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Why we do what we do. Intensity

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
The kitchen is lit up like an operating room, and even in the middle of the most heinous rush, it remains very nearly as clean.

Chef - "Order in! Two amuse. One salad, one prawn. Risotto, Turbot. Followed by Lamb MR, Beef MW"
Thirteen line cooks in unison yell- "heard!"

This is what an order for two people might well sound like in the kitchen at Addison. Five courses per person, seven if you count the bread service and the mignardise. There is no a la carte option. Everyone gets seven courses at 95 dollars a pop. We average about 65 guests per night with 100 being our theoretical limit, although we do a little more on occasion. The time between courses is controlled to the minute. Every plate of a like dish must look and taste exactly the same. Perfect. A slight variation in plate temperature represents a failure, and failures are harshly rebuked.

The chefs ( one Executive Chef, and his second-in-command, the Chef de Cuisine ) are piranhas. Pouncing on any weakness or hesitation, slicing the fat off your psyche with razor sharp teeth. Until you are answering every question with a crisp "Yes chef!" or "No chef!" before you can even think about it. Knee-jerk. The slightest pause is an instant "I don't know chef" which is always bad. The mild excuses or subtle white lies that lubricate the workings of almost any professional setting are annihilated with extreme prejudice. Either its right or its wrong. Mistakes almost never missed. Either you were responsible or you weren't, but the blame WILL fall somewhere, and god help you if you get a reputation for throwing people under the bus to dodge responsibility. Your word of honor must be protected like gold. Gain the chefs' mistrust and you will be publicly and mercilessly crucified. They are deeply respected by everyone in the kitchen.

The cooks are like hungry animals. Surgeons. Psychopathic perfection addicts who move for ten+ hours 6 days a week at a dead sprint. The most disciplined team of people you could ever hope to see. Time after time, night after night, they are called lazy, worthless, asleep. Told to "wake the fu*k up" and to "go home if they can't get their head in the game" a.k.a Quit. Called "shoemakers" and "bricklayers" They love it, they can't get enough of the bitchings. Simply lap 'em up like they were sweet sweet words of encouragement. In the words of Anthony Pierre White "They are pain jockeys, they have to be." Psychological, emotional and physical pain are in no way an excuse to let the standard of precision or speed of execution drop. Minor burns are frequent; and completely ignored. The cooks often finish moving the offending item (say a pan who's handle has gotten hot) to its intended location without changing pace or showing discomfort. In the history of Addison no one has been fired. The weak links simply break. Please god, don't let me break.

There is a saying, character isn't built, it is revealed. A recent lesson has been this : The fear of coming face to face with your own true character and being disappointed is very very intense. Loss of sleep ( and horrible horrible nightmares when you do ) loss of appetite, loss of the desire/ability to socialize. Strong sensations of self loathing that you feel in your gut whenever things go wrong. Your total perception of self worth riding on every plate you set on the pass. But when it goes right, when the chef stares intently at your work and says nothing, when you know inside that you have attempted the nearly impossible ( or at least the very difficult ) and succeeded... euphoria, a sense of satisfaction that no work has ever given. Every now and then, on nights when it has gone right more often then not. Nights that happen maybe once every few weeks. On a night like tonight was. You get to leave work feeling like a rock star, only more stone-cold bad-assed.
post #2 of 16

Ive have only worked in one kitchen, have had 5 chef's in my years. And what you wrote was what I feel like everyday iam in the kitchen. I have all my family and friends ask me how can I do anything like that day in and day out? All I can say is how can you work doing what you do.

I never thought that I would find a place where others know the joy and pain of being a cook or chef.
post #3 of 16
Iv'e pretty much had it with abuse.

Taking it, and being put in a position to have to deal it out.

When I re-enter the biz, if the owner doesn't like my results, my way, they can fire me, or I'll quit.

If a chef verbally abuses me, I'm giving it right back, with extra sauce.

God help anyone who lays hands on me. Or insults my liniage or level of intelligence.

My biggest mistakes un this business all came about due to my acceptance of what is commonly thought to be the nature of kitchen work, and the standard of behaivior therein. I can take correction with the best of them. But I erred severly in being passive as a subordinate, and in mirroring my bosses as a leader.

You can take that as my pledge to change things for the better.
post #4 of 16
Rivitman, I have been enjoying reading your blog and agree with you that this business needs to have a reformation of sorts...

