I’m glad that I was able to establish dominance. @The Phung Dynasty continues! @But Jaenice going home sucks. @She was funny and I really liked having her around. @James shall rue the day he sent her packing.

Justin: @I’m annoyed that I’ve been sort of coasting by. @I really want to win tonight’s challenges and just prove to the other contestants that I am the best one here.

Cherry: @I’m feeling ready to win the competition. @It’s a huge opportunity for me to really prove that being a former pot head isn’t going to stop me from being successful in my future.

Michele: Hi, everyone! So for tonight’s creativity challenge, you’ll need to prepare a dish worthy of a Michelin star. Unfortunately, after this challenge, somebody will be sent home. This is a sudden death challenge!

Lauren: @The moment she says sudden death, I am freaking out internally. @I don’t want to get sent home. @Not this way.

Phung: @I’m not worried. @I will crush it tonight.

Michele: You have 45 minutes, your time starts now!

Kira: @I’m excited for this challenge, because I know I can nail this one. @If I can win this challenge, then I win three in a row, and that’s exciting. @For my dish, I’m doing smoked quail with a taro mousseline, fried mustard seed, and goji berry compote. @It’s going to be Asian-French fusion, which I know so many high-end restaurants do.

Lauren: @I decide to prepare soft shell crabs with an orange-fennel salad. @I’m keeping the dish super simple. @So far, in this competition, Phung, Kira, and I have been trading wins, so I would love to just keep winning challenges.

Phung: @Lauren’s not my main competition. @Kira, she’s a threat. @Justin, he’s potentially a threat, but I can take him down in the long run. @I decide to make a chawanmushi, in honor of my soul sister, Jaenice. @I miss her greatly, but in the Phung Dynasty, there will be casualties.

James: @I’m going to make a apple cake with vanilla ice cream. @I’m making a dessert because it’ll be something that everyone will be shocked by that. @If I can even win one challenge at this point, it’ll show everyone here that I am a strong contender and that I can cook sweet or savory.

Henry: @I’m nervous about this challenge because I’m not super into the whole fine-dining genre. @I’m preparing a seared scallop with beetroot puree and a yogurt coulis with coconut. @I’m feeling great about this dish, because it’ll show a lot of finesse. @Scallops are super fancy, right?

Justin: @I’m preparing a kale tortellini with brown butter and crispy pancetta. @I’m keeping the dish simple, but I’m hoping that making a filled pasta in 45 minutes shows that I am a skilled and talented chef in this competition.

Michele: Time’s up!

Lauren: @I’m stepping back from my station feeling meh about my dish. @I see the others, and we have some seriously good looking dishes up there tonight.

Michele: Your judge is Warrior Chef house critic, Lotte Amazo!
Lotte: Hi, everyone. As a food critic, I love seeing how far chefs can take their food. Let’s see if anyone here is worthy of a Michelin star.

Lotte and Michele taste the dishes.

Michele: So Lotte, who managed to impress you the most?

Lotte: Kira, you made a really delicious quail dish and I was impressed by your techniques. Henry, the scallop was simple, but well executed. Your presentation was one of my favorites. And Justin. The tortellini was wrapped, filled, and cooked to perfection. I really enjoyed that a lot.

Michele: And your winner?

Lotte: I think it was a hard choice, but in the end, Kira, you made my favorite dish.

Michele: Congratulations, Kira! You won immunity going into the elimination challenge!

Kira: Thank you. @I’m just relieved to not be on the bottom. @I don’t know what to expect, but now I have immunity, and I’m guaranteed a spot in the final six.

Justin: @I’m so annoyed that Kira won. @Can I ever win a damn challenge? @At this point, I’m convinced that I’m going to be sent home next, because it seems everyone who is the bridesmaid in these challenges goes home.

Michele: And Lotte, who is on the bottom?

Lotte: James, the apple cake wasn’t baked enough. And Phung. Your chawanmushi was scrambled and just not refined at all.

Phung: @Crap. @I’m on the bottom and up for elimination. @What even is this?

Michele: So for the sudden death challenge, Phung and James, you must prepare a high-end canape. You have just 25 minutes, your time starts now!

