About seven months ago, I sent a few pictures of my Christmas dinner to celebrity chef Judy Joo. A week or so later, I received an email saying that she would love for me to join her team in her Korean restaurant Jinjuu.
As a stage, AKA the kitchen equivalent of an intern, you work solely for the purpose of gaining experience. Coming into this internship I knew nothing except to come to Hong Kong with a set of chef’s knives and non-slip shoes. It wasn’t anything that I expected it to be, it was so much more.
They don’t tell you about the chaos.
During service it’s easy to be very scatter brained. Frankly speaking, the higher your level of stress, the harder it is to sort yourself out. I remember almost having a panic attack the first time I was stationed on a Friday night. I couldn’t hear the orders, I was bumping into people right and left, my section looked like a mess, and above all, I was doubting myself the whole time.
Word of advice? Despite the war out there, take a deep breath, make sure your mis en places aren’t all over the place, and power through it. You’ll be fine.
They don’t tell you about how tough you have to be.
You can’t be afraid to make mistakes, but you also have to be able to take responsibility for them. I have gotten yelled at, and I had a melt down in the kitchen—for what in hindsight now seems like a frivolous reason. What no one tells you is that the people who sometimes make you feel as small as an ant only do it because they care about your improvement. So I’ve learned to toughen up, because any and all scoldings are for my own good.
They don’t tell you about the food.
One of the most amazing parts of this internship was the opportunity to see dishes evolve. They don’t tell you how amazing it is to work with Grade 9-Korea-imported Hanwoo steaks, or about the careful timing required for the plating of Snickers Hotteok.
More than anything I’ve learned how important it is to care dearly for the food you are preparing. Talent and skill may come later, but if you care about the food and the experience that you provide for your guests, you will create something absolutely beautiful.
They don’t tell you about the family.
I didn’t expect the manager to run to a pharmacy for a wrap the minute I sprained my ankle. It meant a lot to me, and despite the language barrier the chefs made sure to teach me as much as they could. Behind that efficiency is a team that looks out for each other. I’ve learned that no job in the kitchen can be done without a strong support system. I came not knowing anything or anyone, and I left with a family.
They don’t tell you about the love.
It takes a special kind of person to become a chef. They don’t tell you about how coming in early and staying late aren’t favors, but rather expected. They don’t tell you about how being on your feet for nine hours is considered an easy day. The job is hard, and it isn’t for everyone. Once I commit myself to this path full time, I’ll be giving up the chance to spend the holidays with my family. But, when your heart is in every layer of the Makgeoli frozen yoghurt parfait, it doesn’t reveal itself as work, but as the fulfillment of your dreams.
These last six weeks have made me realize how much I love being part of a kitchen team. I now know that passion is the driving force of anything that I hope to accomplish in the future. I went to bed every night so exhausted I thought my head would be anchored to my pillows forever, and yet I woke up every morning wanting to do it all over again.
To Chef Judy, I could never be more thankful for this wonderful experience and I will always keep it close to my heart.
To Michael, and the rest of the floor staff, thank you for running to get the wrap for my ankle, and for giving me confidence from the very beginning. Call me in two years when you want to open?
To Jacob, thank you for always watching out for me, for being a constant source of encouragement, for being a friend that I can definitely look up to, and for being one of the best people I’ve ever met. Let’s dream big and build our empires.
To the Jinjuu kitchen staff: Chloe, Ching, Sai, Cheong, Wing, Yin, Sun, Chu, Eddie, Edward, and Ho, thank you for being the people that I looked forward to working with every day. I’ve learned especially that we are nothing without each other’s support. I will never forget the most essential words: fai lan tee, and momentai.
To Chef Sang, thank you for holding me to the same standard that you hold the rest of the team, for entrusting me with the work when you knew I could do it, and for reminding me of the values of perseverance and team work. I am so grateful that you passed a fraction of your brilliance onto me.
To Chef Winkee, thank you for being the voice of reason, and for being an example of perseverance. From you, I’ve learned how important it is to be consistent, how crucial it is that you trust your team, and how “kailangan mahal mo ang ginagawa mo,” meaning it is necessary to love what you do.
Lastly, to Chef Yong, thank you for giving me the push when I clearly needed it. You remind me to stay humble, and you remind me that I am only worth the effort that I put in. I promised that I would be better than you in five years. From you I’ve learned not to make promises I can’t keep, and I would never break one to someone who believes in me.
And to all the restaurateurs and chefs out there: for God’s sake, please hire me.