Dearly Beloved

Three years ago, today, my grandmother passed away. Of course she lives on in our hearts and memories, but in terms of the tangible - evidence of a life well-lived, there isn't very much left.

For Christmas we gave my grandfather a collage frame that holds seven photos, and only when we were trying to fill it with pictures of her did we realize just how scarce they are. Oh, we had photos from her youth, and when my brother and I were children, but none from the last five years of her life.

I'll never forget her soft wrinkly skin, bright lipsticked smile, and snowy white hair, but I wish that I had something to hold and to look at instead of closing my eyes and willing my brain to conjure a likeness that inevitably becomes less accurate as time goes on.

Junior or senior year of high school my best friend and I went to California to visit Stanford's campus. I had recently purchased my very first DSLR - the Canon Rebel XTi, whose myriad megapixels I quickly discovered was able to elevate even the most uninspired scenes into something passably interesting. Consequently, I shot everything and anything. 

Here we are in the dining room of my grandparents' house. The fluorescent lighting was - and still is - shit. But she was laughing, demure as always, asking me why I was photographing her. I remember the entire incident and the resulting picture so vividly. And yet, my mind is the only place in which it exists now.

I fired up my old Macbook, hoping against hope, that the hard drive held a copy of the photo that Facebook and Flickr did not. But, no, clearly I must have deleted it at some point.

I would gladly give up the hundreds of photos from my travels around the world just to have that one back; to be able to print it out and place it in the collage frame.

We take so much for granted these days - that everything is automatically backed up, fail safe and fool proof but, most of all, that there will be more time. So even though my brother and I are on a campaign for our parents to reduce the amount of things in their house, I made a photo book of our Europe trip for my dad.

Because at some point there won't be any more tomorrows. Tomorrow is today, and today is for holding your loved ones close and telling them how much they mean to you.

Male Privilege in the Kitchen

I'll be the first to say up front that, going on four years spent in professional kitchens, I'm still relatively green in the restaurant industry. That said, based on personal experience and anecdotes from friends and co-workers, I feel comfortable making a few generalizations about the biz:

1. Bakeries tend to be female-dominated.

2. Restaurant pastry teams are more evenly split along gender lines.

3. The head chefs in both scenarios are typically male.

4. Savory programs are predominantly male.  

5. The more men you have together in a room, the more drastically the collective maturity level drops. To my knowledge and experience there is no correlative phenomenon amongst groups of women. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


If all restaurants had competent HR departments, the cook shortage would be exponentially worse than it already is. Kitchens across the globe would be zombie apocalypse-level empty, albeit probably with less blood smeared on the walls.


It's not easy being in a male-dominated field that attracts narcissists and breeds [borderline] misogyny, chauvinism, and the sort of "locker room talk" that Donald Trump famously attempted to normalize. I hear a lot of things at work that I wish I didn't. Sometimes I keep my head down and ignore it. Other times I play along and muster up some fake laughter. More rarely I call the guys out on it. As a feminist I should really do it more often but, when you have two X chromosomes, you need only speak your mind once or twice before being labeled and written off as a bitch.* 

The comments are never directed at me** but, as far as I'm concerned, if you offend a sister, you're offending me. We do not exist simply for your viewing pleasure or for you to judge us; we do not owe you anything.

I've been told to my face that I'm 'territorial' and 'prickly.' Who knows what gets said behind my back?

But also: who cares?


Multiple times in the past week I've heard the guys use #metoo as the butt of a joke.

I've been sexually assaulted. There is and never will be anything remotely funny or entertaining about those experiences.

Obviously, I didn't laugh. But I also kept my mouth shut, because I assume that people who make rape jokes are not very sympathetic toward those who have, you know, been raped.

Sorry, is the reality of what it's like being female too awkward for you?


Savory cooks only come to the pastry section when:

1. They want to borrow equipment (that will undoubtedly return dirty, broken, and/or smelling like onions; that is if they come back at all).

2. They want to use the oven.

3. They're hungry.

4. They're 'voluntelling'*** us to do something because obviously it's our job to make up for the incompetence of other departments.

Example: A hotel guest's room not being ready in time for check-in translates to 'let's send them some complimentary chocolates.'


In the kitchen we use the French term mise en place (MEP) to refer to everything needed to prepare a dish or recipe (e.g. portioned and scaled ingredients, rinsed and chopped fruit, ground spices, garnishes, etc.). 