To think that you can put your blood sweat and tears into this life to earn the amount most do is crazy.
post #5 of 16
The blog actually belongs to the local newspaper food critic, he just gave me leave to use it for a bit.

- Today's fresh sheet: A grunt's perspective

He wanted me to write an op-ed piece but I am reluctant; I may need to work in this town again. If the State and national restaurant association keeps trying to screw over cooks and waitstaff with onerous legislation, I may have to.

But I did get a nice meal and I got to meet the guy, which was nice. I guess the blog was getting quite a large number of page views.

Anyway, some debate was spawned, and several known local chefs joined in. It was interesting to see them tap dance around the truth about the industry. You can see they wanted to say more, but the politics of being a chef supresses them.

The kind of treatment meted out in many kitchens these days, traditional or not, is bad for food, bad for cooks, and bad for chefs. If the choice is between participating or being out of the biz, I'm out. The ends simply do not justify the means.
post #6 of 16
Today I just rejoined the ranks....I signed on at a local private club.

Hopefully this will be a pleasant experience compared to most of the places I have worked(small owner operators).

Pay is low but so were the options in the area.
Of course it comes with benefits,time and a half on holidays,401K,etc...
post #7 of 16
I'm with Riv regarding the abuse.

I wasn't a professional cook for long, but was privileged to work on the line in two of the best restaurants in the SF Bay Area in the seventies. Kleinbottled's description reminds me of one. The way the chefs were treated was a combination of an extinct European class system and a head chef suffering from rampant alcoholism. That the so called brigade system is still typical in a high-end restaurant is unacceptable.

Look. Today's professional cooks are trained craftspeople, working under very intense and somewhat uncomfortable conditions. A few are even artists. They should be treated accordingly. It's even more distressing that the personnel most responsible for the success of a $2M per year put up with that ****.

And what the **** is an "Executive Chef?" Does he carry his thermo-pen in a briefcase? No. It's just some moron on "hot plate. "

My dos centavos,
post #8 of 16
Fine dinning to off the beaten path food vendors, a kitchen is a kitchen and the same abuse is just about everywhere.

I remembered back in my schooling, I helped out with this special function for GBC, it was being co-ordinated by chef John Higgins with 4 of his 2nd year students as his sous and 2 or 3 of us greens under each. It was the most terrible experience. I couldn't understand the menu, it was all Scottish themed food for some Scottish holiday with ingredients I've never seen before while a 2nd year student who has no command skills has us all running around like headless chickens because they can't do much better. At 1 point, my team leader told me to basically keep a table on reserve for us (we were doing a 2nd course item, to gods if I could remember wtf it was). The night didn't go off very well, ended decently and credit only went to his students. I got little to no instructions doing something completely unfamiliar to me, well whose to blame?

I'm still basically doing the same thing only for a cafeteria. I'm a little higher up mind you.
post #9 of 16
I feel that there is a fine line between abuse and being able to enforce discipline. However, I would prefer to hire and work with people who have their own sense of discipline although everybody requires a "reminder" every once in a while.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
post #10 of 16
you know, after working my way up from being a dishwasher to a line cook in the last 11 months or so, i can say that the payscale for cooks is horrific. the amount of personal sacrifice, dedication to the craft, and stress that we endure is hardly work the 9 bucks an hour (in some cases, less). the kitchen i am leaving scared me to the point where i am currently questioning my love for food and cooking. the abuse and bad pay is not something i believe anyone should put up with. if you want to be the next thomas keller, than by all means, put in your dues. but if you just happen to be good in your craft and want to earn a living, then it pretty much sucks for you.

i agree with rivitman when he says that the ends do not justify the means. i am currently lined up for an interview at a corporate restaurant. the company has a history of being legit and paying well, so i hope that they will change my view on restaurant life. if not, it's back to school for me and i become a medical technician.
post #11 of 16
I have ALWAYS worked for owner/operator types.

I have come to realise I was paid well(too well for my level of skill) at the beginning and it has made it a much more difficult to realise that after learning skills and working crappy hours you are expected to be paid very little.

For example,around here we have a LOT of gated communities, the 'security guards'(job consists of checking cars going in and little else) start out at $10/hour....

If the restaurant business demands skillful and dedicated employees it must eventually realise it will have to pay them.

