the chef is always right, even when he is wrong.
I've been in this industry for some time now and I see some troubling things developing among young cooks. A number of the things which I am concerned about may not come as any surprise to someone who has been observing, particularly if they have been observing for some time now. Some of the things may be purely circumstantial or even relative to the area. However, the most troubling item on this list of developments among this generation of cooks entering our kitchens is purely the lack of willingness.
Of course, if you're reading this after your first few garde manger shifts at your first restaurant job in a major metropolis, chances are you are not among the unwilling I speak of. The unwilling I speak of are the non-career types who have very little understanding of the commitment we as chefs had to make in order to lead in a kitchen. The sacrifice and discipline, the physical and mental abuse, the drudgery. There is a growing population among kitchen employees who arrive and depart as their schedule dictates, not a minute more or less, and wouldn't dare read a cookbook on their free time. This is the population lacking in the willingness I speak of.
While I already stand a great risk of sounding like the old "when I was a young cook" type chef - I do want to make one thing clear:
...when I was a young cook, if you did not submit, you did not succeed. Sorry, I said it.
It is true though, and this meant a number of things but most importantly it meant whatever the chef said was law. Fucking LAW!
That meant going against whatever it was that the chef said was a punishable offense. Disagreeing or dissenting in any way, shape or form was the fastest way to a shift full of harassment and humiliation. Quite possibly a number of shifts would continue this way until you showed, like an obedient dog, that you were willing to surrender your willingness to that of your leader, the chef.
Today things are different. NYC paid sick leave has made cooks calling out a daily occurrence, something I wouldn't have imagined of unless I was bleeding out of 3 or more places in my body (asshole not included). Human Resource Departments have become the protective mother figure to cooks - standing between them and their drunk, abusive father - the chef. Spread of hours (SOH) by payroll departments giving a fixed flat rate to hourly employees once they pass 10 hours on any given shift makes chefs actually care how long these people have been standing in their kitchens for (or at least the labor cost aware chefs care).
I am not saying all of these things are directly responsible or even bad. HR has backed me up enough times about misunderstandings due to language barriers and such to be forever in my personal debt. I love HR.
The issue is with the cooks who come for a job not knowing what they are signing up for. The cooks who wouldn't read a cookbook on their day off or care what Paul Kahn is doing in Chicago right now. The cooks who leave me and other chefs absolutely dumbfounded when they disagree, don't respond, or dare to argue.
Don't be that cook.
Don't hire that cook unless you are certain that demeanor will not spread amongst your brigade.
I once had a cook absolutely drowning during service. He absolutely couldn't get caught up and needed to be kicked off station by me. Once I took over his station I did the only thing I could imagine would resonate in terms of the level he cared about his job:
I made him stand in the corner and face the wall for the remainder of service.
It worked, he actually made a real turnaround in months to follow.
There are so many humans beginning work in kitchens asking for advice and its really quite simple. My favorites are the ones asking on Reddit and getting these paragraph long advice columns from others. I always try to add my two cents:
"keep your head down, hands out of your pockets, be willing and shut up."
ok.. maybe its 3 or 4 cents.
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