Greetings ChefTalk forum. I just joined after reading several rants and feedback from other people on various situations. A little about me, I'm 28 years old, I graduated from my local technical colleges Culinary Program when I was 24. I grew up in the UK until I was 8 years old then moved to Georgia here in the US, where I grew up the rest of the way. I've been cooking scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, and pancakes since I was 5 years old, worked bunch of fast food jobs through high school, got lost in music from 19-23 then figured out I should do something professional so I stuck with what I know, food. Went to my local tech school, which was far cheaper than any of the well-known private culinary institutions (thank you state of Georgia) and graduated with a 4.0 (not very hard) and landed an internship at a seasonal private member-owned country club in the mountains of North Carolina. I worked for 3 summers at this club, the third one I was promoted to Jr Sous Chef and in charge of all garde manger banquet production, staff training, and had full creative control. At this specific club is where I was molded as a cook and aspiring Chef by my mentor whom is a CIA grad from back in the late 80's. He came up in the Jersey area under old-school viscous Austrian and German Chefs which also mirrored into him as well. Apparently the first couple of Chef's you work for have a large impact on who you become as a cook (more on that later). So this guy was/is Italian, he's still to this day the hardest working Chef I've ever seen, pulling easily 100 hour weeks, no days off and still outworking people half his age. He's a maniac, but he taught me how to "push" and heavily impacted the man I am today. Everything we did was done properly and with integrity, no corners cut, no standards sacrificed ever. I also, in between summers in the mountains, worked for 6 months at a platinum country club in Naples Florida for a younger executive Chef who was Chef De Cuisine for CMC Russell Scott for 7 years. Obviously, the standards of practice at this place were VERY HIGH, all the cooks including myself were pulling 70+ hour weeks, always "pushing" striving to be better than the day before. So for the first part of the story, I started my roots in this industry professionally working with Chefs and cooks who have a certain level of intensity and high standard of practice, which is how it should be imho.
So onto my main reason for posting! After my last season at the club in the mountains I decided to locate to the Tampa Bay area with my girlfriend (who just graduated from hospitality college). We moved here because she got an entry-level banquet management job at a private member owned yacht club. Me being a cook, I was like "yeah let's go I can get a job anywhere", being confident in my abilities. So my first job I got was at a corporate owned golf resort at their "fine-dining" steakhouse, my first real a la carte gig. They threw me on grill and I quickly learned how to fabricate all the meats and was executing the station just fine within a couple weeks, doing up to 150 covers an evening with very little send backs, maybe 3 I needed to cook a little more the whole time I was there :p Within 3 months of being at this place I got kind of bored. I'm the type of person that thrives on variety and being able to create, which I realize isn't always going to happen in this industry, there is monotony, no way around it. Monotony is our version of rituals which is part of my obsession with food in general. But the thing that really bothered me on a deeper level and started to make me question my being there was how they made their "demi-glace". Essentially we made veal stock, only let it go for around 8 hours total cook time and then they would cornstarch slurry it to thicken it. Also the Chef was Serbian here and he put star anise in the "demi" which I found odd as well. This is at a very expensive steakhouse where you order, say an 8oz filet for 42 bucks and you only get the filet, some mixed greens and a squiggle of beet puree on the plate with "demi". Not to mention the very expensive side items. A side of asparagus, which consists of 11 asparagus thrown on the flat top by the "lead cook", drenched in oil, and then left to hold until time to plate in the grease gutter, this costed 11 dollars. TO me ethically as a young cook who actually gives a crap I didn't want to be a part of this anymore. So I decided to seek out other opportunities in the area. Turns out famous Chef's Michael Mina and Don Pintabona were opening a new gourmet, Chef-Driven market in St. Petersburg, FL. I visited and it was like culinary Disney world, all sorts of fine ingredients for sale, numerous open kitchens where you could buy fresh-made take out meals, which were all really tasty. I decided to apply, having been at the steakhouse for only 3 months. I got an interview and landed a job in the fruit and vegetable kitchen where we made fresh pasta dishes, a la minute, with pastas and sauces made fresh daily in the pasta kitchen, salads, fresh juices, and a plethora of different antipasta items for our showcase. When I was at my interview for the market I told the Chef I would like to work out a 2 weeks notice at the steakhouse and he said ok you start Thursday, which was 2 days from the time of my interview. Being that the owners were two very well known Chef's I didn't argue and I resigned from the steakhouse. 3 months into this venture I began to realize that I didn't really get into the Culinary business to work in a retail setting, cooking in front of customers. It was a really good experience all in all though, I got chewed out by Michael Mina for "beating the pasta up" with tongs instead of using a rubber spatula :p The Chef at the yacht club my gf was a banquet manager at contacted me about a grill cook position he had open and he wanted to give me the job, I didn't seek this out. The yacht club was a lot closer to my home, paid more money, I didn't have $60 a month parking fee for a parking deck, and I would be in the kitchen really cooking so I accepted the position. I worked out my 2 weeks at the market and the executive chef said if I ever wanted to come back, the door was open.
