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A Question for Sous Chefs/Former Sous Chefs

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
So I have a question for those of you who are currently or have been in the role of Sous Chef. My head chef is great. He's been in the business about 40 years, took me under his wing when I was doing dishwashing/prep and basically taught me 99% of what I know. I have tremendous respect for this man, like a second father.

The only problem is that he's getting into his late fifties now, and because we are a small kitchen, him and I are mostly responsible for all of the cooking, ordering, scheduling; pretty much everything except for the dishwashing and cleaning (and we still pitch in there fairly often too). He is starting to forget things. It's not like Alzheimer's or anything, but he occasionally forgets the names of sauces or confuses the name of one dish with another. He is also clearly overdoing it physically, and I'm worried about him when we hit the busy season and start doing 12-hour days on a regular basis.

I'm looking for advice on how to handle this situation, which is obviously kind of delicate. I don't feel right about correcting him, but I don't want him to be embarassed by having the wait staff tell someone that Chicken Marsala is Chicken Francaise or whatever. I also think it might be a good idea to hire another cook and let him be a little more hands-off so he doesn't overdo it, but again, I feel uncomfortable suggesting that he can't handle it. We serve banquets no larger than 250 here, and he came from Carribean hotels where he was serving thousands. He looks at this job as something to keep him busy during retirement. He's a humble man, but still has a lot of professional pride.

Thanks in advance for any advice you guys can give me!
post #2 of 15
Repeat after me: " I can do that for you Chef!".
Start trying to take on more of the load.
It is unlikely that there is room in the budget for another cook, so it will be the two of you.
You have to handle this delicately, as you don't want him thinking you are trying to push him out.
If you are comfortable, a heart to heart, assuring him of your intentions, could be a way to go.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
post #3 of 15
I could tell you do this or do that but, What he should do is get a physical there could be more behind being tired and forgetfulness. He just isn't walking into the walk in refer and forget what he went there for, "LIKE I DO". He is forgeting names of main dishes. If you care about this guy, as it looks like you do, Have him see a Doctor.....Bill
post #4 of 15
Thread Starter 
Well, fortunately, we actually do have the option of adding another cook, but only for the summer/fall, which makes it hard to find anyone reliable. Maybe a culinary student?

I don't think he would ever think I was taking his job; we have the kind of relationship where if he went somewhere else I would probably follow. We are friends beyond the workplace so I can generally talk to him, I just feel particularly sensitive about correcting someone who was a chef before I was born! :) I guess what I'm looking for is the best way to handle it, which I guess may just discussing it honestly...
post #5 of 15
How would you want to be treated in a similar situation? Go from there. If he is an old guy help him out, he did make an effort to teach you didn't he?
Fluctuat nec mergitur
Fluctuat nec mergitur
post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 
I have managed to get him to go to a doctor about his shoulder, and they said he's in the beginning stages of arthritis. It's good that he caught it early, but I worry about how it will limit him when we're busy. Frankly, I'm willing to work as hard as need be and just let him direct me, but sometimes we don't have enough staff for either of us to stop moving.

As far as the memory issues go, I'm scared to bring it up, and I've been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he recently confused Mornay sauce with a seafood sauce...this is a guy who's earned awards for his work as a saucier.
post #7 of 15
Is he on any medication that could be causing the confusion such as high blood pressure medicine? Also, diabetes can cause loss of concentration and confusion. Can he work the board O.K? i was out of this business for some years, and when I came back to it I could only track about 3 tickets at a time. I can do a lot more now, but it took awhile to get it back and I can't hold things in my head like I could when I was younger. I'm also not nearly as fast as I used to be. I am well aware of this and have taught my crew to be better than I am. It's like that song about I'm not as good as I once was. No shame in it, it's just how it is. I admire you for your concern and respect for this man. Many people in your position would see this as a chance to advance themselves at his expense. Be proud of yourself for being better than that. I hope everything works out well for both of you.
post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 
I'd still be washing dishes all day if it weren't for him. Gunning for a head chef job would not only be arrogant (I've only been in the kitchen 4 years, I have a lot to learn), but it would ungrateful. I guess there are lots of head chef/sous chef partnerships which are competitive, but I can't imagine working like that.
post #9 of 15
you are lucky to have each other..... how does he realize that he's mistaking sauces? Is it just the names or is he putting the wrong sauce on a dish?
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #10 of 15
This is my take on what I percieve be be the problem your chef is having. Please bear in mind, I mean no harm or disrespect to your chef.

Most likely he is the victim of time and genetics. Time allows accumulation. In this case the accumulation of damage from chronic inflammation. This inflammation, to some extent, comes from an unhealthy lifestyle. We all know the drill--diet, exercise, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, drugs abused(illegal use), drugs not abused(prescribed medications), chronic stress and a host of environmental things like smog, airbourne allergens, chemical exposure, sun exposure etc.