Phung: @I need redemption. @I’m making the chawanmushi with uni and shiitake mushrooms, and this time, I’m making it in the tiny Chinese soup spoons. @I’m monitoring the steamer like a hawk, because I am not going home on a fucking egg custard, and especially not going home against James.
James: @I have the chance to knock Phung out of the competition, so bring it on. @I’m making a harissa rubbed prosciutto with deep fried fig and melted honey-goat cheese. @Phung is one of the biggest contenders for the title, and I want to eliminate her. @I need to beat her if I want to win the title anyways.

Lauren: @I am keeping my fingers crossed that Phung gets sent home. @As much as I love her sass, she’s a major, major threat, and her getting eliminated means that a huge obstacle is out of the way.

Henry: @I think everyone wants Phung out. @She’s really rude, and she’s a strong cook, so it’s just two more reasons why people don’t necessarily warm up to her. @If James does eliminate Phung, then we will all be really happy.

Phung: @I check my custards, and they are perfect. @I’m feeling great about my canapes. @I know how to make a perfect dish and it’ll show. @My food is strong, bold, and I will knock people out, one by one.

James: @I’m feeling really good about the deep fried fig. @My dish is possibly the best thing I put up in this entire competition. @Phung better watch out, because everyone always roots for the underdog.

Michele: Time’s up! Step away from your stations.

James: @Phung made the chawanmushi again, so I know I can beat her now.

Michele and Lotte taste James and Phung’s dishes.

Michele: Lotte, how did they do?

Lotte: Phung, you prepared the same dish, but this one was delicious and smooth. I really loved your dish. James, the fig was a surprisingly delicious addition, and the harissa and prosciutto was great. The goat cheese was a nice touch as well.

James: @I’m feeling good. @Phung, here’s the door.

Lotte: Overall, it came down to the main challenge. Who prepared a canape. Both of you served good food, but the challenge required it to be a canape. James, you served me something a little larger than that, and for that sole reason, you’re going home.

Michele: James, please return to the kitchen and leave.

Phung: *to James* You deserved it. This was for Jaenice, you ass!

James: Crap. Okay. @I wasn’t expecting that. @I thought I had Phung beat. @That’s really dumb that I’m going out on a technicality. @I really wanted to prove that I can cook good food, and it sucks, because I just stumbled slightly and failed.

James leaves the kitchen.

Phung: @And just like that, there were only seven left. @I’m feeling great.

Michele: And now it’s time for the elimination challenge!

A cart is wheeled in, carrying two whole lambs.

Cherry: @I just see the whole lambs and all I can think is… whaaaat? @We have to cook with these monsters?

Lauren: @I’m feeling a little nervous about having to butcher these lambs, because I don’t do that.

Justin: @I see the whole lambs and I’m ecstatic. @I actually know how to butcher the lambs, so I know that this is my challenge to really step up and shine.

Kira: @I know how to butcher lamb, so this won’t be hard. @I see some of the other cooks around the room, and they’re looking really nervous.

Michele: You have an hour to prepare your own dish using parts from this whole lamb. And your time starts now!

Phung: @I run up and grab an entire lamb for myself. @I’m not going to try sharing the lamb and wasting time helping other people butcher it.

Lauren: @Phung grabs an entire lamb and my jaw hits the floor. @Seriously? @You don’t need the whole lamb for yourself.

Justin: @Kira and I start breaking down the other lamb, because nobody else knows how to do it, and while we are fabricating it, I’m just thinking about what I can make from it. @Since Kira and I volunteered to do it, everyone agrees that we get first pick on which part we want to use.

Kira: @For my dish, I’m going to prepare a grilled lamb chop with red wine and grape jus and gruyere mashed potatoes. @I’m keeping the dish super simple, because the time it’s taking to break down the lamb, I need to simplify the dish and focus on making sure I execute.

Justin: @I’m making a lamb ragout with paparadelle, black garlic, and fire roasted tomatoes. @It’s going to be awesome, because I just take the lamb scraps and utilize those in my dish.

Lauren: @Justin hands me the lamb leg, which is what I was hoping for. @I’m making a braised lamb leg with grilled cabbage slaw and spicy tomato relish. @I know that lamb loves smoke and heat, those I’m going with that.

Cherry: @So for my dish tonight, I’m going to be utilizing the lamb shank. @I’m making lamb shank with rice cakes and lamb broth. @I’m going to utilize the rice cakes from my Cantonese heritage to make a delicious texture the judges won’t expect.