On multiple occasions, savory cooks - and chefs, even, have come up to my station and started eating my MEP. Despite my protestations and telling them to stop, it happened again. And again. And again.

Imagine you have a desk job and are in the middle of emailing a client, when your co worker or manager comes over and starts messing with your keyboard; adding words, deleting words, inserting a poorly timed dick joke, hitting send, etc.

Even if I have the extra to make up for it (which I usually do because I trust no one, and also shit happens), it is the principle behind the action more so than the action itself that is the problem. Because taking without asking is a classic behavior rooted in male entitlement and privilege.

As a character in Top of the Lake China Girl mansplains to Elisabeth Moss' badass detective Robin, "There's a 'yes' no, and a 'no' no." In other words, men tend to assume that they're charming and irresistible - so much so that us asking them to stop is somehow, in their minds, flirtatious and not, like, us actually saying 'no.' (Side note: the perpetrators in question here are almost always in allegedly serious, committed relationships, but that's a thinkpiece for another day). Shall we take it a step further and tie it to #metoo? No means no. As in the opposite of yes.

The apology, if and when it comes, is perfunctory at best - sheepish and tinged with that 'this is me throwing my hands up in the air because you're a woman overreacting' that all ladies ever who have dealt with men will understand.


At a previous job I was actively sabotaged by a male colleague.

But I was told that I was the one who had to try and salvage some kind of professional relationship with him, which I did. I initiated multiple conversations with him outside of work, in which I asked questions like, 'what can I do so that we can work better together?' Everyone else had accepted that he was incapable of change, I guess, so I was the one who had to adapt instead.

Womanhood: doing 100% of the emotional legwork for 70% of the profit.


Some days it feels like an all-around lose-lose situation, and that women in the kitchen essentially must fall into one of three categories:

1. A pushover.

2. The Cool Girl.

3. A bitch.


I get a lot of comments about my face, e.g. 'what's wrong?' 'why are you mad?' Or, in the wake of The Dark Knight, 'why so serious?'

I never hear my male colleagues quizzed about the deeper meanings behind their facial expressions. (Or is that because there are none?)

Having a vagina and some ovaries doesn't mean that I owe the world a smile every second of the day. (Again, as a woman, I owe nothing to anyone).

If my face contains traces of distaste, disgust, disdain or distrust, it's probably somehow connected to the daily onslaught of microaggressions that I have to deal with, including men asking me about my fa-- oh, wait. Consider this: maybe I look the way I do because you, sir, are the problem.


*Fact: bitches get shit done.

**I made peace long ago with the fact that I'm not conventionally attractive and, at best, considered "cute." It saves me from the unwanted attention that I see foisted upon my "hot" friends, makes solo travel so much easier, and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing that the people who want me around do so because of my skill, intellect and sass. Cue Rebecca Solnit: There are things men do that are the fault of women who are too sexy, and other things men do that are the fault of women who are not sexy enough, but women only come in those two flavors: not enough, too much, and it is the fate of heterosexual men to endure this affliction. Let me play you a song on the world's tiniest violin.

***Voluntell (verb) To pretend that someone has a choice in doing something when they actually don't.

Tales From the Bottom Rung

stage

noun

/sta.ʒjɛ:ʁ/

1. Professional term in the restaurant industry for voluntary* indentured servitude.

"Periods of my life when I've consumed the most wine: taking care of my dying grandmother, my first stage right after cooking school." - author's personal experience

2. Abbreviation for a person engaging in said activity.

"We go outside and watch videos of cute animals when the stages are being annoying motherfuckers." - a sous chef

*A stage is a graduation requirement for many culinary school students, in which case I guess it's not so voluntary.


Interns seem to be a marginalized group of the workforce across all industries, but particularly so in the restaurant world. As a stage you are a freshly dug latrine getting shat on by everyone else, every day, all the time. It's easier if you've had some work experience before, but each kitchen differs slightly in its rules and etiquette, and if you don't adapt quickly the mountain of shit only presses in on you more tightly, covering your eyes, ears, nose and mouth and making you scared to breathe in case it somehow pisses somebody off. (One rule that's consistent everywhere: always cut the tape, don't tear it. And make sure it's fucking straight). Often these details are not intuitive. Sometimes they might not even make sense, but you keep your head down and do it anyways. 

