Sunday, May 1, 2016

Chef Life: The 'F' Word

Got your attention?  I didn't even have to write the word, you just knew.  Working in professional kitchens is hot, hard, exhausting work; long hours, standing on your feet all day, directing a staff, or being directed.  The role of the head chef is like the conductor of the symphony, directing and moving people through the system so that every job is done correctly, and on time.  If you have watched any reality shows about working in professional kitchens you know that some chefs are pure professionals, working alongside their staff, training them, making sure that they are well prepared for the working day and night ahead. Professionals, they are comfortable in their abilities, and their own skin.  They teach, and work alongside their staff as a team, they will peel vegetables, or wash dishes if the work needs to be done.  Their orchestra is working together to make beautiful music, or in this case beautiful food that they can be proud of.    
This is a photo from the French Laundry, you can see that each chef is doing his own job, meticulously plating the food, or preparing for the next dishes.  The head chefs have trained them well, and are confident in everyones' ability; that doesn't mean that they will accept anything less than perfection, it does mean that they expect excellence and they get it.  There is no chaos here, just orderly preparation, with the kitchen orchestra performing an elegant piece. 
The other side of this coin, are the chefs who rant and rave at their staff, belittling them, swearing non-stop for no apparent reason. These chefs are tyrants, threatened by everything and everyone, swearing with every other word they utter and throwing their staff under the bus whenever they can since they don't want to take responsibility for their own lack of knowledge and direction in the kitchen. They are disruptive, unhelpful, and no one learns from them; instead the staff either tunes them out, or collapses into tears of frustration. If these chefs were conducting an orchestra it would sound like every note was off-key, with the instruments out of tune, because these chefs are incapable of conducting the food is either cold, poorly seasoned, or both.  These chefs would not lower themselves to do menial tasks, since they feel that they are better than that.  
Chef Gordon Ramsey, who's only vocabulary consists of the F-word with many endings
OK, I get it, a kitchen can be a dangerous place, spilling scalding water or oil over yourself

or lighting your sleeve on fire might elicit a string of words you might not otherwise utter, you cut yourself, or it's so darned hot you just want to spew.

But in the grand scheme of things, does swearing at your staff really accomplish anything other than lowering their respect for you, and realizing that you are threatened by everyone and everything that happens in the kitchen?  If anyone has worked for you any length of time, they get it, and they know you have nothing to offer, so you cover it up with bluster and offensive language---that's Jr. high, not real life.
Kitchens can just as easily be places of calm, even with loud music in the background, if everyone is concentrating on their work, the kitchen hums along without a bump in the service.  The f-word spewing chefs won't leave people alone, they are bullies, find victims, and they are merciless.
I've worked with both types of chefs, and I can tell you who I'd rather work for; someone who  is confident in their abilities, with a smooth, orderly kitchen, not the despotic screamer whose only skill is to belittle and swear at their staff.  Ciao for now. 

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