Henry: @I decide on making a crepe with shaved lamb cheek and grilled mushrooms and frisee with harissa yogurt. @I’m going to take a risk here and do something out of the box. @Phung stealing the whole lamb for herself, it was selfish, and I hope she gets eliminated for it.

Gabe: @I’m using the belly. @I’m doing a braised lamb belly with mint-chili chutney and a corn puree. @Braising the lamb belly will be the risk I am taking here, but I know that I can pull that off.

Phung: @For my dish tonight, I’m doing a grilled lamb chop and lamb tongue, lamb carpaccio, Vietnamese coffee jus, caramelized lamb belly, and a ramp pancake. @I’m taking on a lot at once because I know I can execute it all flawlessly. @The advantage to having my own lamb is that I can use it all and showcase different textures.

Michele: Time’s up!

Lauren: @I’m feeling good about this challenge. @Phung might have tried to selfishly hog an entire lamb to herself, but my dish came out like how I wanted it to.

Michele: Your judges are:

Erwin Ko

Aster Walker

Miriam Adjanti

Michele: Let’s start with the dishes by Justin and Kira first!

Justin – lamb ragout with paparadelle, black garlic, and fire roasted tomatoes

Kira – grilled lamb chop with red wine and grape jus and gruyere mashed potatoes

Aster: The lamb ragout was delicious! The flavor he developed in the time he had and the fact that he utilized the off cuts for the lamb to prepare it, it was genius.

Miriam: Kira also delivered on a simple but well-done dish. The chop was butchered perfectly and I enjoyed her sauce and the puree was perfect. Smooth, velvety, but creamy. I had no complaints.

Michele: And next are the dishes by Phung and Lauren!

Phung – grilled chop, tongue, carpaccio, Vietnamese coffee, crispy belly, ramp pancake

Lauren – braised lamb leg with grilled cabbage slaw and spicy tomato relish

Erwin: The chop Phung prepared was undercooked. I appreciate that she was being ambitious, serving us lamb four different ways, but she didn’t really nail any single execution perfectly. I did enjoy her pancake and the Vietnamese coffee jus a lot.

Miriam: Lauren braised that lamb leg nicely and I was surprised by how much I liked the combination of grilled cabbage and spicy tomato with the braised lamb. The flavors of her dish came together.

Michele: Finally, the dishes by Gabe and Cherry!

Gabe – braised lamb belly with mint-chili chutney and corn puree

Cherry – lamb shank with rice cakes and lamb broth

Aster: Gabe braised his lamb belly nicely and I liked the chutney a lot. The corn puree just confused me. I didn’t really know where it belonged on the plate, because it was so bland and uninteresting compared to the rest of his dish.

Erwin: Cherry cooked her lamb shank nicely. The broth, I couldn’t even get to it because of how much rice cake she put in proportion. Eating her dish was like eating a bowl of glue and mud. I didn’t like it at all.

Michele: So can we crown a winner and decide who is going home?
Aster: We can.

In walks Justin, Kira, and Lauren.

Michele: Tonight, the three of you prepared the judges’ favorite dishes!

Aster: Justin and Kira, both of you did well with breaking down the lamb and your dishes were both well made. Lauren, the dish had great flavors and you surprised us with that grilled cabbage.

Michele: Aster, please announce the winner.

Aster: It came down to Lauren and Justin’s dishes for me. And the best dish belonged to… Justin.

Michele: Congratulations, Justin! You won the elimination challenge!

Justin: Thank you! @I won my first challenge ever and it feels good! @I’m definitely going to make that lamb ragout again when I open up my restaurant.

The top three leave.

In walks Phung and Cherry.
Michele: Tonight, both of you had glaring technical errors and one of you is going to be sent home.

Erwin: Phung, you didn’t deliver on any of your four lamb components. The chop was undercooked, the tongue and carpaccio were underseasoned, and you didn’t render out enough fat from the belly. We did enjoy your sauce and the pancake a lot, however.

Miriam: Cherry, the lamb shank was braised beautifully but the broth was nonexistent. The rest of your dish was basically taken over by your rice cakes, which weren’t good.

