KnifeofBrian: My experience as a man, as a chef, as a husband in this kitchen lifestyle

The Staff Canteen

Brian Powlett starts the year talking about holding on to people in your personal life, who 'get' the hospitality industry and who don't mind your shitty hours and the way you smell of meat and chips when you get home! 

I wanted to see the year out on a positive note. I wanted to write about something close to my heart and something I know us chefs, waiters and other hospitality professionals all need. In fact, this transcends the industry. It reaches all of humanity and especially at this time of year, it is never more important.

brian quoteI want to chat about relationships. You know what I mean? I’ve touched on this in many of my previous blog posts. I often mention my wife. She is the woman who pretty much raised our children as a single, working parent while I was bunkered down in a kitchen somewhere. She was and still is the woman turning up to parties on her own, while muggins here, is routing through a fridge to find the garnish for a late ordered cheeseboard. My wife is the mother who attends parents evenings and school plays on her own, because the head chef’s pet dog needed babysitting. So I needed to cover his shift (true story).

We have been through so much over the years. Almost 25 years together. From commis chef to head chef. I have seen many chef’s relationships come and go. Our relationship is often put on a pedestal of unrealistic presumption. We get regarded as that “strong couple.”

People are often asking us what is our secret. How has our relationship endured this industry which is notoriously hard on couples, families and friendships? It is no different for us. We argue, we “do each other’s heads in”. There are days where we just don’t speak to each other. But that is the nature of relationships.

When you find someone who can live with the hours which we put in. I don’t mean the amount of hours, but the structure of those hours. A partner who can tolerate the split shifts, the 32 hour weekends and the non-committal, vague finishing times. Hold on to that person. Appreciate the moments together.

I am pretty far away from being a relationship guru. I could well be single by this time next year. The hospitality lifestyle is hard on relationships as you know. I try to not bring too much work home. I know Abs (That’s my wife Abby) has no interest in how glossy my demi-glace was during service tonight. She doesn’t need to be told how tired I am. What she wants is… When’s your day off? What are we doing? And rightly so.

Being a father is the easy part, but being a Dad is the challenge. My kids have never known any different from me. I am at work. This is the part I find hardest. They already know and assume that I will not be there. All school letters and reports get handed straight to mum. During their younger years, this is what I found the toughest. Missing the school plays. Not being at the football games and cup finals. Not being home when they returned from Scout Camp. This was torture for me. When I look back at some of the reasons I missed some of these events, I have total regret. Why didn’t I tell my head chef to “do one!”? I guess it was a different time. Maybe the fear of not being able to provide for my family, outweighed the necessity of being present. That’s something for my therapist to analyse. Not for me to dwell on now.

Now, as teenagers, they really couldn’t give a crap where I am. I mean that in the nicest way. I can’t pretend to understand teenagers. They are all weird and speak a different language. I love my children to bits. They know this. That’s all that really matters, right?

brian quote 2My friendships have been fickle, fleeting, non-existant. But at the same time, pure. I have a very small inner circle of friends. Some of my oldest friends, I only see once a year at best. Rarely socially. It’ll either be when they visit the pub and I’m working or a chance run in while shopping. This is totally my fault. Trying to balance that quality time with my family when not working, leaves very little time, if any, for working on relationships with friends. Especially as we are now all older, have jobs and responsibilities.

The days of meeting at the new wine bar for an all-dayer are a distant memory. But a happy memory. I am very fortunate to have some very good friends around me right now. They support me, my work and they love Gin (and meat!) For Abs and I, they all help fortify our own relationship. It’s just a shame that the meet ups are usually set around the parameters of when I can get the time off. But, I guess it’s about quality of friendships, not how often you get out. And I do have some high quality friendships.

There is no secret. We have been lucky. No! I have been lucky. I am a chef. I have put Abs through the mill many times in the past. I have been a proper arse. There have been times when I said I’d be home after my shift and then rolled in a lot later. Stopping for a few beers after work, which then turned in to a bit of a session. This was in the days before mobile phones. The days when you couldn’t just log in to Facebook to see where someone last checked in. People were just “out”. I was by no means a saint, but this is not a confessional. I just wanted to write about my experience as a man, as a chef, as a husband in this kitchen lifestyle and how we all endure it.

When I first met my wife, she was a trainee hairdresser. She worked in the Salon next door to the restaurant I was working in. We developed a friendship, a relationship and a partnership. From early on, she knew that I would always be working. She understood that a chef worked evenings and weekends. She accepted it without fuss.

I’m sure there are a lot of chefs, male and female who can relate to the kitchen language. The hospitality industry is a cauldron of hormones. Men and women who spend more time with each other than they do with their own partners. The friendships formed, can be very tight. To the external eye, stories can be manifested and edited to suit a narrative. Not necessarily the correct tale, but strong enough to wreck a relationship which has not had time to set it’s foundations. This is where trust comes in.

Of course, there are occasions where the story created in the mind of the suspicious partner is not that far from the truth. It can be very difficult for someone outside of the trade to understand the strength of the relationships formed in the kitchens. So many inside jokes. So many stories which can NEVER leave the Pass…. I’ll leave that there.

So, to sum up. If you have found a person who can put up with your shitty hours, the way you smell of meat and chips when you get home. The person who just gets it. Do your best to hold on to them. I can’t offer any dating advice if you are single. I realise I know fuck all about modern dating. Tinder/Grinder/Plenty of Fish (is that a thing?) are all alien to me. I’m from an era when my mum was Caller ID on a landline phone. “Who is it, mum?….Tell her I’m OUT!” I have written posts before on the subject, but more tongue in cheek. Go check out my other blog: 10 Things to know before you date a chef post and share that. Along with why being a chef is awesome!

I think I’ve rambled on enough. You get my point right? Did I make a point? Probably not lol!

Happy new year Chefs & Front of Housers!

2019 is yours!

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Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian

Knife of Brian

Knife of Brian is head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably) male suicide charity and has just finished his first pop up event at the Suffolk Show and would be a gigolo if he wasn't a chef.

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian visit his website

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Editor 8th January 2019

KnifeofBrian: My experience as a man, as a chef, as a husband in this kitchen lifestyle