I am quite thankful that my wife makes good money as working in a kitchen surely wouldn't cover our bills.

I feel bad(kind of) for those younger folks spending a lot of time and money to earn a degree in a business that will pay them little in money OR personal satisfaction in the end.
post #12 of 16
Sounds like you guys have been abused. Not all kitchens are like that. Yes the job is hard work, and you have to pay your dues and the pay starts out crappy. Honestly though, if you guys are throwing this big of a pity party for yourselves, I doubt you are in the right line of work. If you are looking for a "pleasant experience", go be a florist. If you want to bust your *** every day and go home feeling great because you made a ton of people happy and had fun, then this is where you belong. I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life. Busting b**ls in the kitchen all day, adrenaline rush, laughing at the newbs cutting and burning themselves and generally acting like overgrown children is cathartic. Chefs ride people so that they understand the importance of consistency and doing things the right way, the Chef's way. If left to their own devices, most kitchens would descend into a nightmare of broken sauces, unwiped plate rims, unlabeled containers, dirty coolers and meat butchered 2 oz. over their portion size. This business is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship, and if you don't like it, then simply leave and make room for those that are driven to succeed.
It's Good To Be The King!
It's Good To Be The King!
post #13 of 16
I have been working in kitchens for about 12 years,started at the bottom(Dishwasher) and worked up from there....and back down a little...:)

I don't think I was abused.
I do think that a business that is so demanding as working in a kitchen should have some monetary benefits way above less skilled jobs.

If cooking is a profession it is poorly paid one thats for sure.

The new job I started yesterday seems like it should work out,very little supervision of certain tasks such as prepping and sauce making which seemed a little odd to me.

I have always worked from a set recipe for certain menu items so as to maintain a consistant product...but its not my kitchen so I go with the flow.

One GREAT plus is benefits and overtime....never heard of such things before..LOL
post #14 of 16
i wish my kitchen was close to that... its almost run by FOH's frantic screams that are completely unwarrented... everything i need is right where i need it but they cant understand that...

the nature of my kitchen is to keep the food prepared and hot (its a carvery, but it has an extensive a la carte menu that i dont understand why... its one or the other surely!) and i know how many people are in the building at the time... i can keep it fresh and hot... but they want one pot to use, one pot behind that "just in case" then complain when i comply and the second pots all look dry, and wilted, and old

there is no respite, i reduce the held amounts, i put out 2 pots still but with less in each to get the turn over needed to stop it going bad, they complain the pots look empty, so i increase the front pot and keep the back pot low with extra ready to fill them up/ replace when necessary, the waitresses try to bring an empty pot into the kitchen to demand more... its hot, they break it, im now a pot short...

i keep the longest lasting item fullest, save a pot on it, carry on as normal, they complain there arent 2 pots out there...

i tell them to stop shouting, im capable of doing it myself better if they shut up, they take offence, and make a point of sending people to the carving station without sending the tickets through to the kitchen... a queue forms... the duty manager starts screaming that im taking too long, theres a queue... i say theres no ticket, i wont serve food without a ticket... i know the hosts miss people sometimes, people sometimes just come up and walk away never paying for their meals...

the printer provides her ammo, 3 tickets... "your printer is just slow" i look through the glass on the door, see the smirk in the waitresses eye.... i know its her... organising this chaos,

i take a deep breath, i dispatch the queue with ample speed, barley missing my knuckles on the knife, burning my hands on the hot lights above, sweat now creeping down my spine.... return to the kitchen, prepare some more veg and start again....

a waitress appears at the door, she looks familiar, i see a glint of enjoyment in her smile as she screams "i need some more veg!"....
post #15 of 16
Doesn't your chef have any control over the situation? Any chef that would allow his staff to be treated like that from FOH people is not worth the carbon he's made of. It sounds like you would do well to look for another job. The FOH should not be dictating to you how and when to restock your station. That is the chef's job. I would be miserable if I were you.
It's Good To Be The King!
It's Good To Be The King!
post #16 of 16
hehe.... its not that bad anymore... i simply told the chef i wasnt the front of house ***** and he had a choice... he can tell them to let me do it, or i can do exactly as they say and he can watch his stock dissappear and the complaints line up

needless to say, i get very little FOH comments... although its my *** on the fire when complaints come in... and im happy with that
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