Before I started working in kitchens, I was a bookish design student. But the long, demanding hours on the line kept me from regular romantic relationships and I became someone who craved nothing but hot, quick, sweaty sex at the end of service.
Professional kitchens pretty much have their own weather systems. The air is thick with fat, smoke, and the tangy smell of sweat-soaked chef’s whites. No matter what the temperature is outside, during service it can feel like you’re trying to navigate yourself through the Western Sahara.
I’m one of those men who, in the warmer months, comes over all Proustian in the heat. All the newly exposed bare legs, exposed clavicles, and napes of necks make me go cross-eyed. I keep it contained, but there’s something about being confronted with little flashes of otherwise covered female flesh that makes me feel like a teenage boy.
Like thunderstorms can cause a deep stirring in one’s loins, for me, heat is a catalyst for horniness. There’s something so animal about the way a human body reacts to heat—the sweat, the flushing of the skin, the weary groaning. And while I can’t put my (self-diagnosed) sex addiction down to the heat of my working environment alone, I certainly feel like it’s part of it.
When regular sex—or any frequent intimate human contact—is at a premium, you start looking at your options.
Yes, you read right: sex addiction. Before working in kitchens I was a bookish design student who loved weed and McSweeney’s. I had an average sex life—not much in the way of stable, long-term relationships, but a decent amount of good, fulfilling sex with women I really liked and wanted to please. This changed when I decided to jack in the idea of a career in graphic design and pursue something that actually made me feel excited in the pit of my belly—cooking.
In my first job at a busy Soho restaurant there was no time to notice waitresses. I was a chef-de-partie, responsible for prepping crates of carrots and French-trimming racks of lamb. I worked 16-hour days. I woke up, downed two espressos, went to work, went home again, fell asleep in my clothes. Six days a week. I barely lifted my head to speak to any of the kitchen staff, let alone those who worked out front. Even though my body was being put through its paces—at one point I had a blue plaster on every other finger and a burn on my wrist that exposed the fat layer—I loved it. Getting to work with food like that and be paid for it was, for me, realizing a dream.
It was only when I started my second job, as junior sous chef at another busy central London place, that I felt myself changing. Any chef will tell you that until you’re at a point where you can open your own place and dictate your own hours, you pretty much don’t have a life. The prospect of holding down a relationship is ridiculous—I tried, briefly, but only seeing her after midnight or for the few hours on a Sunday that I was awake, soon had her—rightfully—calling time. So, when regular sex—or any frequent intimate human contact—is at a premium, you start looking at your options.
I got to a point where I was regularly having sex with the serving staff. Not just one at a time, either.
I don’t think it makes me sound like a creep to say that, as a man, I need to have sex. Often. A quick wank in the shower before work in the morning doesn’t cut it—I need to be able to smell a woman’s hair, her skin, the difference in our physicality. I don’t just want to please myself.
And so I found myself, in all those hot, sweaty hours in the kitchen, craving sex more than I ever have before in my life. I flirted with waitresses like no one’s business. At the end of service, I’d go and sit at the bar with the bartenders, slagging off picky customers, and, eventually, I got to a point where I was regularly having sex with the serving staff. Not just one at a time, either—it turns out that everyone was fucking each other. Most waitresses in the place I cooked worked through the kitchen staff. Good for them.
There was an implicit, mutual respect for the nature of our encounters. We didn’t want commitment. We didn’t want wild declarations of love. We wanted hot, quick, sweaty sex at the end of service, a warm body to sleep next to.
I was good with this for a few years. In any new restaurant I went to work in, as I climbed up the ranks, I found myself in a position where I’d slept with all the waitresses. My thoughts became filthier, too. If a new girl started working, I’d introduce the team and find myself doing a spot analysis in my head, wondering what kind of sex she’d like. At some points I’d vocalize those thoughts with the other chefs. Let no one tell you any different: A group of men together in a hot, enclosed, charged environment breeds horrendous conversation. Even if you don’t believe half the stuff you’re saying, there’s a sort of unspoken rule that you should try and out-lad one another at all times. If there’s women in the kitchen it gets toned down, but in my experience they usually give as good as they get. It’s great.
I enjoyed a life where I could put in the hours, avoid any kind of reality where I would settle down with a woman, and have lots and lots of casual sex.
Anyway, over time—I was a professional chef for about eight years—I began to dislike the man I was becoming. With hindsight I know I was, despite my skill and experience, putting off making the jump into trying to open my own place or taking on a serious, proprietorial role somewhere. God knows I had offers. I turned down a prestigious job in a two-star place at one point. Why? Because my day-to-day existence was comfortable. I enjoyed a life where I could put in the hours, avoid any kind of reality where I would settle down with a woman, and have lots and lots of casual sex
I was, to put a finer point on it, addicted to fucking waitresses.
It reached a point where I started to feel like a sex pest. I found myself throwing lines at waitresses that I never would have said in years previous, catching crafty glances down their shirts and at their bums as they walked out the door. I would pray they’d brush their hands over mine when taking a plate of food. That’s how ridiculous it got.
I was brought up in a family of women without any discernible male role model. My dad—a jaded, touring musician—left us when we were really young, and both my mum and two older sisters instilled in me a serious respect towards women. So, in terms of formative experience, there was nothing to really point toward the kind of relationships I’d have with women as a grown-up. I never saw my dad being awful to my mum, or any man being awful to any woman. But maybe that’s the point. I had no experience of seeing men stick around.
I realize that all the above makes me sound like a shitty, horny teenager with no self-respect or control over his dick, and toward the end of my career as a chef that’s what I felt like.
It’s ridiculous for me to attribute my casual sex addiction—let’s make no bones about it, that’s what it was—to working in a kitchen, and I evidently have all kinds of commitment and relationship issues that I am now addressing with a therapist. But chronologically speaking, that working environment definitely brought out the worst in me.
The chef life allowed me to indulge in after-hours intimacy that sated my physical needs. The hours meant that I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly live any differently, that this is what I wanted to do, was good at, and should just make the most of. If my only relationships occurred in the dark, with women who were on the same, I-just-want-a-good-quick-fuck page as me, I thought it was fine. But of course I wasn’t. I was hiding from myself, some deep-rooted fear of rejection.
I quit being a chef at the beginning of this year after finally going to see someone, on the advice of a girl who I’d been stringing along in some vague attempt to keep her interested in my ridiculous patterns. It took a lot for me to do it, but in between shifts one day I hopped on the tube and went to see a guy in north London who suggested, in no uncertain terms, that what I was doing was really unhealthy. He said he could tell I craved real intimacy, someone who could match my—apparently otherworldly—sex drive, but give me stability, kindness, affection, laughter, all those things. I’d just convinced myself that I didn’t want it.
I realize that all the above makes me sound like a shitty, horny teenager with no self-respect or control over his dick, and toward the end of my career as a chef that’s what I felt like. Now I’m readjusting to a new life, doing freelance graphic design. I’ve been back to the therapist, who helps me re-align my I’m-constantly-horny-and-just-want-casual-sex-all-the-time thoughts, because, when I do meet the right woman, I want to be able to give her everything.