I open at the close.

I’ve always had this very strong feeling that things weren’t properly closed when I left London. Two months ago, I decided I wasn’t going to carry that feeling onto the next year. I decided that it had been two years already and that I needed to sort that out and that the best way to do that was to go back.

First thing was to contact the chefs I’ve worked with before and arrange a dinner. Obviously just some of them could come but that would do. Second was to look pretty. Not to impress them but because I wanted them to see it is ok to move, to change careers, to end up a relationship and to still feel strong and confident.

With that done I also wanted to treat myself, so even though I didn’t have company I made reservations at the best cocktail bars in town and a couple of restaurants I’ve been wanting to go for so long but while I lived London I ended up postponing all the time.

Everything was good so far, everything was organized and ready to go. Arriving in London all I could think about was that I was weirdly feeling as if I was back home. I felt I owned the city.

So, the night of the dinner with my former colleagues arrived. I was a bit drunk because I had spent all afternoon drinking craft beers at a pub. Putting that aside, it was wonderful to see them all, but it was also a challenge to deal with all the memories we all had from that place.

I went to the kitchen to say hi to my former Sous Chef. I couldn’t stop smiling, I really missed him.

He called me Chef Sophia and all my memories came straight back. All the hard days, all of the amazing days, the day I got promoted and the day I made such a bad mistake that I almost got fired (and that was the same day). I couldn’t stop dreaming awake thinking of all that had happened inside that kitchen with those wonderful people and how everything was gone.

I gave the Sous Chef a very strong hug.

Back at the dinner table we were being very spoiled by the restaurant. They gave us prosecco, they gave us discounts, they talked to us as if we were celebrities. It felt good. It felt very good.

Finally all the gossip started, and we were at the nostalgic moment of the night talking about the long-gone days of bsk. We were young, we were fearless, we were a team.

I heard that after I was gone some people still talked about me. When I left people said they were bad-mouthing me. Two years after they managed to tell me how it was the opposite. They told me how Papa John (he deserves his own story) couldn’t believe I’ve left without saying goodbye. They told me the Sous Chef kept saying how he missed my morning hugs.

Being back there for dinner made me feel that I will always have memories from that place, and fortunately with time I’m managing to keep just the good ones.

After the last glass of wine, I could barely walk but I had to say one last goodbye. I went all the way through the kitchen not caring if I could, and I went to the office. I sat at the office’s chair, looked at the rota, talked a little bit with the chefs there and gave a very big hug on the Sous Chef. I told him I missed him so much. I kissed him on the cheek and told him to be happy.

I also said that to my former apprentice. It was funny because he was who taught me everything when I had just started, but because of the stupid hierarchy that exists in kitchens, he always had to answer to me.
I told him I believed in him, and that I’m sure he will go far, actually that he was already going far.

I just didn’t manage to say goodbye to one person that I really wanted to. He wasn’t there and he wasn’t going to be. He was the one I wrote the goodbye letter to. The one I never let go. The one that when I close my eyes I can picture him on my very first day giving me all the instructions I needed and me there, daydreaming about how could I had arrived there. (this also deserves a proper story).

The end of this all is, after all this babbling, that I went to London to say goodbye but I didn’t manage. I thought there was a door that had to be closed. I thought that all the feelings I still have about those days had to be gone somehow. And then I realized that after three days walking round, going everywhere I wanted to go, saying goodbye to all my loved ones and trying to shut that door I couldn’t, because there was never a door there to be shut.

London will always be there for me, and I know that if I ever decide to go back I’ll be in love with it again, as I was the day I came out of that tube station at St Paul and that I knew I was supposed to be there.

The Letter

I though nobody would ever get to see this, but I think it’s time to share something I’ve done about a year ago, related to a year before that. Everything desserves a closure, and I feel I have a lot of open things at the moment. I need to close them once and for all to be able to move forward and to grow.

