KnifeofBrian: Old enough to know better?

The Staff Canteen

Is cheffing a young person's game? How long is too long to be working in the kitchen? 

With his birthday coming up, Brian Powlett AKA KnifeofBrian asks: where do we find the motivation to stick it out as a chef?

We chefs are curious creatures indeed. I often imagine a highly produced BBC documentary in the style of Blue Planet, being shot about the behaviours of chefs. Animalistic and savage, yet territorial and family oriented. With a voice-over by Sir David Attenborough, we would be entertained by hyper slow motion shots of newbie chefs peeling potatoes (shot in real time). Through to the dramatic, overture which plays across the scene where the chefs fed on the carcass of the Sunday roast tray, mopping up the jus roti with the day-old bread ends. They then scatter when the general manager or executive chef walks in. They fear an attempt of an awkward conversation about Love Island or recent football results….

I love being a chef. I’ve said this many times. I can find it challenging, but these days, it’s more of a physical challenge. Everything hurts as I’m getting older. Approaching my mid-forties, I am constantly aware of every passing hour. Counting down to the end of my shift so I can have a cheeky sit down while I phone my orders in. I know 43 is not old, but with my 44th birthday coming up later this month (22nd November if you wanna send me a card), I am thinking more about the next stage of my kitchen career.

Chef blogger Knife of Brian on getting older
Have a drink on me chefs!

I am not a chef on the cusp of Rosettes or Michelin stars. I am a good chef, but I am fully aware of my limits. I love to challenge myself and I have never shied away from graft. I pride myself on being a chef that you want to work with when it gets busy. My coolness under pressure is my USP. My priority has always been flavour not flowers. I am definitely more Bistro than Blumenthal. I currently ply my trade in a pub kitchen, where we are spectacularly busy. I guess I’m doing something right. And like the 99% of chefs out there, the daily graft is real. So far removed from the TV chefs - the faded whites which chafe at the armpits, the turmeric-stained apron and the trousers held up with a belt made from tightly pulled cling film. We turn up, we cook LOTS! We clean down, go home and repeat the next day.

Privately, I recently had a crisis of confidence. Fuelled by my impending birthday and that feeling of 'what now?'. Is it a young persons game? At almost 44, the harder shifts are getting tougher. Although the muscle memory for most of the tasks has set in. Keeping up with current trends and the ever changing legislation changes gives the older generation more things to think about. I was starting to consider how many years I can keep up to speed. Will my chefs tell me when I start making those silly mistakes which aging chefs make? You know the ones. We’ve all worked with a chef who has stayed in the kitchen a few years too long. We’d be pulling the pan of reducing Gastrique off the flames, as they had forgotten and overstretched themselves. I don’t want that to be me.

(Side note: How old is the oldest chef you’ve worked with?)

44 is by no means old. But in this very physically demanding industry, it could be compared to professional sports. Should I take a move down into the lower leagues and become a dinner-lady (minus the gender reassignment)? Chocolate crunch with pink custard? Is it time for this chef to start considering an exit strategy? Open my own restaurant? Forge a career as an author of a series of books about a wizard chef? What to do next?

Disclaimer: I am VERY happy with my job. I’m just looking at the bigger picture. The Greyhound in Ipswich has been a real life saver for me. I’ve had the opportunity to rediscover my love of food in an environment which suits where I am at in my own headspace. This post is more of a general rambling. Aimed at that large cross-section of us chefs who don’t sit in that illustrious top echelon. We, the guys and gals in the trenches. The chefs with no time for posting on Instagram. No desire for a cookbook deal. The lifer.

Coming back to this blog a few days after writing it. I was concerned that I was sounding a little defeatist. I am generally quite a positive person. Always looking for the next adventure, idea or opportunity. I love writing these blogs. These are the conversations which I often struggle to verbalise with my peers, family and friends. This, as I have said before, is my therapy. Just writing this has ignited the spark of motivation I needed. No, this is not my letter of resignation. Although, imagine that? One way to see if they read my blogs at work! I still don’t have a cast iron plan of what to do next, but I feel better for just putting this out there.

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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 7th November 2018

KnifeofBrian: Old enough to know better?