Line Cook

Working in a restaurant as a line cook has its moments of reward and camaraderie, but it’s also kind of a weird lifestyle. For one thing, there is no such thing as a weekend. The Saturday-Sunday weekend most people enjoy is non-existent. Restaurant, as well as retail, workers are practically required to work weekends. My “weekend” right now consists of Wednesday and Thursday.

Of course, those days off are also subject to change. Most cooks don’t get the luxury of having certain days off. There are those who only get one day off. I’ve even heard of some that have worked for a month straight. One time, I was scheduled for three weeks without a day off. After 21 days, I finally got a day off, and even then they tried to call me in. I politely declined, since I was exhausted.

Today is one of those days off for me. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have almost the same schedule from week to week for a little bit. I know that with Thanksgiving approaching in two weeks, my work is going to be ramping up the prep and hours to prepare for Turkey Day. It is Cracker Barrel’s busiest day, the one where no one gets off. In the few days prior, one other cook and I will be working overnights to slice something like 600 – 700 lbs of turkey, bake some 250 pies and portion all manner of items to prepare for the onslaught. With the coronavirus and mask mandates, partial capacity, etc., there are many more online orders than previous years. Still, there are a myriad of things to be done.

In years past, during Thanksgiving week, I have managed to work upwards of 60 – 65 hours (those were really nice paychecks, getting 20 hours overtime). One of my coworkers holds a record of working about 80 hours that week. I don’t want to compete for that record—I can always use extra money, but I don’t want to wear myself out in the process. I’m not getting any younger, and parts of me are not working as well as they used to (such as my right arm). I’m still gonna pull as many hours as I can that week.

But what keeps a cook going? For some, it’s a beer after work. For others, they puff on cigarettes to maintain themselves. For many cooks, their best friend is an energy drink. I know it’s what gives me ambition. I usually drink one on my way to work, whatever time that may be. Sometimes a second one is needed partway through the shift. For the especially long days (12 – 16 hours), a third one might be required. I usually don’t go over two in a day, but I have known people who have had five or six. It’s not a good thing to drink upwards of 1500 mg of caffeine in a day. But, I guess my 1600 mg of ibuprofen for the pain in my arm isn’t exactly healthy, either.

I now leave the quote of the day:

“I think it’s really important for every young person to work in a kitchen because you learn a life skill.”

Marco Pierre White

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