Chapter 1. I Didn’t choose the Chef Life, the Chef Life Chose Me.

A Serial By: Lex J. Mendez

I was about $3000 dollars in debt to a respected Drug Dealer, out of time and options I ventured
into Craigslist. Yes this sounds like the start of a story about a man about to sell his bussy, however it’s
the legendary misadventure of a wannabe chef. But as all journeys go, a wannabe is a gonna

I answered an ad for a cook at the Jibarito Stop. The only Puerto Rican restaurant in a Mexican
neighborhood, and they walked the walk. Two female Chefs who were all hustle and showed up
to the party to kick ass and chew gum, and as you guessed it they were all out of gum. They
hired me, I recall the phone interview where they asked me if I had kitchen experience. At that
moment I flashbacked to all the loaded nachos and cowboy meals I made for the Dweeb Squad
when we lived in the roach frat house, and I answered yes, yes I did have kitchen experience.

Next came freshman year.

I worked my ass off. I sucked. But I worked my ass off. If there was an award for participation I
would have slapped myself in the face with it so I could be better. I was humiliated, I was
ridiculed, I was told that I was the piece of shit that I am, and most importantly, I was home.
I recall the moment I lost my kitchen virginity. It wasn’t when I walked in and turned on a fryer or
made my first plate. It was when the head chef took me to the back of the restaurant and
verbally destroyed me. “You don’t belong here, you don’t deserve to be in this kitchen, why are
you here?”, At the moment I should have quoted the late great Chris Farley from Wayne’s World
2 “cuz I ain’t got no place else to go…,” but instead, I got dizzy, I nearly fainted. But i knew I
wanted more. I went back and finished my shift, and when I walked home that night, I felt a
sense of pride I never felt before, because If I would have quit at that moment I was verbally
reemed, I wouldn’t have continued my path to a life of purpose.

God bless the chefs and their Facebook statuses because the Legendary Chef Won Kim put out
an announcement that a line Cook was needed at Kimski. I answered the call. Kimski was a
turning point for the Bridgeport neighborhood in the sense that it took the Southside by the balls
and showed the city that were not just hotdogs and tacos, I mean yes hot dogs and tacos were
served, but so was gourmet Korean and Polish cuisine and it skull fucked every foodie from
Southshore to Waukegan in a loving I’m gonna tell all my friends about it way. It was Kimski’s
inaugural year and I’m pretty sure they kept me just for laughs but that place helped mold me into
the person I am today. My first day on the job I just kinda blacked out during my stage (live
action hands on interview for cooks). I had never even heard of the term flat top or plancha but
there I was working the station. Im guessing Won was out of options because he invited me
back for a part time position.

Kimski was everything I never knew I wanted. Tough love only fellow chefs and cooks could
dish out and take. You sucked, but you were necessary. It’s something that family or friends
can’t teach you the way your kitchen crew makes you feel like nothing and everything at the
same time. There were pickups taught, plates washed, and secret shots swigged.

My favorite memory with Chef Won had to be when we worked brunch through dinner, and he tells me and
Tudi (the line Cook who would have killed me if it wasn’t for my comedic relief and constant
supply of party) to go ahead and order whatever we want from the bar on him. So the
degenerate Sunday cooks that we were we polished off a bottle of Bourbon and gained the title
“bourbon boys,” drunk off our dickholes Won comes to us and says, ‘deep clean tomorrow
morning at 9am, nothing in life is free.” To quote master Yoda “Fucked we were.” Come 9am I
showed up 3.5 grams of a man (an eighth). Tudi had to conveniently pick up his mom from the
airport. Quote unquote. Won shocked as fuck I was there and Alive had me start scrubbing.
Little did anyone know I went and slept in back of dry storage that night, and that’s how I
appeared to be better than I truly was.

Fake it til you make it.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 1. I Didn’t choose the Chef Life, the Chef Life Chose Me.

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