Lemon Chess Pie


My days as a professional pastry chef are numbered. I cannot tell you the exact moment when I knew that the stress of my 18 years in the business would soon come screeching to a halt. The upward trajectory of my career has not made life better. On the contrary. Averaging 60 plus hours a week to still be part of the “working poor” in a food rich city like Seattle, has turned what was once a passion into a lesson on hard, cold realities. I have been reduced to a nervous wreck, even as my breads and desserts are extolled throughout the city. I ask myself, why quit now when I am finally achieving what I have striven for?

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Take this Lemon Chess Pie for example. It is an homage to my southern roots, having grown up in the bluegrass region of central Kentucky. It was a humble transition from my holiday take on Mincemeat Pie (braised oxtail and short rib, apples, brandy, muscovado sugar, suet, candied kumquats, and currants). But it sold so much better. Lemon Chess Pie took it’s rightful place among the greats at our new restaurant endeavor. It made mincemeat of my mince pie. Brown sugar shortbread crust with cornmeal and buttermilk filling. Dressed up with candied lemon, a bright, herbaceous lemon marmalade, and softly sweet whipped cream –  this pie doesn’t fail to please. It’s accomplishments lend me credibility, much the way being the Pastry Chef for Google did. Unfortunately, cooking for Google didn’t pay off. Neither has starting an entirely new pastry program with a James Beard award winning chef. Professional cooking doesn’t yield a monetary reward, especially  after accounting for all the lost time. Never mind that so many in our society work their lives away, with multiple jobs and myriad responsibilities. I am seeking the other path. The one where I enjoy my life.

So here I share a secret. There is a reason why there are very few people over 40 years old working in restaurants. It is completely unsustainable: physically, emotionally, and financially.  My first post becomes one of despair. Not of the pie but for the industry that birthed it. It has not rewarded me, nor has it  lived up to the hype. The romanticism that drew me to commercial kitchens, wore off within the first 10 years, to be replaced with the perpetual search for the perfect restaurant job. While the years of brutal catering were battering and nearly turned me into an alcoholic, it was the opening of a fine dining restaurant that has pushed this scenario to it’s eventual conclusion. The constant reduction in labor while adding more sales and product has resulted in a series of 60 hour workweeks and 14 hour days. Being in management means I cover for every person who cannot work, at the expense of my own children, life, and personal enjoyment.

I love baking and I am good at it. I will certainly intersperse my writing with recipes, methods, and photos. But it is not the entirety of who I am. I have much more to offer the world, more to see and do than whitewash the inside of greasy kitchens. I know the  American dream is pulling yourself up by the boot straps but I unequivocally believe that people should not work 60 hours a week. That cannot be my legacy when I am dead.

As I change my life, I hope to chronicle many blessings. This baking knowledge will not be wasted. I am heading out of the restaurant to actively build my next incarnation. Stay posted, for I am both a dreamer and a doer.

Traci Knight

 

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Categories: Baking and Pastry

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3 replies

  1. When you were 8 years old, I was showing you around my new living arrangements. I went to open a door and you said, “No don’t show me everything. I want to leave it to my imagination.” At 8, you were wise, a dreamer and a doer. I knew and believed in you then, I do even more as you step into a new beginning. Give it your all!

  2. Thank You, Aunt Marci. I have truly learned from the best, you included. What an amazing family we have!

  3. I believe that you are charting a better, and more healthy path. It takes a bit of courage to let go of something in which you have invested your life energy for such a long time. But, most people are more inclined to plod along in “lives of quiet desperation.” Keep the faith. -Dad-

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