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Driven by Desire:
Navigating Life's Twists Through Passion and Perseverance
Chef Klaus taught me that kitchen work is about the team and that food is revered.
Of all the ‘professionals’ I have met, doctors, lawyers, etc., he still stands out as one of the most impressive.
After starting his apprenticeship in Germany at twelve years old, he moved to Canada in his late 20s, married a girl from Newfoundland and became our chef. He was pleasant, supportive, and knowledgeable of all things food. He could talk about seeds and the life cycle of plants. He could keep you engaged discussing terroir. He taught that good flavour comes from good soil.
He showed me passion is the difference between a job and a career.
On a side note, I also remember he had to abandon his new home when the interest rates went to 21% in the early 1980s. It was heartbreaking for them.
He was open to any questions I had to ask, and I asked many questions. I crossed a line when I asked how much money he made as head chef. When I did ask, he thought for a moment and responded graciously. I hid my shock at how low it was and thought, wow, here is one of the most professional people I have ever met, and this is all that a chef earns.
I knew then the kitchen was not a profession I would pursue.
Preserve-making was still what I wanted to do.
I used to go to the Toronto Public Library and take out as many books on preserving and pickling as they would allow at once. Many librarians would converse about the lost art of preserving with me. They spoke about how their mothers or grandmothers used to bottle the summer and fall harvests.
People in the line behind the kid from Prince Edward Island would join in the conversation. Nostalgia was all around. We all ended up smiling on the inside and out. I was on the right track.
Thinking back about the conversations and enthusiasm shared by others has me thinking of the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
I found part-time work making preserves for a Polish woman in her home. She would sell them to high-end stores around Toronto. After a few months of doing this, I knew this was what I wanted to do.
The world of food was calling me.
The phone rang, and another restauranteur from Prince Edward Island called to ask if I was interested in taking ownership of a restaurant on the Island.
I said, “I have no money.” He said, “We can figure something out.”
He sent return airline tickets so I could look at the restaurant and decide and got a weekend off work to fly home.
Once landing back on the Island, I ached to be home. I had zero experience in running a business, but with the desire burning strongly to start my entrepreneurial journey, I said yes.
Six months later, inexperience broke me. I was exhausted from my first business bust. I owed 27,000 dollars with no prospect of paying it. After selling what I could to pay bills, I kept my mattress, stereo, record albums and strawberries.
Thinking, no problem; Dad will lend me the money to settle my debts.
So heading home to explain all that had gone wrong and what I had learned and asked if he would lend me the money. “Sorry, son, that is a lot of money for me, and I can’t."
I got really upset with him; it was the first time I had ever asked for anything. He said, “All I can say is if you have problems, you best face them.”
Leaving the house hurt and angry, I drove back to my apartment, only to discover that someone had broken in and stolen my stereo and all my records.
Now down to a lamp on an orange crate, a mattress and frozen strawberries.
That night lying in my bed, filled with brokenness, the phone rings, and asks for John; "Wrong number, sorry."
He proceeded to tell me he was going to commit suicide.
I spent the next two hours talking with the person about why he shouldn’t end his life. Life is good.
Throughout the conversation, he explained John is an ex-convict helping him and others get straightened out.
The next night, I got another call from someone struggling with one thing or another.
I thought this crazy; I couldn't keep dealing with other people's problems; I had enough of my own.
The next day, I called the phone company about my ‘new’ phone number.
Discovering I had John's, the ex-convict's old phone number, I requested to exchange his old number for another. They agreed and changed my number and their policy; phone numbers would be retired for a year before being reactivated.
While wallowing in self-pity, my father's advice echoed, “If you have problems, you best face them,” pushing me to confront my shame and guilt.
As Helen Keller once said, Self-pity is our worst enemy, and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.
To truly move forward, I had to face my problems to reclaim my self-worth.
Life is full of surprises and serendipity. Being open to unexpected turns in the road is an important part of success. If you try and plan every step, you may miss those wonderful twists and turns. Just find your next adventure - do it well, enjoy it - and then, not now, think about comes next. ~ Condoleezza Rice