Cherry: Shit. @I’m feeling like I’m screwed at this point. @But they hated Phung’s lamb, so there’s hope for me.

Phung: @Cherry has been decently strong this season, but I know I can take her down. @Just send her on her way already.

Michele: Cherry, please return to the kitchen and leave.

Cherry: Thank you. *to Phung* Congratulations. @I’m going home tonight and it fucking sucks. @I didn’t think I’d be out this early. @I felt like with each challenge, I was getting stronger, and I didn’t quite reach my potential yet.

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How it is: Chapter 2

“Where are we with the beignets?” A dark skinned young woman, sporting a blue-denim apron looked over towards the pastry section of her kitchen. “Chef, they’re on their way.” A slim Asian girl with pale skin and long dark hair, tied in a ponytail replied. The girl was Valerie Ang, a freshman in NYU studying hospitality and the executive pastry chef of the restaurant. At this moment, she was dusting some freshly prepared doughnuts with a black sesame infused sugar, and gently placing them in a bowl with a miso infused butterscotch and deep fried red beans. “Here, chef.” She walked down, past the mob of line cooks, and handed her three bowls of the beignets at once. “Thank you! Service please!” The chef called as servers took the bowls off of the smooth metal pass. Valerie worked under celebrity chef, Janice Arrington, at her restaurant, Wish. The concept of Wish takes from Janice’s African American as well as Korean heritages: the restaurant was wildly successful, earning a Michelin star within it’s second year of opening. Therefore, the pressure was on Valerie, as well as her pastry cooks, to deliver desserts that met the standard every single time. “Four panna cottas all day!” Janice read aloud. “Got it, chef! Daphne, can you grab those for me?” She looked over at one of her pastry cooks. “Four, chef? Understood!” The pastry cook ducked through the crowd of moving line cooks, and went into the walk-in refrigerator, where Valerie was storing these desserts on a speed rack. Placing them on a small sheet tray, Daphne made her way back to the pastry station, and handed them off to Valerie, who began garnishing them with freshly sliced mangos, compressed mandarin peel, some Thai basil blossoms, and finally, a rocher of honey-almond milk sorbet. “Behind, behind!” Valerie shouted, making her way back to the pass. “Alright, four panna cottas, chef.” She presented them to Janice, who nodded approvingly. “Good job! Keep it up!”

“Hey, Val! The finale is on tomorrow, right?” Dinner service was finally over, and Valerie was sitting with Janice, as well as some of her co-workers, Megan, one of the pastry cooks, Jacky, a line cook, Mako, the dinner service sous-chef, and Joseph, Janice’s chef de cuisine. In this group, Valerie was still the youngest person, having been recently promoted to executive pastry chef when the previous one, Namie, had left to open her own bakery. The finale Jacky was referring to was the finale of Warrior Chef, a televised cooking competition that Janice and Namie had both previously won, and Valerie had recently competed in, during her senior year of high school. While the episodes were being broadcasted now, Valerie herself already knew the outcome of the competition, but had to keep it a secret. As of the most recent broadcast, Valerie was competing with another two contestants for the title of Warrior Chef, and the grand prize of $100,000. “Hey, if you win, don’t you quit on me now.” Janice laughed, referring to her previous pastry chef. Despite being her boss, Janice was only 25 years old, so not that much older than the 18 year-old Valerie. “Well, that’s hypocritical! Didn’t you win when you competed?” Mako frowned at the executive chef. “Yeah, and you managed to open up Wish in a year after you won the title.” Joseph also pointed out. “Opening a restaurant at the age of 19 was stressful as hell.” Janice frowned at her staff. “And you wound up being one of the youngest chefs to ever earn a Michelin star at the age of 22.” Megan pointed out. More accurately, Janice tied with the record holder, Aiden Byrne, who had earned his first star at the same age. Needless to say, Janice was an incredibly ambitious and talented young woman, and Valerie greatly looked up to her for that.