You are expected to fail and make mistakes, but each time you do you have to work three times as hard to gain back even the tiniest amount of respect because, after all, you should have done it correctly the first time. After that you can bet your superiors will keep an even closer eye on you, interrupting you at every step of the recipe in a slightly resentful manner because doing so takes valuable time away from working on their own projects. It makes you nervous, and even more prone to making mistakes. If you don't show improvement quickly people will start to treat you like you're mentally handicapped. And once you've reached that level of disappointment it's almost impossible to redeem yourself.

Depending on the size of the kitchen, you will probably interact with people from various levels of the hierarchy. They will give you conflicting instructions on how to do the same task, and then get upset with you when it proves impossible to follow all said conflicting instructions. This leads to a small group discussion in which no one will ever concede that they were wrong, but everyone (at least on the surface) eventually agrees on a new, "right" way. Write that down. Got it? Good.

The recipe will probably change again the next time you make it anyways because chef's mind switches faster than the direction of the wind. He will react to your inability to keep up with all the modifications (which, by the way, exist solely in his brain because he's said none of them out loud) with mild surprise, as if to say, "But why aren't you a mindreader?"

It is better to ask questions, even stupid ones - especially stupid ones, than to end up wasting product.

You can never stand still. Your hands must always be doing something. When in doubt, clean.

Being on time is late. Being early pisses off some sous chefs who need their alone time before the whole crew arrives.

Unless the restaurant is part of a hotel, you can expect to work more than 40 hours a week, and not get paid. In exchange for your labor you receive instruction, mentorship, connections and, of course, the recipes. If that doesn't sit will with you, there's the door. Your friends and family will probably not understand why you are subjecting yourself to this. It's easiest just to tell them that you have an internship and let them draw their own conclusions, which undoubtedly involve circumstances much more humane than they actually are.

Some days you will want to cry; if not you aren't being pushed enough. Other days and sleepless nights, you will question your life choices. You may even want to quit, but deep down you know that no matter how hard the work is, you will be so much better when you come out the other side. In fact, you already have gotten better.

Eventually, hopefully, you start to thrive. You live for those moments when chef or a sous tells you that you did a good job; when your coworkers appreciate rather than tolerate your presence. And for all the random, spontaneous times, like excavating the garbage room at 2am in your service whites and watching your sous karate kick a mannequin down the hall, that probably would never sound funny when describing it to someone who wasn't there, but you were, and you remember. Those are all the things that make the stage worth it.

 

The Lover

After walking through the lively and vibrant Sa Dec Market, we visited the former home of the eponymous lover from Marguerite Duras' famous novel. This semi-autobiographical tome draws upon her experience growing up in Vietnam where, as a teenaged girl, she became romantically involved with a Chinese man twelve years her senior. From what I understand, the novel - despite its Lolita undertones - is largely romantic and tragic, because ultimately the literary couple doesn't end up together. But throughout her life, Duras - as many of us do, changed her own story multiple times.

Displeased with the film adaptation of The Lover (which our guide screened in the dining cabin one night and a fellow passenger subsequently deemed "soft porn"), she later published The North China Lover, which was billed as a more detailed and "truer" account of the relationship. Notebooks that were posthumously made public, however, paint an altogether different portrait, with one passage describing the "revulsion" she felt after their first kiss (see: Wartime Writings). These lesser known writings hint at possible sexual and emotional abuse, even prostitution.

Duras passed away in 1996, and with her left the truth regarding the nature of the affair. Undoubtedly, how she felt about it as an adolescent, as it was unfolding, differs from how she must have felt as an adult. She was seventy when the first fictionalized iteration was published; seventy-seven when the second came out. Both novels probably served as attempts to come to terms with the relationship; to figure out and clarify her feelings, perhaps even find some profound conclusion.

As we toured the beautiful old home, with its floors warped with age, intricate craftsmanship belying aristocratic wealth, and black and white photographs of both Duras and Huynh Thuy Le, sipping jasmine tea while listening to our guide wax romantic about the ill-fated lovers, I was reminded of my own failed relationships.

Each time things doesn't work out we want there to be some deeper meaning or lesson learned, so it's not just time wasted and feelings spent. But maybe a solution or antidote doesn't exist. Maybe the leftover pieces are just a burden that remains with us. For as Duras' experience seems to suggest, even a lifetime is not enough to make sense of something so raw and intimate. 

The Bedside Dispatches

[Repost from June 16, 2015]

Around Thanksgiving of last year, my grandmother decided to stop taking all of her medications. Between the diabetes, the blood thinners, the Parkinson’s, and God knows what else she didn’t divulge to us grandkids, she had been taking some fifteen to twenty pills a day. It was a Big Deal; a decision with untold consequences for her and the rest of the family.

