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Amuse-bouche: The (un)glamorous life of a chef

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Amuse-bouche refers to an appetizer, and by French translation means, “to entertain the mouth.” It offers a glimpse into what you should expect from a meal. Also it’s free, compliments of the chef.

By Scott Mechura
Explore Big Sky Food Columnist

I hear this request often: “Tell me, it must be so exciting to be a chef!”

“Well,” I usually start, “I can tell you what it’s like being a repairman, delivery man, counselor (marriage and guidance), fireman (literally and figuratively), dishwasher, accountant and teacher. Oh, and sometimes I cook too.”

Much like young, tech-savvy grads today hoping to work at the emerald city known as Google, if you’re a fortuitous enough chef to land at Apple, then disregard the rest of what I’m about to say.

I’m very fortunate in that, after decades of what I would view as a less-than-desirable social life, I now work for a leadership team that actually tells me to go home, or occasionally asks me what I’m still doing there. It wasn’t always this way.

Hoping to become a chef? Here are some things you can expect:

Some occupations are physically stressful. Others strain you mentally. A chef has the unique joy of both. Also, you don’t exactly have a work schedule conducive to the rest of society. Your other working friends will never grasp why you can’t “just take the day off,” or why your normal working day is so long.

Many occupations come with long workweeks, but I’ve hit the 100-hour mark a handful of times in my career. My personal record is 118 hours, one I hope to never break.

Your partner will not understand your work schedule either. They will eventually just stop asking you to attend weddings or funerals, because they’re always on weekends. And should you find yourself with one of these very precious weekend days off, you’re either so fatigued that you want to sit and watch sports like you’re in a sensory deprivation tank, or try to squeeze an entire season of activity into one day.

Occasionally, someone from the “outside” will come to help in your kitchen for a day. Inevitably they’re so exhausted from being on their feet – with several hours of work left – that they tell you they don’t know how anyone does this everyday. You tell them you get used to it. Then you wonder if that’s a good thing or not…

You will always be tired. And accompanying that, you actually get excited when you have to use the bathroom because it’s an opportunity to sit down.

Your back and feet will always hurt, you’ll constantly have a burn or a cut on your arms or hands, maybe even a burn on top of a cut, and you can never be sick, ever.

Most importantly, you will always discover new, interesting ingredients, and new cooking technology and techniques. You’ll build strong relationships with other chefs and will constantly learn from each other. Your team will create dishes that make people wonder how something that tasty is even possible. You’ll make people smile with genuine happiness when they’ve finished dining with you. And you wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“It must be so exciting being a chef.” Yeah, actually it’s pretty great.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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