This letter is on its original form, with no writting edition other that covering the name of the Chef I sent this to, just in case he doesn’t want the exposure.

Dear Chef,
This is a letter that was never supposed to be written nor sent. Still, I don’t think I’ve said to you all that I felt like when I left. Maybe today I don’t mean anything but a broken and messed up mind that just couldn’t take the pressure. Maybe the last memories you have of me( if you have any memory at all) were of me crying for some attention and care, yelling angry wondering where have all my good days of BSK gone. It doesn’t matter now because after almost a year ago I was something I’m not anymore and most of it I owe to you.
I was really hurt, I thought I was weak and that I had given up on everything you taught me and everything I could be one day. It took me several months to recover from everything and to have the courage to write this letter. A thank you letter.
It doesn’t mean I agree with everything you’ve said to me, but it would be silly if it happened that way. I just wanted you to know that you were and are a big part on my professional growth. For the things I did and the things I don’t accept anymore, for the standard and discipline that I don’t leave behind not even for a second. For the team work and the strength you showed we need to have to survive in this industry.
I always believed in you as I think you believed in me, and it broke my heart having to go, but it was the best for me and for my mental health. Until now I think that I wasn’t good enough and that’s why I broke down. I thought that either I stayed strong and made part of this culinary army, or I should leave it all behind and go do something completely different.
I want you to know that everywhere I work I pick a mentor, someone that is my mirror, my biggest example and that I always will care and think about within the tiniest details of my day. Since I chose you I haven’t found anyone else. In a certain way its good because I’m having to be my own mentor. On the othe hand I miss having a strong figure that can calm me down and tell me how good or bad I’m doing.
Where I work now I’m still a demi, even though I take lots of responsibilities, run pastry and larder and prep for sauce. I have time to breath when I need to, I even have time for a 30 min break when I’m on a double shift. We make really nice food and I’m proud of myself. I just miss my mentor being proud of me too.
This letter is to thank you for teaching me to be strong, organized, to be a leader, an example, a rescuer. Because of what I’ve learnt in BSK and because of the routine we had there, I’ve learned how to be the opposite around here. I don’t stress as much because I can see the solution, I have more time so I know how to handle it better than anyone else. Nobody knows how is it to really run against time like we used to.
This letter is to thank you for all the times you pulled me outside to know how I really was, for all the hugs and all the pushes you gave me believing that I could do better and better every day.
I’m sorry I let you down, I’m sorry I couldn’t get my head around my problems. What I did was just to stand up for me and stop. Stop and think if that was really what I wanted for me and if It was what I wanted to become. Now every little bit of knowledge I’ve got from you and some other chefs I carry with me forever.
I think not many people would even care to write a letter like this, but I believe I have a mission in this life and it’s not to be indifferent, not to be replaceable, not to be invisible. I hope I made some difference in your life while I was there, and I truly hope, from my heart, that you have an amazing life and that you always reach what you seek for.
Thank you for everything, and I hope we meet again someday to have a beer and share all that’s been going on in our lives. I buy!

Sincerely,
Sophia Corá

Back to Day One

Is funny how things turn up the way they do. This morning I woke up and realized two years ago I moved to London without looking back. I remember two weeks before that I was really anxious trying to decide whether I was going to move to Madrid or to London and I realized that August was the worst month to move to Spain so I chose England instead.

Once I decided that, I started to send CVs to everywhere I was interested on working at. There were more than thirty definitely. I remember being by the beach in Italy with my friends, and waking up at seven AM and starring at the phone waiting on answers. I got four of them and I bought the tickets for the week after that, booked a hostel at a central area so I could get everywhere with the tube without getting lost and that was it. I was going to London on my own.

When I started packing I tried to leave everything I could behind; moving on your own can be quite tough (and heavy). There were only three objects I couldn’t leave behind and they were my coffee mug, my moka coffee maker and a coffee tin I bought in Rome that I used to put the coffee powder in. I could leave everything behind but that.

