Last night, the first two apprentices from our culinary training program at Project Feast graduated. It was the culmination of four months of pushing, pulling, coaxing on seemingly endless repeat.
Sixteen weeks of seeing the potential in someone, and then molding, urging and polishing to reveal the gem hidden underneath. Ninety days of faceting, carving, and buffing away the lack of confidence, fears and failures to bring out the shine obscured by all of that dross.
Let’s be real. I took the job because I needed it. Being a restaurant or hotel chef didn’t appeal to me, not this time around. I wanted to, I needed to find balance in my life. I had to learn that work is not everything, that down time is not a bad thing, that being idle every now and then is good for the soul, my soul.
So I took the job, with every intent of giving it my all, because if you don’t give it everything, why even bother picking up the ball? I had a litany of qualifications in my mind of why I was the perfect candidate. Truly, with all those years in the business, with all the myriad of jobs, experiences, adventures, success and failures (maybe THE most important thing), I was such a great fit for this position.
I WAS GOING TO CHANGE LIVES.
I didn’t quite expect to have my life changed. You see, everything that happened in Paragraph Two of this post happened to me.
People sometimes have this idea of helping refugees and immigrants. It’s lofty and gilded. They see themselves as generous souls reaching down to hoist someone up. And yes, we need people to care enough to extend a hand, to buy into the vision of benevolence and good deeds. Without kindness and compassion, nothing like this gets done.
What is invisible is the struggle, to be in the trenches daily with a group of people with varying levels of education, English comprehension, and work experiences. Add to the equation life trauma, prejudice, stereotypes, PTSD and more, and you have quite the cocktail going on. You are in it, every day, no escaping and no avoiding it. It can be exhausting.
Imagine all of us thrown into a rock polisher, which is basically a barrel spun over and over. As the rocks crash against each other, they chip off the sharp edges of the other stones, make surfaces smoother and help bring out the beauty. It is a long process, noisy, jarring and if rocks could feel, painful. The dust turns to soil, and only in soil can seeds grow.
It’s what happens in the kitchen. Sometimes we collide against each other, and when we crack in half, we reveal the beauty inside, like a geode. Other times, we are like well-matched mosaic pieces, each of us a tile precisely cut to complete the greater picture. Every day is a new adventure, and another chance to fill in a piece of the puzzle.
A new class starts on Tuesday, and another seven souls will be there to push and pull against each other. We will change each other as well as ourselves in ways we may not know until years down the line. Sometimes we’ll be rocks, other times we’ll be gems. We might even be a tile or two. But hopefully, in the end, we will bring out the best in each other and reveal a little more of our hidden beauty.