So back in the private club business I go. Here is really the main reason for posting. I started out on grill and essentially taught myself the station setup and execution by trial and error. The Chef would hop on the line from time to time and check the temps on my steaks and lamb but not much else. The executive sous guided me in whatever preparations I had questions about. 3 months in here the saute cook was tired of the place and left so I had the chance to take over on saute. The Chef pulled me in the office at this point and said I would be moving to saute and that he wanted to mold it into a lead position for me, but there was no pay raise at this point. I agreed obviously, I was ready to cook. Took me a couple weeks to wrap my head around the mise en place and execution of saute, which included fabricating my fish, making various purees, blanching vegetables daily and making some vinaigrettes and some infused oils. Relatively simple, natural, club cuisine. I have always been trained to work aggressively and with a sense of urgency and purpose. My first Chef instilled this in me by continuously putting his foot in my ass and pushing me to be more efficient and quick with my hands. When I enter a kitchen it is like a switch is flicked, outside of work I'm a relatively calm and peaceful person, but as soon as I'm at work there is a ferocity that is unlocked and I feel like a wild yet controlled animal at times, hunting down his prey, but in my case I'm hunting down ingredients and completing my prep for the day. Anyway from day one at this yacht club I noticed that others around didn't necessarily have the same characteristics as far as work was concerned as I did. Lot's of grumbling and griping and sliding feet around the kitchen, whining to the Executive Sous about some drama in their life, and just a lack of "push". And as soon as anyone caught wind that the last order was in, everyone in this place would move fast as hell, way quicker than they had all day to break their station down and get out of there. Cleaning standards were not what I was used to. It was clear that minus a couple of people,the banquet sous and executive sous, that this was just a job and paycheck. This really started to wear on me mentally, day in and day out I strive to be better and push harder and learn something new, but it was literally beginning to feel like trudging through a swamp. Over the next few months up until my last days at the club are what I finally need some opinions on my course of action.
Situation 1: One day I am doing my normal day to day prepping my station for the dinner service and all of a sudden I hear the Chef having a meltdown, screaming about cucumbers for a salad. He throws a plate. So me being me I yell, "Chef what do you need?!" He's like, "I need cucumbers sliced properly for this effing salad!." The night time salad lady had not sliced the cucumbers long enough for the very simple, banquet popular, cucumber wrapped baby greens salad. All the while she's just standing there dumbfounded and getting her panties in a wad because Chef was mad. So I run to the walk-in grab a cucumber and slice it to the proper specifications to satisfy Chef's immediate need for his salad on the tasting for the wedding. I delivered them to him and he thanked me. Come a couple hours later he pulls me in the office and starts to chastise me to a certain extent stating that because I had apparently swooped in when the salad girl was frozen with her feelings hurt and solved his immediate need for cucumbers I had in turn hurt her feelings even more and she felt like I was trying to pull one over on her??! He said himself he didn't really know if I did anything wrong but I needed to be more considerate of peoples feelings? I told him to me it seemed a little strange and that I was not used to working in an environment where something like this could happen. He dismissed me and I went back to work.
Situation 2: Here it is now around Christmas time and I come in early one morning and I'm discussing with the Banquet Sous Chef the plan for the day and goals for mise en place, etc. The executive steward, whom is a Hispanic man with limited English capabilities, approaches us with a box of empty sterno cans and begins to ask us who had put them back on the shelf in the storage area. The Sous and I just kind of stand there and shrug, obviously no idea who the hell had done it and didn't really care. The guy sits there and keeps saying, "who did it, who did it?" Then he looks at me and says, "you did it, you did it." I was amazed and humored at this point that he was actually this worried about a box of empty sterno cans, just throw the fugging things away jesus! I'm kind of sarcastic at times, I think most cooks probably are to a certain extent, so I look at him and in my sarcastic bewilderment I say, "I didn't do it! It was probably effing Leo!" And I chuckled, and he called me a bitch. Leo on a side note was this guys son, whom up to this point I had always respected and got along with fine, always tried to organize the pit for them so their jobs were easier and put dirty things where they wanted them. So into the Chefs office I go again, like an effing grade schooler. Leo, the guys son is sitting in a chair. Chef asks me what happened, and is completely pissed and irate. I calmly tell him exactly what happened. He asks me if I have a problem with Leo, I say no and I'm completely dumbfounded by the question. Then he asks Leo if he has a problem with me, and mysteriously he says yes he does and goes on to tell a series of bold faced lies about how I throw stuff on the floor and order him to clean it up and all sorts of other crazy things that never happened! I was flabbergasted and told Chef I had no clue what he was talking about. So in conclusion to this nonsensical situation I leave the office, not really in trouble, but still a really strange situation in my opinion for how things should be handled in a kitchen.
