If you've never worked in a restaurant, I would argue that you're lacking a key piece of human empathy. There's something about preparing food for other people--strangers--that brings us all together. Nourishment, sure, but also just having a hand in filling others up, how ever they need it. There is community and fellowship and peace in a good meal. And restaurant work is one of the toughest businesses out there: no matter if you're scraping by or wildly successful, it is constant labor.
After I finished graduate school, I worked for two summers in south-central Montana. At the time, I know that I experienced extreme loneliness, self-doubt, and exhaustion; but looking back, I think of those summers as life-changing and the kind of life I'd always kind of like to get back to. I started off at Second Street Bistro as waitstaff, but eventually moved to the back of the house preparing salads. My day started at 4pm and ended at midnight. I rented a 2-room apartment in an old mansion on E Street in Livingston. I had an air-mattress, one plate, one bowl, one cup, one spoon, one fork, one knife, and a laptop that could play DVDs. Sometimes rented movies at the grocery store Red Box. But most days, I made myself get up at dawn, swim laps at the local pool, and then drive to a trailhead and hike until I had to be at the restaurant. Most days, I didn't say any words to any other people until I got to work. Montana is gigantic, is one thing that I learned. I saw moose and bears and big-horned sheep. I often felt tiny.
Over time, chef Brian Menges gave me more and more responsibilities. He ran an organic farm at the edge of town, and started letting me take his old truck to pick the vegetables. I even got to choose which vegetables to feature from week to week. I learned more about people and the earth and life in general working at the restaurant than I ever did in any other job.
Near the end of my time in Montana, Anthony Bourdain did an episode of No Reservations at the bistro, featuring long-time regular, Jim Harrison. What I noticed about both of these men was, they weren't afraid to be who they were. They wrote poetry, painted, went fishing, loved food (and wine). In the most rugged part of the country, these guys were just doing what they loved. That was important for the community--the entire world--to see. Bourdain often featured people doing what they loved, no matter the conditions, no matter the success. He told the stories of all of us, and he made us all noble because of it. Even though I didn't really know Bourdain, or Harrison, my tiny connection to them has meant more than I can possibly explain.