A Day in the Life: Ben the Chef
People are always more than meets the eye. The career or life you see is just a snippet of all the experiences that took them to that current place; in saying this, we keep growing too, and none of us can be certain what amazing changes await us in the future.
Because the paths people take fascinate me, I have decided to share a series of stories with you about aspects of my journey so far that have undoubtably shaped who I am as a person and a beekeeper. Some of these were tough times, some filled with joy. Today’s story looks back to when I was a chef!
Being a chef or a cook is a tough gig. And despite there being aspects of this job that seem delightful (especially if you are a passionate food-lover like myself), it is not a vocation that should be sugar coated. When I finally came to the realisation that school wasn’t really my thing, I was lucky to be give the opportunity to start the four-year apprenticeship. However, I didn’t realise that this four-year career introduction would also be my real start in the adult world– at the age of 15, it wasn’t something I was prepared for! My schooling at the chef’s TAFE in Dandenong opened my eyes: everyone had cars, while my grandma would drive me to work. However, despite not being able to grow a facial hair to save myself at that age, I was a big kid, and could easily find my way into local pubs and clubs. I was growing up fast!
You see, the cheffing world was vastly different back then in many ways. Twenty-five years ago, chefs smoked cigarettes behind the stove, wore head bands, worked 15 hour days and played just as hard as they cooked. My first two jobs were working at pubs in the Yarra Valley, and I lived upstairs. There was no distinction between work and life, and soon felt part of the family. On my split shift break between 3 to 5pm I was “the runner”. Yes, I would run between the boys in the pub to the TAB to place bets. I loved the excitement, I loved the thrill, I loved that they let me drink a pot of beer just like them, and I loved when someone won first place! However, I wasn’t aware that starting gambling and drinking at this age was a metaphorical cancer that, 3 years later, would affect me badly, and see me homeless.
The second I turned 18, everything changed. I got my manual driver’s license straight away and off towards the city I went, as that was where the action happened. I moved into an apartment with a school mate, and that’s where the trouble really started. My love of work was soon matched with my love of partying and play. Around this time, I remember clearly the night the other chefs asked me to head out to the casino with them – at first, I wasn’t interested, but before long, I was keen!
That first night I hardly gambled; I did not understand the concept, but I felt the rush, the rush of gambling. It was a great night had by all, mostly due to way too much drinking. The next night I thought I would head into the casino by myself as I wanted to know more. This is what turned out to be a serious addiction that would see me living in the back seat of my car for almost three months, then lose my car and live in a hostel. It was a hard three years
that followed: I learnt that my weekly pay would be in my account at 3:10am on a Thursday morning where i would be waiting in the casino ready and excited to play blackjack. Keeping in mind one good win, I forged on, gambling my money away, despite three years of constant losses. I was heading into a really bad mental state and to combat the casino world I thought I would just work harder. I managed to sustain two full time jobs for over six months, but it was all too much. My life had hit rock bottom, and I needed a miracle to dig me out of this one. Luckily, at the age of 21, I met my ex-partner, Kelly, who I was to marry three years later when we moved to Noosa in Queensland. Life has a funny way of helping you out, or so they say.
I suffered, i suffered hard, and to be honest it almost cost me my life. That time taught me many things, especially what I don’t want for my own children. It also taught me that while things might seem rosy and dandy on the outside, we all have our pasts and our struggles. I know now but then I did not know about my addictive personality – yes, I love life, but now I know how to channel that into positive things. If you too find yourself struggling with a habit you can’t shake, make sure you reach out and seek help. Find a way to make your vice something that drives you for good, you will never regret it.