Situation 3: Winding this post down here if you're still reading. So here we are in May of this year 2016, I'm still grinding on the Saute station doing Vegan specials every week. Ponzu fried tofu, black and green bamboo rice, yellow caulflower and edamame, yuzu soy vinaigrette with marcona crumble. Flavors of Sofrito: Saffron infused cauliflower puree, black rice, slow roasted tomatoes, caramelized spring onions, crispy confit of heirloom potatoes, and smoked red pepper vinaigrette, a couple of my over-complicated creations :) But there is a guy who's from the Art Institute who started out as an intern and worked the grill for a few months, I showed him the ropes, taught him better knife skills, how to prepare collard greens properly (he was discarding his pot liquor :p), amongst any other preparation he needed help with. Taught him how to be efficient and how he needed to move his ass if he didn't want to go down in flames. He failed miserably for the first few weeks then finally got to where he could hang, then ended up being pretty good. It was nice to see someone grow like that, and one of the first people I had combed myself. School started back after his internship and he moved to PT banquet help and doing beach service on the weekends. We got along pretty well, he would get grumpy sometimes and try to challenge me on silly things and we butted heads a few times but always ended in him apologizing and realizing he was being a moron. After a really busy night for a la carte, 120 covers or so, about 70 on my side at least with no help in the middle. Me cooking every component to my dishes and plating them all (not sure if this is normal in a elevated dining setting), got beat up a little but no major hiccups in service. This particular evening we had a dishwasher not show up leaving only 2, the banquet crew decided to jump in and help out. I'm trying to wind down for the evening minding my own business breaking down my station, imagining what I could have done faster, more efficient etc, the normal mental routine I go through after service. I take my spoons in their bain maries and water and put them at the 3 compartment sink, where my amigos who work there always tell me to put them. Just so happens the ex-grill guy was over there this evening. I didn't think anything of it and continue to break down my station and all of a sudden he comes up to me with a thing of my spoons. He says, "are these your spoons?" I said yes they are my spoons what's up? He says in a very aggressive tone as he's walking to the dish machine area, "you know those don't go there!" At this point I had it, I spotted him several times throughout the evening just staring at a wall somewhere in the in-between time that banquets here have while I was getting hammered. So I looked at him and said loud and clear GFY! I then explained that I always put my spoons there and that's where the amigos want me to put them. He tried to disagree. I told him I didn't ask him to was dishes anyway and if he waited just a few more minutes I would gladly come wash all the dishes at the pot sink he was at. He's raising hell at this point saying, I wasn't allowed to talk to him like that blah blah blah, when he was the one that instigated the crap. I'm not a pushover, I do realize sometimes you have to swallow it and shut up, but this is a guy who is way less experienced than me and whom I spent a lot of time training and encouraging in his earlier stages. Who the hell is he to even try and confront someone about something so silly as to a bain marie of spoons? This is the kind of crap that happened in this kitchen. No professionalism, no strong leadership from the Chef to put everyone in their place, so it's like dog eat dog, then when something happens he addresses it like a high school principal. Very strange to me. So the next day I get pulled in the office again, strike number 3. Chef says he heard about what happened and that he hadn't even talked to the other guy yet (who got there 3 hours before I did!) Then he says, "this is the 3rd time I've had you in here for something." I explained to him what happened, the new guy barked at me about something stupid imho, and I barked back at him. I told the Chef I wasn't going to take crap, he's a line cook, I'm a line cook. Had I been in a position of management, yes I would have conducted myself in a different manner. So with all this being said, my girlfriend actually worked at this place as well as a banquet manager and 2 weeks before this last incident had put in basically a 5 month notice, which in retrospect was probably not the best idea. Of course, it being a small club I had to inform my Chef that I would be leaving as well which was really hard to swallow. It was like the idea of working out 10 2 weeks notices. I got through 2 weeks and then this incident happened so I felt I had no choice but to resign there on the spot. The Chef told me I could leave then without a reference, work out a shorter notice and get a reference, or stay on. I felt in my gut it was best to get out of there at that moment. I was a knot on a log essentially so why wait any longer? I signed my paper of resignation. The Chef said man this sucks, but didn't really seem to care at the same time. He told me I was a hell of a cook and thanked me for all my hard work. BUT I asked him if I put my experience down there on my resume if he would dog me out to a new potential employer, and he said if they asked he would tell them what went down. That's what scares me as I'm about to move to North Carolina and have several prospective new employers that I am ready to settle down in for the next several years and progress as a cook. The Culinary Scene and philosophy in the triangle area of NC is far different from that of the Tampa Bay Area in Florida, so I have no doubt I will find a good place to work at and stay. One place I have spoken to is quite corporate and the Chef's want to hire me, the only thing is I have to make it through the HR process which includes contacting previous employers for employment verification and then references. Here's another curveball. I'm not sure if they will contact the head Chef at the Yacht Club to verify that I worked there, or if they will press for more information. On the flip-side though, the executive sous chef at this Yacht Club has given me permission to use her as a reference and was totally apologetic to me about the way things ended for me there. Crazy situation, and a lot to digest in this long post I know. Some input would be greatly appreciated if you read it all. I am just a man, who completely believes in embodying the principles of a person whom has the ability to manicure ingredients from the earth and provide something delicious for other humans to enjoy. At the end of the day that's all I want to do, and to the best of my ability. No whining, no cutting corners, and no half assing things. Comments please.