Friday, December 3, 2010

Take my white (side)towel and shove it, and other epic fail moments

I give up. This isn't working. A thirtysomething gal supporting herself can't live on love and minimum wage alone, contrary to whatever the idealists may say. Sure, she could, if she had a trust fund or the support of middle-class-to-wealthy kin. I have neither.

The difficulty of scratching out a living from kitchen work, at least for newly minted entrants like myself, hit me hard last week when I received my first paycheck: PHP1,250 ($28.50) for a week's work, plus PHP175 ($4) in tips. I might have stayed if the restaurant were more promising, but at the no-name Italian restaurant and pizzeria I found myself in, I was doomed to eternal boredom of the guestless restaurant. Days would pass when I would be lucky to be cooking two entrées during an entire eight-hour shift. The cooks would dip their fingers in the food to taste it, and prod me, the trainee pasta cook, to do the same. The fact that I brought my own knives and side towels was a novelty to them. There was very little production work. The restaurant also suffered from management problems - an absentee Italian chef-consultant who only came to the resto once a month to collect his paycheck, a menu that had not been changed AT ALL in three years, and an owner who did not remit employees' income taxes and social security payments. Everything pointed to infinitesimally meager learning, minimal pay and an abundance of suffering.

What was I doing at this gem of a place? Oh believe me, I peddled my CV everywhere. I had to contend with security guards who fancied themselves human resource managers ("Who told you we were hiring?? I'll have to speak with the manager if you'll be allowed to deposit your resume" - what, is there a law against that now?); manpower agency personnel hell-bent on pigeonholing me to the front of the house, service staff who'd look me up and down and scoff, "You? In the kitchen?" - and this while I deliberately wore my rattiest shirts so as not to look too prissy to be gutting fish; imperious chefs who would enquire about my goals and then snort at them ("You, cook in a Michelin-starred restaurant??"); and clueless restaurant managers who would tell me I was overqualified because of my university education and refuse to take me seriously because of my corporate background.

I give up. The local food industry is unfriendly to women like me. It takes even less kindly to those who do not have the right connections. So I'll do the next best thing: I'll work towards setting up my own food-related business. Entrepreneurship is the only option I haven't considered, really.

So. I'm still here in the world of pinstripes and neatly pressed slacks. Well, at least I won't break my back, literally. And I'll earn enough to buy my oven and mixer.

So. Apply as food editor for a large publishing company? Or PR executive of a luxury hotel? Why the hell not? It'll be my revenge on the glass-floored (it's a floor, people, a floor! Not a ceiling!), unforgiving industry that didn't love me back.