Why my chef walked out on me

Musings on everyday life

by

Suresh Pattali

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Published: Thu 14 Dec 2023, 9:49 PM

Emily put in her papers yesterday.

To work or not to work, to resign or not to resign is all someone's personal choice. Typically, I should be least bothered as a new hand could just be a click or a call away. But in Emily's case I was a bit concerned because she toiled to put three square meals on my table without much cribbing. Emily was a trusted cook who I was lucky to get after trying out a couple of others.

But what bothered me more than the fear of missing her food after her sudden exit was the resignation letter where she tabulated the reasons to call it a day after she cooked her last supper for me. The note was a can (read eye) opener for me.

Cher monsieur,

Lend me your eyes. Ever since I joined you as a cook half a year ago, my career has been at a crossroads. I felt like a pinch of freshly plucked curry leaves waiting to be sautéed in an Indian kitchen, not knowing to which hot pot it would be thrown into.

It's difficult to work for an employer who was born indecisive. With just two members at home, I believe deciding what you want to eat in the morning shouldn't be as strenuous as drafting a COP summit statement on fossil fuels. You had a full 24 hours to take the culinary call and buy the ingredients needed — on your way home from the office — but you invariably let me cool my heels until you brought in the stuff in the morning. I understand your priorities were different, but as you are pretty well aware, delays and vacillation are passé in this rapidly changing world. Like how you speak about the eternal rush to send out breaking news, everything in this world is so fast paced, like in the Charlie Chaplin magnum opus Modern Times.

I lost well over half an hour in that process every day. For an hourly worker like me, every second counts as I hop from house to house, taking the RTA bus. Never mind. Money isn't the real issue here. It's all about my career, monsieur. Ever since I joined your household, my career has been on a simmer, and every attempt to bring it to a boil failed due mainly to your bland eating habits. You never gave me a chance to spice up my passion or upskill my culinary art or garnish my portfolio. If not for your own sake, I wanted you to eat and comment, as we all grow in the industry promoted by word of mouth. You never attempted to realise how good I am.

Whenever I made some great tea, you opted to have the bitter filter coffee delivered by the bedside by your partner. I could have whipped up unforgettable teas ranging from masala to the tandoor one. You had a pathological dislike for all that is eaten by a typical Indian — from ghee roast, plain dosa and its masala avatar to idli, upma, and appam, the great Kerala pancake in the shape of a snow-white flying saucer. You don't need a chef to heat up or air-fry things you loved — from French fries to hash browns to wedges — or make an egg toast, do you? I now struggle to recollect the breakfast menu I had memorised over the years, at my other workplaces. I am suffering from culinary amnesia.

For your lunch order, you never ventured beyond okra in multiple roles — bhindi fry on Monday, bhindi masala on Tuesday, bhindi do pyaza on Wednesday, and bhindi egg roast on Thursday. What baffled me is your recent dinner order — dal fry, dal makhani and dal coconut fry, all on the same day. Some rice, curd and a papad sufficed you on other days. Please remember that my ambitions are racier than your lady's finger obsession. Let me go, monsieur. I have dreams to cook up before I hang up the apron.

Creativity will always seek to break free from the chains of normality. I want to work in a kitchen that's more inviting and challenging. I want to work for a monsieur who's more demanding than being empathetic and patronising. I want to be pushed to the limits. I want my signature dishes to be comprehended and commended by diners beyond the four walls of your home. I want to be the Queen of Kitchen rather than a dish washer, and I won't let your dirhams spoil my curry.

When was the last time you told me to make a beef dish? When was the last time you ordered a chicken manchurian or a salmon fry? Do you remember the last time you ate your favourite prawn fry? You have lost your appetite for life. You eat words for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Monsieur, put life on a simmer and let the fragrance of the best basmati (bas means aroma and mati means full of) fill your lungs.

Call me the next time you feel like having some Japanese ohmi-gyu beef steak well done or a plate of drunken shrimp, or Thai massaman curry or the South African Bobotie, I will be there, and it is on me. Until then bon appetit and happy writing!

Gastronomically yours,

Emily.

suresh@khaleejtimes.com


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