Had she lived 560 miles north, in Oregon, perhaps she would have opted for assisted suicide. But in California, where she’d resided for most of her life, the only option she had was to wait or, as she put it, to “let nature take its course.” It sounds poetic and dignified that way but, in reality, the last days are anything but.

***

I remember crying when the test results came back with the Parkinson’s diagnosis, several years before the present but many months after the tremors first started. (It had taken my mother and her siblings a long time to convince her to see a neurologist). We had recently said goodbye to my other grandmother, but mostly I was stricken with the sheer unfairness of it all.

Not long after losing their own mother, an older sister and her lewd husband brought my grandma from Manhattan to California thinking that their father would comp the transportation costs; he didn’t, and grandma was promptly ditched at an Oakland orphanage. Realizing that no one was coming back for her, she started working as household help and did well enough in high school to attend the University of California Berkeley, where she met my grandfather.

Married life brought grandma immeasurable happiness and prosperity, but despite such hardship early on she’d been dealt the trump card of bleak prognoses: an incurable degenerative disease. Sometimes I wished she had cancer instead.

***

“But Parkinson’s isn’t fatal,” people said to me on the rare occasion that I spoke up about her condition, as if not being able to do the things you once loved to do and, eventually, eat or talk weren’t a big deal. There is no coming back from a degenerative disease. Modern medicine can mitigate and perhaps delay the symptoms, but they will get worse. My grandmother didn’t have it as bad as some do in the early stages, but she had read the literature; she knew the hellish half-life she would eventually be reduced to and she didn’t want it. 

Others seemed to think that it was my duty to change her mind, convince her to go back on the meds and prolong her life a little. But to what end? You cannot help a person who doesn’t want to be helped. (I know from the multiple false starts in behavioral cognitive therapy it took me to finally overcome an eating disorder). These same people are part of the group that doesn’t fully grasp the concept of quality of life until faced with the abject lack of it. To try to force her into staying alive longer just for our benefit would have been selfish.

Besides, I had already seen my paternal grandmother go through the motions: losing driving privileges owing to an accident covered in the local paper, being deemed unfit to live alone and then, after taking too many falls, requiring full-time care and moving from senior apartment complex to nursing home. Bedridden, wheelchair-bound, confused about which year it was and even who we were when we visited — for most of the time that I knew her she was a mere vestige of the woman she once was.

With access to advanced technology and medicine, we are obsessed with quantity over — and sometimes in spite of — quality. We automatically assume that a longer life is a better one. My paternal grandmother was 97 when she passed away, and during the last several years of her life she’d frequently say, “I never meant to live this long.” If I had asked any of the other three elders who shared a room with her in the nursing home, I’m sure they would have said something similar.

***

I was in China when my parents broke the news about grandma’s decision, and several days later I was back by her side to assist in the hospice care efforts. It was a confusing and difficult time trying to reconcile the sweet, generous optimist that I grew up with, versus the frail, withdrawn woman who dozed on the couch all day and whose routine (formerly waking early, gardening, sewing and running the household) had been reduced to watching Charlie Rose at noon and otherwise flipping between news channels. 

The grandma I knew had a healthy appetite and would stock the fridge with things you liked if she knew you were coming, and so in the beginning I convinced myself that she was depriving herself on purpose. After all, with assisted suicide off the table, self-starvation seemed the next logical step. But then I read the pamphlets provided by hospice and realized that it was an inevitable part of the process.

Pretty soon she would take in nothing at all. Pretty soon, she would fall asleep and not wake up again. But in the meantime we all had to watch her grow ever thinner and weaker.

***

Whenever grandpa asked if he could do anything she’d say, “I wish there were a button I could press so I could just end it all.” She was almost petulant in her desire for it to be over. How could she know, how could any of us know, that even without all the meds it would be a matter of weeks and not days?

When, the second week of December, a beloved sister-in-law passed away, she said, “Oh, I wish it had been me. She had so much more to live for.” Tears stinging in my eyes, I wanted to grab her bony shoulders and scream, “What about me? What about us?”

I hated myself for being frustrated with her; she was dying after all. And what are weeks of difficult, child-like behavior compared to years of birthday and christmas gifts, handmade dresses and happy memories?

Whoever first said that love conquers all was, at best, delusional.

