Hey. I'm the new guy at chef talk. This is the end of the first real day off I've had in about three weeks. It's five in the morning, and I'm surfing around looking for chef coats and pants that don't look like pillow cases that I can afford. You don't care, so I'll get right to the questions. If you want to see who I am, http://profiles.yahoo.com/dilhavarti.
1. Describe a typical day at your job.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. You're getting ahead of yourself.
First, I drag arse out of bed. Turn on hot water in bathroom. Stumble to kitchen. Turn on water. Return to bathroom, pull sink stopper, and throw razor and great-grand-father's boar's hair brush into water, then turn shower to all hot. Return to kitchen, make coffee, return to bathroom. Pull sink stopper, stare at self, ask what I'm doing up at this hour, realize I'm going to be late, turn off sink water, then enter shower. Wash, rinse, repeat. Realize, suddenly, that because I work F, Sa, Su, I won't see my M-F wife until after New Years, at the annual family gathering in Portland, OR (airfare courtesy my parents' frequent flier miles). Make coffee. Shave, rinse, don uniform. Bicycle to work. Enter kitchen. Greet Haitian panini lady, turn on pressure steamer, walk to computer, clock in, get coffee for me and chef (who will be late), set up rice. Curse Pedro, the Salad Guy, because he is late for the 8th day in a row.
Chef shows up soon after I clock in. Sometimes he's been in the walk-in the whole time. Whatever. I'm asleep for another hour anyway.
Then start cooking for 4-13 hours, depending on the day.
Return home, drink cold coffee forgotten from this morning, fight with *or* screw wife, go out drinking until 2 or 3 am. Return home, fall down, repeat.
2. What kind of peron is best suited for this job?
Warriors. People that chop off a finger in the middle of a rush, put the chopped-off part in their pocket, and go get it welded back on after they clock out.
3. What kind of skills will I need for this job?
See #2, above. And never forget how to show up on time.
4. What are the educational requirements? Degrees? Licenses?
In the kitchens I've worked in, a felony conviction/extremely strange or dangerous disposition seems to be sufficient.
5. Why did you choose this career?
Every other career I've tried to "choose" has proven to be catastrophically unsatisfying. I won't bore you with the details.
6. What are the advantages to this career? Why? Benefits?
People will pay you to play with food; most of the time you will drink and eat for free. And it's really cool to think that the most important tool in the job you do is a knife.
7. What are the disadvantages? What is the hardest part of your job? Why?
It seems Americans don't respect cooking and being a chef the way other cultures tend to. The "bright light" for me was reading Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" on the plane on the way back home. I suddenly felt a surge of pride at being a professional chef. I could do things with the fruit of the earth and sea and air and fire and ether; things that my friends could never fathom, because I felt it from the guts, the balls, the heart, the soul and the brain in a way they could never fully understand. I make food, and the ritual of eating it, in a way that makes them worship me for two or three hours straight, worship me like a god. Plus I know how to bartend, which is a wonderful and mysterious compliment to any social gathering.
The hardest part is fighting your own lack of confidence. Confidence will one day yield the crop of an orgasm or fainting (either, as a first, are a momentous occasion in the life of a chef) at one of your dinner parties. I have found no greater singular power over a crowd.
8. What role does technology such as computers play in your career?
At my last two chef jobs I have used a palm-OS based machine with a keyboard to record recipes on the fly in-between rushes. I have found this to be an invaluable tool in recording recipe adjustments. Although my keyboard now smells like fish.
9. What is the future outlook for this career? What about job security? Do you know of any possible changes in your job in the future?
As far as I'm concerned, people will always ask me to cook for them. Even if our great country is reduced to trading seashells for pretty rocks, good cooks will still be there, making something special using hollow boulders for reductions and seasoned car-fenders for sautée pans.
10. What is your specialty?
Nice stuff for the pretty people, or pretty stuff for the nice people.
11. How long have you been interested in this career? How long have you been cooking?
I stuffed pickle jars, peeled poached peaches, minded sun-ripened tomatoes, and tended an 1/8 acre garden in the Willamette Valley starting at age five. We couldn't afford real milk, so I was in charge of making sure we had mixed milk in the the fridge, all the time. We were poor, and necessity is the mother of all invention. I learned viscerally how to slaughter and prep most creatures with warm breath by watching it done at a very early age.
This career chose me. I fought my affinity for it for a long, long time. I stopped fighting a month ago. It's what I need, and have learned to love.
I've been cooking since the first day I realized one thing. If I didn't LEARN how to cook and preserve food for the winter, all my brothers and sisters, and my Dad, and my Mother, would all be hungry for a very long time.
12. What culinary school did you go to or where were you trained? Where or what type of school would you recommend?
The bulk of all useful knowledge in neatly arranged in libraries around the globe. More general information (which is generally more up-to-date), is usually well covered in periodicals specific to a particular industry. Periodicals tend to highlight useful areas to mine in a particular field.
All of the school-trained chefs I have worked with have been utter flunkies at dealing with people, following the chefs menu, turning over tickets, dealing with problems, and mustering the willingness to do what it takes to do the job right. Therefore I must recommend the school of hard knocks, which teaches the modern chef that in order to plate new food for rightnow tickets, old plates must be washed; in order to have a clean kitchen, the kitchen must be maintained in a cleanly fashion; in order to turn out inspirational food, the kitchen must be inspired.
Knowledge of how to cook well *can* be learned in school; knowledge of how to work in a kitchen is learned in kitchens. Listen to the knowledge of both, and you will sail over every obstacle with ease and grace.
13. What advice would you give someone going into this field?
1. A sharp knife is a safe knife.
2. Always cut toward your friends.
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Christopher Bacher, Miami Beach, FL