I remember this. I remember this picture. It was the best turkey for a customer’s final meal. All my emotions came flooding. It came down like an avalanche.
December 12, 2020: It was the grind to save Christmas. AKA: cook 50+ whole turkeys and hundreds of sides. All orders are set in stone. We got our numbers and are ready to go. But then there was a call. A call that someone missed the deadline. I was going to say “No. All the numbers are set and it’s too late”. But my team and I got notified that his mother is severely ill from breast cancer and she may not make it to the new year. This Christmas may be her final meal. I have to say yes. Even if I’m stretching it.
It was when I was driving home that it hit me. Holy shit. I’m actually cooking someone’s last meal. I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life. I almost never get so emotional thinking about cooking, but the pressure is on. I was getting goosebumps. Shivers went down my spine. Why? I never got my final meal with my grandma the night before she passed away from leukemia. During that time, I never feel so shitty in my entire life. You can say I was pretty traumatized. I want to have the opportunity to give someone one last meal before they kissed goodbye forever.
I’ve started working twice as hard. Planned a production schedule because I want this thing to be perfect. I was relentless. Worked 12+ hour shifts 6 days in a row. Only running 4 hours of sleep because this thing is all I can think of until it’s done. I pushed myself to the absolute limit. People thought I was crazy. They said, “Why are you pushing yourself so hard? You’re killing your body!” I never really talked back because if I did, I would get emotional from my past trauma. I just put my head down and work. The only thing I said is “Must. Get. This. Done.” or “You don’t understand”. I have to admit, I was kinda an asshole during that time. People call in sick (as usual), having constant setbacks, and a few mental breakdowns can pretty much turn a happy, passionate cook into a ruthless dickhead. I think somewhere in the middle of our intense production, I sense a warm touch. It wasn’t anyone in the kitchen or the blasting oven that is going to be used for bread stuffing. It was her giving me a comforting feel. It was to let me know that she got my back whenever I fall. Maybe that was her. Or I’m going crazy. Or both? Who cares. I must keep my head up and work with my crew to get this done.
Last few days before we completely finish all the orders. It was a rough 10 days, but we did it. And I think on the last day of production, I cooked up the perfect turkey. It’s the one on this post. That my friends is the definition of a perfectly cooked turkey. I know right then and there that this is the one for that very special customer. The one that will have the last meal with their loved one that I wish I could’ve had. Anyways, there is no time to waste. It’s time to build all the orders.
Finally, Christmas eve is finally here. This is my favorite part of the job. Giving away giant-ass turkey meals like goddamn Opera Winfrey. It is just so satisfying to see all our hard work pay off and see all those happy smiles behind those masks. Near the end, I saw the customer that his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. He was a young man. Probably in his early 40s. Little skinny and carrying a small bag. He came up to the desk to me. “Hi. I’m here to pick up a turkey order,” he said in a shy, quiet tone. I said to him polity “Yes. Just give us a few minutes to fetch you your order”. When I found his order, another worker picked it up and was about to leave the kitchen to hand it to him. I stopped my co-worker. “Wait. Give these things to him. It’s on the house”. I added a few extra turkey bread stuffing and in-house gravy. “Are you sure?” she asked me. “Yes. He deserves all the love today.” She shrugged and handed me his order. “You do you, man. I’m going on my smoke break”. When I showed the customer the order, he was very surprised. He knows that his stuff is much bigger than the others. I said to him “Your order is a bit bigger than the rest because we added a few extra stuff for you and your family. You can tell them that those guys are on us tonight.” He broke down to tears “Thank you thank you thank you” he said happily. I tried so hard not to get too emotional. “You’re very welcome,” I said while holding back my tears. After him, it was a few last orders and it’s finally done. Finally. 12 days of intense cooking and planning has finally paid off. Just because of that single order. In the end, I’m just relieved. I’m overwhelmed with joy not only because the madness is finally over, but I redeemed my past trauma by helping another family with someone’s last meal.
It took no time at all to clean the kitchen because everyone was working. After my shift, like 5 pm, I did a thorough walk-through to make sure nothing is left on and everything is put away before the holidays. As I walked outside, it’s pouring snow. Shit. It’s going to be a long ride home. When I finally got to my aunt’s place, I called up my dad to see if he’s eaten yet so we can Facetime our Christmas dinner. He did. I was a few hours late because of work and traffic. So I decided to make instant noodles with frozen broccoli, dumplings, and an egg for the night as my celebratory dinner. That has to be one the most depressing celebratory meals known to man. But, since that was the only thing left in my fridge, and my manager gifted me an instant noodle bowl with a sriracha picture on it, why not. At least it tastes good. After that, it’s a nice, hot shower and a 10-hour sleeping marathon because I’m super sleep-deprived. At the end of the day, everything, all the cooking, physical and mental pain, and being sleep-deprived was worth it. For that one person. I just hope that his family will cherish their final moments with their mother. As for me, I’m happy that my team and I saved Christmas and I redeemed myself. I can’t wait that after the holidays, everything will be close to normal in my kitchen.