That was one of the toughest weeks I’ve ever had in my life, but luckily I was so into it that the fact that I didn’t have a house, that I didn’t have a job, that I didn’t know anyone whatsoever there and that I was short of money, all of that didn’t scare me once and all I was concerned about was to make things happen.

This morning my routine was a repetition of what it was two years ago. I woke up early, took a shower in a house I share with other six people, made some fresh coffee that I took from the coffee tin in my moka coffee maker, poured it inside my coffee mug and had a quick breakfast with the same ingredients I used to have in London – white bread, cream cheese and ham. It was like living inside a flashback, where everything is new but it feels right, where the people I know I don’t really know but I have to trust them because I have nothing else left and that I have to live one day at a time, otherwise I’ll go crazy.

Today I was living the same day I had two years ago, but with a lot more stories to tell, many won challenges and a huge collection of failures. Today I asked myself if everything I’m doing is worth it, I asked myself if I’m getting somewhere or will this routine be played on repeat over and over again. I don’t know. I hope not.

Artichoke Hearts

And then I got my second job offer as commis chef. I was feeling alive,  I had woken up at five in the morning just to make sure I would get there on time. Second trial in London and it was at Soho’s heart. What more could I want? I arrived in front of the restaurant and no one to be seen. But then a mirage appeared just in front of me and there he was, the Head Chef walking down the empty street with some take-away coffees for the staff that were already working downstairs. He looked at me and I asked the sentence I’ve been saying a lot lately – do you work here? And then the biggest smile came out of him and he said – yes, are you Sophia?

He took me downstairs, I got changed, couldn’t stop shaking. It was the most beautiful kitchen I’ve ever seen. Dark, full of chefs looking really neat, talking an English that I could barely understand, running and making jokes and teasing each other because hey, it was a Saturday and despite of being the busiest day of the week, they would all be off the next day.

The Sous Chef was responsible for me. He put me to work right next to him to dice some cucumbers and tomatoes. Easy stuff – I thought. Until then I didn’t even know I was at a restaurant with a Michelin star. Perfection was important but the Sous Chef looked more interested in getting to know who I was and where I came from than how I was dicing.

He put some music on, almost like a dubstep to get everyone going. He gave me a lot of the prep to taste, asking if I knew all the ingredients. So far I was having so much fun on the trial that I didn’t even care if I would get the job.

Breakfast time came. Someone had done pancakes for everyone and there was orange juice and coffee. That was a way of showing that this would probably be the only meal of the day. Back to the kitchen and the running around started to became faster and the stress started to get in higher levels. The Sous Chef put me to the side and told me that he couldn’t have me at the pass so I would have to just watch the service and ask questions when possible. And then I did.

I was feeling like a little kid, wondering around, asking people if they needed any help, asking them how long where they there, if they liked it. Because lunch wasn’t that busy I stayed a long time talking to the Pastry Chef while she was yelling SERVICE with all her lungs (being the only girl in the kitchen) and talking me through all the desserts. Lunch was over. Time to prep again.

Clear all up and back to normal pace again. The Sous Chef gave me more things to try. But then he didn’t have much prep I could do, I didn’t have enough experience to do anything without supervision, so he found a container full of this roasted things that looked like tiny sweet potatoes and he said – have you ever seen artichokes like this? He told me how they prepped just the heart and slowly roasted them to then make a purée out of the roasted artichoke hearts. My job was to cut them in half and take the most out of the ‘meat’ that was inside of them.

Time for a smoke.  All of the smokers went outside, around the corner of the restaurant (because is not good to be seen smoking near the restaurant). They asked if I smoked, I went with them. The Sous Chef sat next to me to break the awkward silence and asked how was I feeling about the day so far. He said – I know the job is shit and the payment as well, but all the boys really liked you and we could use someone exciting, friendly and willing… like you. It’s your call.

I said – I think I’ll get back to the artichokes now.

They all smiled back.

I was one of them.

(I didn’t take the job though)