What No One Tells You (I Don’t Want to Open a Restaurant!)

As part of the requirements for me to graduate from culinary school, I must present a restaurant concept as my Senior project. We have to build a menu, cost out at least 20 dishes (not recipes, dishes), create a staffing plan, present all the financials, design a logo and come up with a mission statement. Now, I think most of you have been around long enough to know– I have no desire to open a restaurant. For those of you who are new here, just so we’re all caught up, I have NO desire to open a restaurant. I will gladly support my friends when they open their restaurants. I’ll come eat there, and pay full price, and never ask for free stuff or stand around in their kitchens getting in the way or offering unsolicited advice while they bust their asses trying to get out of the weeds. But me? No thanks.

Except…

What no one tells you is that from the moment you start thinking about this theoretical restaurant concept, it will become the thing you think about All. The. Time. It lures you in the moment you decide what kind of restaurant it will be. If you, like me, make the fatal error of deciding it will be the kind of food you really love to cook, it becomes an obsession. Then, you start coming up with the dishes for your menu: the five salads, the two soups, the eight entrees, the five desserts, the cocktails… and you really start to get attached. I’m waking up in the middle of the night with wacky ideas for things that aren’t even required for the project. Happy hour menus, patio specials, Pick Your Own Veggies From My Expansive Kitchen Garden promotions. Seriously. I DO NOT WANT TO OPEN A RESTAURANT!

Except…

What they don’t tell you is that when you find this real estate listing online that (budget and zoning being non-factors in this scenario) would be perfect once renovated– you start thinking about how to widen the front porch here, knock out some walls there, relocate the kitchen here. And then you get an assignment asking you to put all of the aforementioned on paper, and you’re imagining a bar made of reclaimed barn wood, and tiny vintage half pint jars of flowering herbs on the tables, and buttery yellow paint on the walls next to dark wood baseboards and crown molding. You guys, it’s a trap! I’ve been Ackbar’d.

I really do not want to open a restaurant. I can feel how my badly knees will ache and throb after a long night of service. I can picture that ONE guest who just cannot be made happy, and how badly, and personally, I will take it. I can feel the headache starting to form between my eyeballs when someone on my tiny kitchen staff no call no shows on a night when the book is full of reservations and I can’t reach anyone to cover.

Except…

Not a single person will mention to you that the moment you actually cook one of those dishes from your menu at home, and serve it to people who really love it and who “get” your food, you’ll start to picture the happy guest who also gets it, and keeps bringing friends and family and out of town guests to your little restaurant because, “You have to try these pot roast sliders!” You’ll imagine family meals full of laughter and really dirty jokes told in half English, half Kitchen Spanish. You’ll start to make plans for what happens after you, miraculously, get the first year under your belt and you can really start getting creative.

The thing is, though…

I really, really, really do not want to open a restaurant!

However, this exercise will not be in vain. What it’s given me, or rather, given me back, is something for which I’m incredibly grateful. It’s gotten me back into designing my own dishes, creating my own recipes, and it’s gotten me back to that place where I’m constantly brainstorming how to put all my favorite flavors together in a new way, or how to incorporate new flavors or different cooking techniques into old favorites.

I’ll admit it. I’ve felt like I’ve been in a rut. I’ve wondered if going to school, cooking things someone else’s way, and on someone else’s timeline, has stifled me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m learning a ton! I’m cooking things I’ve never cooked before, and thinking about the culture behind the food so much more. But I was starting to get worried that I couldn’t do it on my own anymore– without prompts, without assignments. But this project is not only taking me back to the place where I feel the most…  productive, the most imaginative, the most inspired, and the happiest, but, because it is for school and it is an assignment, I’m doing it with intent, and with my very best effort.

So what will I do with this menu? I’ll cook it! I’ll perfect the dishes. I’ll tweak until they’re just like I want them, until they taste in reality just like they taste in my head. And then I’ll serve my best dishes, the ones I really love, at one hell of a graduation party. Wanna come?

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