A chef’s story is many things, and certainly never just the heat in the kitchen. And chefs can be mercurial beings – I’ve found there’s always so much more behind the uniform and the knife.
John Torsch’s chef’s story is more poignant than most though, and here his story brings us up to the now in his life, but I’m adding a little introduction he wrote to me to give you the motivation behind John’s writing this, and the why behind his drive to finish his book. Let’s hope he does and finds a sympathetic publisher.
And his advice to young chefs, creating their own chef’s story? Well, I am sure he’d just say, ‘take it or leave it’ – because it’s his journey, and certainly those decisions he made along the way aren’t for everyone.
“My younger brother was my partner and a heroin addict who died in my arms. In my life time I’ve buried more than 2 dozen friends and family because of addiction. My family and I have started a nonprofit foundation which funds opiate harm reduction as well as long term rehabilitation. I’m sometimes asked to lecture to high school students about the dangers of opiates, the drug lifestyle, chasing dreams, etc. Also I regularly testify before various political commissions when introducing new laws regarding cannabis legalization as well as more funding for addiction treatment.”
And continuing his story with advice to young chefs starting out:
“Carry your roll and your recipes. Hell, I’ve backpacked with my immersion circulator (sous vide) and smoke gun… Hostels are cheap and most have kitchens, markets are cheap and since you’re a chef, you’ll be very popular.
Couch surfing is my favorite way to sleep cheap and experience a country. You never know who is going to host you, what circles of friends they have or what they will show and teach you. Sort of like a version of Facebook and Airb&b combined just for travelers. Just be careful, don’t trust everyone, and if a small voice is nagging you to walk away, obey it. Intuition is our greatest friend.
“Wow this sounds amazing! What’s the trade off??” you ask.
Once the travel bug bites you, you’ll never feel totally content anywhere. You’ll constantly find yourself daydreaming about strolls through night markets and planning your next adventure, even if you’re currently on one.
Sometimes you might find yourself looking at a friend’s life, their kids and start somewhat envying their simple “normal” life. But for me those feelings are brief and usually happen at a family cookout after a lot of rum. Then there are feelings of disconnection from your hometown, family and friends when you return. The only time I’ve felt lonely in all my years as a solo traveler is when I returned home. This is also known as reverse culture shock. And it’s big.
Travelling changes you.
I’m a completely different person to what I used to be and it feels like everyone else I knew has stayed the same or regressed. It’s not that you feel better than anyone, but it’s difficult to go from feeding homeless orphans in Asia one day to having drinks at the bar in your hometown the next.
Seeing all the senseless killings on the news, listening to people argue about Trump and pop culture as if that shit actually matters. There is so much political and racial divide in the US now it simply saddens me to be here usually. It gets to a point where you feel more comfortable in a room full of strangers who don’t speak your language than you do with people you’ve known most of your life, at least for me.
Lack of constant companionship.
This is the hardest one for me because I am more comfortable in relationships than being single. In your travels you will be fortunate to meet more fun, interesting and beautiful people of the opposite sex, maybe the same sex, than you could ever imagine.
Relationships happen quickly and end quickly. Emotions are different on the road, passion runs hotter. Sex is very casual and amazing. There are no games or expectations. You both know it will end so you are the realest version of yourself and enjoy yourselves to the absolute fullest. You are both totally free I guess you’d say. Then, either I’m going here or she’s going there and there’s a hug goodbye.
The special ones who are meant to stay in your life will be there, behind a random email or FB message. The really special ones will hold a place in your heart while you secretly hope that one day the stars will align just right for one of us to finally give in and follow or stay with the other.
I have none that aren’t sentimental or don’t serve a specific purpose and I prefer quality over quantity. My backpacks and dive gear, basic cooking tools and knives of course. Technology to record my travels and keep my family/friends updated. Whatever clothes I need – nothing fancy but the suits I own are custom. Usually I own a cheap car or motorcycle and keep it at my parents’ for when I’m in town but I sold it because I’m rarely there anymore. I’ll never own a big house or fancy car again; the minimalistic lifestyle has proved much more fulfilling.
One thing travel did for me was make me appreciate minimalist living. I’ll settle down sooner or later, in the mean time I still love being a gypsy. Even if I were rich, I’d only own a nicer boat and not much else. I’ve seen too much poverty, pain and suffering in the world for me to have a big house or expensive things.
That’s not to say money isn’t important because it is, you just have to have the balance of priorities to make yourself happy while still doing more for others. If you’re not making enough money to live a happy life and follow dreams, sell some of your useless shit and step up your hustle, no one ever said cooking had to be your only source of income.
Plans, the future, dreams, insurance, retirement?
Plans: Well, I say just go with the flow and trust your gut. If you’re making a living doing what you love in life, you’ll be just where you need to be at any given time.
Future: I have several ideas and business plans/models that maybe one day I’ll put to use. For now I’m having too much fun. Not to sound morbid but I’m living on borrowed time and have experienced more loss than any person should. There are no delusions of grandeur or fear of my own mortality. If I die before my plans eventuate, I’ve lived an incredible life and believe that will be my peace in my final moments. I’ll finish my memoir one day soon and possibly become well known then parlay that success into financial security.
Dreams: New Zealand is my end game when and if I can ever afford it. There are a few ways to get in. $100k buys you an entrepreneur visa and temporary residency; the money is applied to a business or property. My ultimate dream used to be a little seafood shack on the beach or coast.
Jamaican/Tiki vibe, lots of hammocks and a smoker. 8-10 tables, another 10 at the bar. Spear fishing for the fresh catch, chalk board menu and morning trips to the market, happy wife and a simple happy life. I’ve done this solo already and while it was a lot of fun, I know that I can only do it again with someone by my side. Being a one-man show is just too hard.
After all these hard years on my body, I’m not sure that I’ll ever cook full time again though. If society allows it, I’d much rather earn an income from writing and use my free time to train young cooks. This will allow any cooking that I do to be stress free and of the highest quality for friends and family.
If I could have one wish, it would be to have a beachfront healing retreat in a country where I could align with other healers to treat Cancer and other ailments naturally using only cannabis, nutrition and holistic healing.
What about retirement?
That’s a very good question. I’m 33 with a little savings, a hell of a story and not much else besides skills. Scary huh? It doesn’t faze me. I’ve never had a problem making money and there are many people ready to finance me if I ever decide to go back down the restaurant road. Plus I have faith in my writing skills and the moderate success of my book.
If you are motivated and talented, you will always succeed after you fail a few times. Being hard to impress is a BIG problem. I’d love to have this conversation with other Chefs who have traveled extensively. After you’ve tasted so much diversity and the best a country has to offer, seen the most beautiful this or that time and again, it becomes extremely hard to be impressed or excited about something.
This includes food, alcohol, people and landscapes. 8 out of 10 meals always disappoint me. I’m constantly comparing it mentally to previous meals or going over what I would have done differently. It is what it is. I’m always polite and would never criticize someone unless they asked my opinion.
So that’s about it, if you read this far, congratulations. If you are a Chef or getting paid to do something that you love, that is half the battle. Most of our lives will be spent earning a living so why would anyone spend it doing ANYTHING besides what they truly loved?
So that’s my chef’s story. I hope this didn’t come off as arrogant. I’m not the best Chef by any means and only have a desire to be the best and happiest chef that I can be. I’ve written this post not to brag but to inspire. To give you all a glimpse into a way of life that might have seemed impossible but know that it is. The world is out there waiting.
My life is full of regrets, but all are mistakes I’ve made that were lessons in disguise which led me to this clear path. As clichéd as it is, I’ll end with my favorite Mark Twain quote:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”