On May 25th after I checked in to my flight to Rome, I received an email from “Favorite Chef” with a subject line that said, “Your application has been approved.” I paused, as I turned off the lights at my apartment, then felt a surge of excitement and joy for getting into this competition that would result in $25,000 for the winner, a trip to New York City, and a two page magazine spread. It all sort of felt too good to be true, and I wondered if the email was spam.
Then I felt dread, because I’m not a chef…but, didn’t need to be a chef to apply. Then I felt a sense of confidence for a new awareness that declining this opportunity is okay if it doesn’t align with my life path. So, I chose to dream about it on the flight, then make a decision after touring around one of the food capitals of the earth.
When I entered the competition, there was a simple form that asked for your name, email address, and a couple of questions about why you like cooking. Then, you had to submit some images of food that you’ve made. I submitted these collages of dishes that I prepared for friends, and myself over the past year and a half:
To create each image, I placed the photograph onto a black background of an IG story, tapped it once to crop the image into a circle, then saved the story as an image. After I accumulated so many food circle images, I took a screen pic of all of them together. It looks so cool! They actually look appetizing, and I think presentation is really key with competitions. Initially, I thought of starting an IG account to share these. Then, thought about maintaining such an account and decided to submit to a competition. Shortly after, I found “Favorite Chef” and went for it!
In Rome, over dinners with colleagues and a restaurant co-owner, I casually mentioned that I got into this competition. Their reactions were similar to mine, and then the restaurant co-owner offered a neutral response/reality check: “If you want to do this, you will need to keep doing this—for the rest of your working life—and make food at the same temperature and same timing for 40+ people, and deal with everything else, too.” (Or something like that). I thought about if I did this, and what a career shift it would be; indeed, I love cooking and making recipes that I enjoy at restaurants, or read about in books, predominantly by Yotam Ottolenghi, or Curtis Stone. Eve though I got into this competition, I realized I didn’t have to do it; my initial entry was more of an expression of interest. I did it for myself, not to meet anyone else’s expectations, so it felt great to get in. I entered it thinking that I would not even get close. As I thought about shifting my career trajectory, I felt a deep sense of knowing that the career path that I am on is where I want to be, and where work is fun, and meaningful.
As I twirled fresh pasta around my fork in Rome, I smiled and said, “No, no, that’s not for me.” The decision was made. I feel great to have been accepted for the competition with Chef Hall, and, I feel equally great to be able to make a decision not to do something that I love at that level. Food is meant to be shared with those who you love. I will continue to do that.