Walking out of the restaurant and back to campus, Valerie sighed to herself. She was currently a hospitality student at NYU, focusing on the culinary arts. She always knew that she wanted to be a chef. There was something about crafting food, specifically pastry and baking, as an artistic form of expression that greatly satisfied her. Even though she was working for Janice at the moment, Valerie was no stranger to the kitchen. She had previously interned for Stephanie Izard at her restaurant, The Girl and the Goat in Chicago, as well as Mario Batali in his restaurants, ESCA and Del Posto in New York, during high school. The idea of doing sports or being a cheerleader or partying sounded idiotic to her. She would rather not waste her time doing that. It was being that focused on her career that helped her land a pastry cook, now chef position, and also get her into the finale of Warrior Chef. Looking back on her experience in the competition, she wondered how the friends she made on the show were doing. Esme, Austin, and Joey lived nearby, but her closest friends were Claire and Coco, both of whom lived in the West Coast. A quick look on social media showed that Austin was in the process of opening his first restaurant. Joey moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Esme, she was at France, working part-time under a 2-star Michelin chef while also doing a career in fashion. They were all off doing interesting things.

“I’m back.” Valerie stretched in relief. Luckily for her, she got a room to herself for her freshman year. Her room was tiny, as expected of a single room, but she did not mind that. It was not like she had a lot of friends over or anything. Her only real friends were her co-workers, as well as Timmy and Tarou. Nobody else really mattered to her at this point. Oh, Tarou. She felt herself blush even thinking about him. He was always so sweet and sensitive when he was that chubby little cherub. Then he slimmed down, and grew taller, and finally ditched the glasses and braces, basically, a complete overhaul on his appearance. He stayed the same on the inside for the most part, but he basically became Valerie’s dream man. He gained a lot more confidence and ambition, because a lot less sensitive, but still remained sweet, kind, and caring. Seeing him accomplish so much in just his first semester of college, it made her want to push herself that much more, which was how she got promoted to executive pastry chef in less than a year of working at Wish. She cringed to herself, remembering how she had to cook a dish inspired by love on the competition, and how it almost sent her home. She did not want to confess that she liked Tarou on national television, but she did attempt a Japanese dish of miso cod, despite having no experience with Japanese food, as a small nod to that. Luckily, she was able to cover up her story, saying that the shape of the cod, she was trying to make it resemble a heart, so nobody really questioned her reasoning beyond that.

“Hey, Val, do you need any help?” It was senior year of high school, right before Valerie had to leave for Warrior Chef. She was with Timmy and Tarou, cooking together. “What did you want to eat, Tarou?” “Hmm… I would love to cook miso cod, but that’s expensive and takes a lot of time to prepare. So how about croquettes?” “Croquettes sound good. Are you okay with those, Timmy?” She looked at him. “Yeah. Sounds good.” He quietly nodded in agreement. “Alright, so croquettes it is!” She smiled at them, grabbing potatoes, eggs, and panko bread crumbs. Ever since elementary school, Timmy and Tarou were the only two people she would ever talk to. The other girls thought she was weird for not being interested in anything other than cooking or baking, but Timmy and Tarou did not care. In Timmy’s case, very little would ever affect or bother him. In Tarou’s case, he enjoyed having a friend who could feed him, and Valerie enjoyed cooking for people. Either way, it worked out for Valerie, because she was a relatively shy and withdrawn person who loved to cook. It was not until competing on Warrior Chef that she started to make friends other than those two. She started to realize that even though cooking was her predominant interest, Valerie enjoyed a good laugh, she loved making others happy, and by continually working in the culinary industry, she was able to do that.

Being on the competition did open a lot of doors for her, but at the same time, she could not go one step in the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism without somebody quoting her or referencing the fact that she was a finalist. It got annoying quickly, because Valerie was not used to people applauding or praising her on a daily basis, nor did she like that. She wanted to earn compliments within the moment, not on things that she had done in the past. It made no sense. It was like being congratulated on completing middle school when she was in college. Holding onto past achievements like that was just counterproductive to growing up. Regardless, it was hard to ignore how others thought of her. In this industry, your reputation and how others perceive you was everything. And knowing how the finale played out from her perspective, Valerie was slightly nervous. She knew that she did something extremely controversial in that final challenge, and she did not know how others would react to it. She felt squeamish and uneasy, because her gut was telling her that she was an idiot for doing what she did, and to brace herself for months of ridicule and mockery.