The body naturally fights against these things but is often overwhelmed by the level of inflammation that occurs. Damage to the various systemic cells occurs and eventually the systems start to decline or head towards failure. Greyeaglem has already indicated a couple of the diseases that are common for people in the age group of your chef. You may not be aware of these conditions but you do know about the arthritis and you are seeing/observing some level of mental deterioration in your chef.

The big question is, can your chef reverse the damage and improve his condition. I believe so and will give you a personal example. I'm reasonably near your chef in age. Early last year my weight had gone up again to near its highest ever level. Physical activity was a real chore and I noticed some real problems with my memory. In particular remembering passwords on the computer. I would even write them down and then couldn't remember where I put them. As spring came on I got much more active by sheer force of will. I started eating much more healthily all with the goal of losing weight. When I lost about 25 lbs my memory improved noticeably. I felt better and could function better both physically and mentally. I have continued to eat better although the physical activity went down over the winter.

In relation to some forms of vascular/heart diseases Dr Dean Ornish has shown that by changing diet one can actually reverse these conditions noticeably. The dietary changes are severe but it does work which shows that the body wants to be in a healthy state. Less severe dietary changes and healthy living information can be found from Dr Mehmet Oz and Dr Roizen, the You on a Diet guys.

You chef most likey needs medical intervention for things like arthritis, diabetes, hypertension or any other condition he may have but experience has shown that a healthy lifestyle oftens reduces the need from medications. As greyeaglem pointed out sometimes the medications we take can cause other problems.

Genetically some peoples bodies deal with all these things better than other people. We can't change our genetic but we can change much of our lifestyle.

My best wishes to your friend/chef.
post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
jbd: I appreciate the feedback. I don't like to think about there being any serious health problem, but if it's there it's best to deal with it before it's too late. I think he'll be open to lifestyle changes, and hopefully that will make an all around difference. I'm young and already feeling the strain of long days, so I can imagine what 40 years feels like.
post #12 of 15
I know this sounds simple but i have worked with some older chefs who cook to perfection and all thay seem to do is make notes before service so that they have something to prompt them during service.hope this helps a little.
post #13 of 15
I perceive great things in you simply because you are smart enough to realize you have a lot to learn. You wouldn't believe the people I have dealt with that didn't know jack and thought they knew everything. I remember working a place that started up with a crew that had all worked together in another place. One guy was very humble and always said he didn't deserve to wear a chef hat because he didn't have the background the other guys did and that he only had it because they brought him along for the ride. Know what? He had more brains and could execute things better than they ever could. I often wonder what ever happened to him. This was so many years ago and I can only remember his first name was Tom. Your posts remind me so much of him. So, to the cheftalk community: If your name is Tom and you ever worked at a place called Marshall's in Minnesota City, MN., I still remember you and expect you went on to do very well for yourself.
post #14 of 15
He really should start with a comprehensive physical which includes a substantial battery of blood work. He may also need some imaging procedures, i.e MRI, CAT etc, based on the findings of the history and physical exam. All of this can be quite expensive and I don't know what his health insurance situation is so it may not be possible. Just shooting from the hip, I would think he should get checked for diabetes and many times there are local screening programs that are free or low cost. Diabetes, if he has it, needs medical control/supervision. Done correctly it can really improve the quality of ones life. In many cases it also will respond favorably to changing to a healthy lifetstyle. By that I mean he might eventually be able to come off medications for diabetes. Next medical problem that needs to be addressed is high blood pressure. This also can respond well to lifestyle changes.

I don't know if your friend/chef smokes but if he does; the single smartest thing he can do for himself is to quit smoking as quickly as possble. Most people really don't understand the level of damage smoking does throughout the body.

All of these things can be a tough nut to crack, especially quitting smoking. Again warm, best wishes to your friend. I really hope he can pull it off.
post #15 of 15
The Guy is in his late 50's tell him to get a physical and be done with it. You can't figure out anything untill you start eliminating things. If his physical comes back ok then hes just not as sharp in the kitchen as he used to be. There's nothing wrong with that, God only knows I was faster on the front line when I was 30. If he is just forgetting then reconfigure the front line with him and make it a simpler way of doing things. You run the tickets and he runs a station. Grill, broiler, fryer, or whatever. You may hav eto pick up 60% of the line and give him 40%. You may also have to give adish person so fryer duties during the busy time. Make the line easier for him to handle. Just because you doing it one way now, it doesn't mean its the best way for him. ............If hes married call his wife and tell her your concerns..............Bill
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