***

We all offered to help — turning her, transferring her between sofa and wheelchair, adjusting pillows, but at first she would only accept assistance from my grandfather. I get it; sixty years of marriage breeds an intimacy so strong that it diminishes the awkwardness of being sponge bathed and changed, but as I saw him don a back brace and lose his balance (not while holding her, thank God), I began to worry about him almost as much as I did her. I couldn’t imagine ever reaching that level of closeness with another person.

Who will take care of me when I am infirm and unable?

My mother often says that old age emphasizes “essential” personality traits (mostly, I believe, to explain her own father’s many eccentricities), but I preferred to think that my grandma had already departed this world, and that the figure that grandpa wheeled into the kitchen every morning (still alive, to her chagrin and my relief) was just a shell that would soon be cremated and reduced to ash. I tried to love her as best I could, but she had changed.

***

I would sit with her in the living room, almost afraid to look at her for fear that I wouldn’t see the barely perceptible rise and fall of her chest. The nurse said that her heart was racing to maintain a resting rate, which we all knew wasn’t sustainable. She hardly spoke any more, and when she did it was only to ask for something — a sip of water, a change of channel.

Some days I made excuses to stay away. The monotonous blare of CNN and BBC made me more informed of current events than I’d been in months, but her complete disengagement from her surroundings stung. And it pained me to see how small she had become. With all her fat and muscle tissue wasted away, she developed a bed sore — a combination of chafing and sitting too long and her sacrum tearing through the fragile skin that caused her great pain.

***

Against all odds, she made it to Christmas, and then New Year’s. She was too weak by then to protest against people other than grandpa helping her.

What’s harder to change: a baby or an elder? Our eagerness to help, matched only by our fear of failure, led to clumsy ineptness. A frantic, disorganized mess. 

***

By January her once plump figure had truly diminished to wrinkled skin hanging off the bone. And she was always cold. “I’m sorry for all the trouble,” she’d whisper as we finished up.

“No,” I found myself saying as I pulled the blankets back over her, “I’m sorry.”

She looked like a child in the XL twin hospital bed that we set up when the combination of bed sore and sitting became too much, peering over the covers at the TV. It was hard to tell if her eyes were open and if she was asleep or not, but as I leaned over she’d sense me, give a small smile and say she was fine.

Trepidation crept up every time I checked because I knew that there would soon come a time that she wouldn’t open her eyes, wouldn’t smile again, or have a witty response at the tip of her tongue. In hindsight, a sharp mind trapped in a useless body seems the cruelest kind of imprisonment.

***

I think she would have laughed to know that it ended with a bowel movement. She asked us to change her, but her stomach was still clenching, so we waited. And then she was cold, so we covered her back up. The convulsions proved too much for a body with nothing left to burn, for not long after I tucked her in she stopped responding and began panting for breath.

Truthfully, it was an awful noise like a sound effect from The Walking Dead, but my fear retreated when I realized what was happening. I worried that it would take hours, but the movement, the breath — everything — ceased about thirty minutes later.

I just hope it didn’t hurt.

***

She had tried to say goodbye months earlier, that night I first left for Asia, but I was stubborn and refused to believe that it would be The Last Time. So I hugged her and gave her a kiss — I remember her cheek being damp with tears — and I said, “Don’t worry, I’m coming back.”

I wish I could remember what exactly it was that she had told me moments prior, something about achieving success in everything that I do, because that was it. Our last real conversation.

***

I held her hand the whole time, and when it was over my uncle made the appropriate phone calls. First the hospice nurse, who came and called the time of death and filled out some paperwork, and then the morgue, who sent two men in dark suits and wool coats. What a strange job it must be to wear fancy clothes and wait by the phone for tidings of death, then give canned words of comfort while asking if the deceased has any metal in her body — a pacemaker, maybe? They filled out more papers with answers we gave numbly.

I pressed my lips to her forehead one last time, then stood back as the men lifted her onto a gurney, zipped her up and took her away.

Ruby Doshim Lai (b. July 26, 1929) passed away in her home, surrounded by family, on January 10, 2015. 

In Pursuit of the Stars

On October 21st, Michelin released its list of restaurants that had earned the coveted star rating for 2016. Despite having maintained one star for the past several years, the restaurant where I work was nowhere to be found. Confusion amongst us cooks was rampant, especially since - just a few days earlier - the executive chef had brandished the unmarked black envelope containing the red invitation to the gala celebration and lifted a toast to all our hard work. But, alas, we found out the hard way that the letter is not proof of making the cut; the only way to know for certain that your restaurant has earned the distinction of the Michelin star (or stars) is to see its name in the official press release.