“This is going to be a safe place for you to practice your skills. We know that you are skilled, based on your resume, but I want to see what you can do.” A beautiful young woman, Namie Bethany-Amai, then the executive pastry chef at Wish, was training Valerie. She had just been hired at Wish, and it was just weeks after she finished her experience in Warrior Chef. “Thank you, chef. I will try my best.” She nodded, excited. This sort of kitchen, she was in her element. She knew how to work on the line, and she just wanted to throw herself back into work. Even though she knew what happened in the competition, she was not going to let it affect her current state of mind. Nobody knew the results of the competition except for a select few, including her. “That’s the spirit. So for your first task, let’s get 500 eggs separated, and then we want to also make some macarons for the petit fours, so you’ll be using most of the egg whites for that. I’ll check up on your progress from time to time, and if you manage to finish that, then I’ll move you onto the next task.” She smiled, walking off to give Megan and Daphne further instruction.  Being able to work under two previous winners was incredible, but just doing this work on its own, it helped her get her mind back to reality. This is what it meant to be in the industry. You had to work long hours, doing a variety of taxing tasks, but the end result is seeing the customer excited and happy when you are crafting somebody’s vision. For her, even though she wanted to one day be her own boss, Valerie did not mind being a line level employee, therefore an extension of Namie. While she was Namie’s cook, she was able to learn as much as she possibly could from her. Valerie saw this as an opportunity to keep moving forward.

Driven: dream 24

I’m sure I’ve spoken about it in more than one post already, but why can people be so timid? I will admit I used to be a very soft-spoken, timid, and shy person, but I learned to not be that way after I saw how little being the understated one did for me; all of my peers in high school would be getting perfect 2400s in SATs, getting full rides to good schools, getting straight As in their honors and APs, or being varsity athletes, members of the play production team (basically like AP Theatre Arts), part of aristocracy or choir, or on board for clubs. And then there I was. Quiet, shy, awkward, not terribly good any most things. I took my honors and APs, but never got about a B in any of them. I got a 2000 SAT, but that was after taking the damn thing 4 times. I got into a good college, but alas, no financial aide or scholarships. I used to be varsity-level in Cross Country; I was never properly promoted to the varsity team, even though I kept up with them. I did Theatre Arts for three years, but I never was able to get into the play production team. Granted, it was because I never took a chance on myself and actually apply for the team. Bottom line, I was in my own way. Too shy, afraid, and hesitant to push myself more and to try harder for myself. Luckily, that all changed in college.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned the first suicide attempt at least 5 times on this blog. So I won’t bother talking much more about it. But that was the catalyst for me to realize how much more I need to accomplish in life before I drop dead. I knew at this point that I loved to bake and cook, so I built off of that. I kept practicing, training, learning, and eventually I found my way into the kitchens of James Beard Award-winning and Michelin starred chefs. As for my grades, I was studying Food and Beverage, something I was passionate about, and Accounting, something I was naturally good at being a numbers person. So getting on Dean’s List was easier, because I was in my natural habitat with both; I am refraining from saying comfort zone because while I was comfortable with both topics, I still pushed myself and always took chances, such as participating as much as possible or taking one more step in being inventive or productive with my work. I never did a varsity sport in college, but I could care less. I still ran anyways, and managed to average 8 miles a day. And on top of that, I was basically an entire board in one person, being a president, advisor, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, as well as a culinary instructor, all at the same time. How is that for being driven?

You don’t need to attempt suicide to realize your potential. You just need to keep pushing yourself and not get into your own head so much. A big reason why I tried to jump into the freezing ocean when I already had so much going for me was because I felt stressed, scared, and incompetent. That uncertainty of not knowing if accounting or finance was really something I was passionate about, or if my future was going to be me cornered into who only knows what sector of hospitality, I just felt trapped and completely helpless. But if I just kept working and not let my mind wander off to such a dark place, then I would have been fine. Granted, being driven does come in waves. You just need to make sure that if you have down time from work or obligations, not to stress over factors that are completely out of your hands or things that cannot be changed. Do something else that is productive. Take classes on hobbies you have interest in. Watch documentaries. Just keep filling your brain with knowledge. That being said, I am still in the home stretch to adulthood, so now more than ever, I need to focus on working my ass off and impressing people during interviews and job applications, not wondering if this is the right thing for me. If it isn’t, then I can always just switch careers later and then play catch up; I welcome being the underdog. It’s a shit ton of fun to prove to people you are a lot more than they expect you to be.

