Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this installment, we spoke to a former line cook from an LA restaurant who had her first sexual experience when she was a teenager.
I started working in a professional kitchen at the age of 16. I was the only female who worked back-of-house at the time. I'd take the bus from an all-girls high school—a Peter-Pan collar, pleated skirt, pennyloafer kind of institution. Toting my knives and slip-resistant clogs, I'd walk into a motley crew of scruffy, sweaty, flour-dusted men all shouting, "behind you!", "hot, sharp!", "watch that ass", and "you gonna work the line in those knee socks?"
I didn't believe some hot-ass 22-year-old 'man' would think twice, or even once, about a sweat-drenched 16-year-old in clogs.
Despite the unfamiliar vulgarity, after about a month I started to get the hang of my routines, the kitchen's atmosphere, and the idiosyncrasies of my chef and fellow cooks. The long hours, cuts, burns, and foot aches—along with the overtly sexist and sexually charged banter—admittedly gave me a sense of exhilaration that I wasn't getting from sitting in a classroom with 27 other girls. It was all I thought about, all the time. I couldn't wait to tie my apron, start my prep, and sit down for family meal. We had lines waiting down the block right as we opened, with a packed dining room every night. The energy from working a busy service was as stressful as it was satisfying. Afterward, the crew would sneak me into bars where we would reward ourselves for a night well done. Those boys, with all their lewd and ridiculous humor, became my brothers.
Well, until I lost my virginity to one of them.
During my third month working there, an unreasonably attractive guy was staging in the kitchen one Friday night. I was so wrapped up in shucking oysters, making sure I had enough mise on my station, and not fucking anything up, I didn't have time to think about him. (Nor did I believe some hot-ass 22-year-old "man" would think twice, or even once, about a sweat-drenched 16-year-old in clogs.) So I gave no fucks and kept the flirts minimal. After all, the only men I ever interacted with were in the kitchen, since my education was so completely single-sexed.
The hot line cook was hired shortly after that Friday service.
One night for family meal, someone made the best goddamn chili I had ever had. It was loaded with raw onions and I went to town on it. I could feel how terrible my breath was, but it didn't stop me from getting seconds. I cleared my plate, and stepped outside for a cigarette break with the line cook. We sat on a stoop behind the restaurant. He inched closer to me, gently put his hand up my chef whites, and looked me in the eyes. I laughed at him. He smiled, and brought his mustachioed hipster face to mine, and kissed me. There we were, in a cloud of rank onion breath.
He turned to me, put a forkful of squid ink orecchiette in my mouth, and said, 'I want to have sex with you.'
From there, things started escalating with him. He'd need something from the countertop refrigerators on my station, open the door, and reach around to put his hands between my legs, under my apron. He'd keep his hand on me, tugging at the zipper of my pants, feeling me up while I peeled potatoes. Soon enough, we were kissing in the walk-in.
I began ditching class to make out with him in movie theatres, and sneaking out of the house at night to see him. In his apartment one night, I sat on his kitchen counter, watching him heat up leftover pasta. He turned to me, put a forkful of squid ink orecchiette in my mouth, and said, "I want to have sex with you."
I could feel how red my face turned as I swallowed that buttery bite. I remember thinking, Am I wearing cute enough underwear, and does he even care? I hopped down from the counter and tugged at his shirt. "Just because you're a cook doesn't mean we're doing it in the kitchen," I said.
I don't how the hell I came up with that line, but I was damn proud. He led me to his room, appropriately adorned with Thomas Keller and modern gastronomy cookbooks. I told him I didn't know what I was doing, looking him in the eyes and making a funny face, so as to not have to communicate the word virgin. Teenagers hate that word.
After we had sex, he wrapped me up in a blanket, took me into his back yard, and shared my first post-coital cigarette with me. I was just so excited to be able to say that that was my first time—with a really good-looking dude who was really good at cooking. That was so dreamy.
The age difference—especially the fact that he was an adult and I was underage—was never a huge problem for me. Our joint excuse was that I was turning 17 soon and that I acted more mature than other people my age. Had I been a very typical 16-year-old girl who didn't work in kitchens, I don't think I would have been able to navigate the situation in the way that I did, and I don't think that he would have been as attracted to me. Sure, he could've been bullshitting me the entire time, but there was a lot of discussion about how conflicted and confused he felt about everything.
Even when he knew I wasn't coming home with him, he'd always be kind and loving to me—but it felt like he was making sure I was in his back pocket.
I didn't feel taken advantage of sexually. It was never aggressive in any way, and he was so loving and sweet at the time. But he was very suave, and I found out that he was very good at being a womanizer. He was so obviously handsome that he could get anybody he wanted, and that intimidated me. I was constantly trying to seem older than I was in order to keep up with him. That's where he had an advantage over me, those extra years. We didn't really talk about the power dynamic between the two of us, which in retrospect was the most difficult part. It wasn't losing my virginity—it was knowing that sex is just sex. It was a hard pill to swallow at the time, but now I feel about sex in the same way he felt about it then.
He knew that I was smart enough to eventually figure out that the relationship was exploitative, which I did pretty quickly. He didn't have a car, so I was able to drive him anywhere he wanted; but I could also be this sexy-time girl when he wanted, or prep out his mise for him when he wanted. Even when he knew I wasn't coming home with him, he'd always be kind and loving to me—but it felt like he was making sure I was in his back pocket.
I have no regrets about it, and I'm actually thankful for it because I think it toughened me up for how men were going to treat me in the future. As lovely as the actual moment of losing my virginity to the line cook was—and I won't ever forget that, because he did a fine job—I learned that he was just a regular boy with a good-looking face who could get laid any time. And I just happened to be in his wake.