Just a day after the new Michelin guide dropped, the John Wells' film Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper, made its debut in New York City. Despite a strong cast and autumn release date, indicators of an attempted awards season run, the dramedy centered on a recovering drug addict and world-class chef making one last stand to prove that he's still got what it takes has been almost universally panned. Sure, the writing is noticeably weak at times, but this pales in comparison to everything that the film gets right.

The elegant cinematography is on par with that on which the acclaimed Netflix series Chef's Table is built - closeups of the deft work of skilled hands, and ingredients whose freshness practically drips through the screen. A lot of screen time focuses on presentation and plating, which, while paramount in distinguishing fine dining from other restaurants, probably bores casual viewers removed from the industry. And while Jon Favreau's Chef did a decent job portraying the camaraderie that exists in the kitchen (and not to mention scored well with critics), Burnt takes it a step further, offering full immersion into the sweat, adrenaline and pressure that pervades work on a hot line. Such is the attention to detail that the co-worker whom I watched the film with exclaimed, "They even showed a cook labeling something! You never see that in food movies."

The overall effectiveness of the film is slightly muted by its reliance on archetypal characters (addict seeking redemption, ex-convict, femme fatale, etc.), but it still has plenty to say about the current state of the industry. Chef Adam's (Cooper) initial skepticism of, and later reliance on, sous vide (a method so ubiquitous it’s invading amateur cooks' homes) is a running joke. While cross-cutting between Adam's kitchen and that of his rival Reece’s (Matthew Rhys) exposes an even more contentious divide between "old-school" cooking and molecular gastronomy. (I've never even been close to setting foot in El Bulli, but I'd guess that Reece's laboratory-like kitchen was inspired by it). The front-of-house's obsession with identifying potential Michelin inspectors may be laughable to some, but I can confirm that, at establishments frequented by such clients, we take it quite seriously.

Losing a star, or failing to get one when you think you deserve it, is not sad or unfortunate; it's tragic - devastating even. I’ll never forget the look on one sous chef’s face after the executive chef confirmed the news. (Granted, it was bound to be more poignant for him since the press release also stated that his previous place of employment had earned their second star). Particularly at the fine dining level, cooks are driven almost entirely by passion. Why else would we work ridiculous hours that most people deem impossible in environments rife with verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse for such little pay? It's not a job; it's a a livelihood.

Some critics thought that vying for a three-star rating was a weak premise. Certainly, many cooks and chefs would not openly admit that they strive for the accolades and the prestige of a Michelin rating, but the titles do carry a lot of weight that inspires them to work harder, longer and better. Others took issue that there was only one female cook, meaning that the film utterly fails the Bechdel test. But unfortunately, as a female in the restaurant industry, had there been more than one female cook it would have seemed grossly unrealistic. In this way, perhaps Burnt is merely an instance in which critics are unable to extrapolate beyond the limits of their own personal experience; fine dining or no, anyone who has ever worked in a kitchen would give the film more merit than what it has received.

Or, the film might be better interpreted as allegory. In food and in cinema, no one ever sets out to create a bad product; rather the creatives in both industries keep plugging away and hoping that people will notice, because success is so tightly coupled with public opinion and critical reception. Yet what of the tastemakers who critique the restaurants and the movies? As a writer specializing in film, I’m constantly aware of the homogeneity of opinion - particularly at festivals, where journalists seemingly compete with each other to get their iteration of the collective consensus online first. We parade around as independent thinkers, with our badges bearing the name of our respective media outlets, but come press time no one wants to be the lone dissenter. Perhaps the culinary world is not so different.  

Today marks the last day that we can call ourselves a one-star Michelin restaurant; once January rolls around, the rankings proclaimed back in October go into effect and the Michelin inspectors start doing the rounds again, gathering evidence for the 2017 guide. 

“What does it mean?” asked a younger cook, as part of a confused flurry of texts in the aftermath of the press release.

It’s dangerous to define oneself by a title like the chefs in Burnt, whose ambition threatens to swallow them whole. And even though the film is a dramatization of the industry, the truth remains that adversity draws the distinction between those who are driven and those who merely want to ride on others’ apron strings. Some cooks have already left or are planning to leave our kitchen, not because of the loss of the star, per se, but simply that turnover in restaurants is inevitable. I plan to stick around, however, so that in ten months’ time when the 2017 guide comes out, my co-workers and I will be celebrating.