The thing I appreciate about driven people is that they do not get distracted by relatively pointless things like their own personal problems. I just think about a girl from high school, who I will call Grace. And yes, she was one of those overachieving types I mentioned earlier. She graduated college in two years, and then went into a full ride at Law School, and is graduating from that in another two years, so the same time I’m graduating normal college. And trust me, her personal life stresses me out from just hearing about it. Her parents divorced and both of them moved back to Korea, her brother lives in a different county (not country, so please don’t misread that) than her, and the only family she has is her cat and maybe an occasional boyfriend. And on top  of that, she works so that she can pay her rent and bills. And she’s my age. Grace never had the luxury or time to think about her own problems. She just kept pushing. I’m sure she must be hurting emotionally and mentally, but seeing her work through that and keep fighting for her dreams, it’s inspirational to me. And she’s like 6 months younger than me. So if any of you guys ever think you have problems or whatever, just know there are people like Grace who do have it bad, but they endure it and keep achieving. If everyone in the world had the drive like Grace, or the Grace-like drive, then we can all accomplish so much in life. Our own personal problems will seem so small in comparison to our achievements that we won’t even have time to think about them. A world so productive, yet drama-free, it truly would be feather-light.

 

Focus: dream 23

“Learn to focus, and you will get better.”

That was the advice a Michelin starred chef I worked under once told me. Being sidetracked can happen to all of us. I still think about my cooking class, where one of my teammates was so distracted by boys that she proceeded to burn herself and make black pesto in an hour (two separate incidents, with the burn happening in a latter lesson, just to clarify). She was not focused….at all. Which is why she did not wear oven mitts when I asked her to remove my oatmeal cookies (once she burned herself, she left the cookies in the oven and got passive aggressive with me for asking her to open the oven) or she spent an hour picking basil leaves and then presenting me with something I originally thought was tapenade before tasting it. Yeah. Sometimes, I just feel like people are really dumb. But it’s not that they are actually dumb. It’s that their minds are preoccupied with something else.

For me in my Michelin starred internship, I was too busy being star-struck (pun literally intended) because the chef I was working for, they were a Top Chef contestant. I will not disclose who. But I will say that chef, I am so sorry for how bad of an intern I was. I have since then improved, and if you are looking for a pastry intern, I can definitely deliver on that station 1000% better than I could as a garde manger. Bottom line, I was too busy freaking out about the fact that they were this big name chef that my head was not on straight. I would be off in lala-land, being so excited about working for them that I could not deliver on what I was there to do: cook. My knife cuts were crap, as the sous-chef pointed out, I would take a lot longer to do tasks, I basically got into a wrestling match with the oven, mostly because I could not open it. The list of mistakes, it was very long. And it got to me.

Each mis-step took me further and further away from being confident and trying to nail my tasks. Instead, I got more depressed and these thoughts about me being useless and that I am better off somewhere else because the bar was set too high for me really got to me. I wanted a way out. Eventually, I quit because I felt like I was being too much of a burden and not enough of a help. Wow. I just started to realize a pattern here with me and my self-esteem. Doubt builds when I don’t feel valued or know that I am doing as good as I should be, that leads to anxiety and depression, and then I try to remove myself from the equation. Okay, that’s going to be a realization post soon enough. Bottom line is that had I focused on doing the job and learning how to do it right, and not fret about how I was making mistakes, something perfectly acceptable as a beginner who was starting out at their first fine-dining establishment, then I’m positive that I would have done fine. But all it took was me not having focus for me to completely melt down and break apart.

To focus on something means to clear your mind of everything that does not directly pertain to the subject in mind. The easiest way to do something like that is to make the situation less about your problems and more about getting the job done. I know I talk a lot about making life all about you, but that’s for your personal life. When it comes to your professional life, you need to look at what it is that you are doing, and how it helps the company or organization you are working for. Rather than thinking that a task is beneath you, or that you have better things to be doing, just focus on doing the damn job, doing it well, and then if you really dislike what it is that you’re doing, then quit and find something more compatible. Ideally, you should be allowed to work a job you are passionate about, and if you are passionate about work, then you will be able to focus on work and nothing else; your work will be in a way, an escape from whatever responsibilities you have to think about.