Friday, June 29, 2007


I wrote this back in September of '06. It started out to be a rant against that show,"Hells Kitchen" where the Chef glorifies being an asshole, gets results by scowling , gains respect by being a big-shot Prick, and perpetuates the Myth that Chefs are Maniacs. I spent a lot of time trying to write this, and when I finished, I found that I was every bit rabid as the guy on the show. So I spent more time trying to soften it up and in the end, it wasn't even about Hells Kitchen anymore.
I never did post it, and I hope that show is off the air forever.

I was a Chef for almost 25 years. Its a great demands a superior work ethic, an eye for detail, a love for food and people. You may not be Artistic; I wasn't, but in time you will develop a Visual Style.
Most people do not realize that it is a very physical job. This is why you see more male Professional Chefs than female. You move a lot of 50 pound boxes and 15 gallon pots and a large skillet with product could weigh 20-25 pounds while you are "one arming" it from the stovetop to the prep table.
Try making a 90 Yolk batch of Hollandaise and you will find yourself vigorously whisking for 15 minutes. A 50 gallon batch of Honey-Mustard is made with a 4' Whip in 60 gallon trash can.
Trays and mirrors for Buffets can weigh a couple hundred pounds. A block of Ice for carving weighs 350 pounds.
Piping out 2000 Duchess Potato's from a pastry bag will build some forearms that look like Calf muscles.
The hours are long and the pay average. There are Waitresses and Barmaids. You can fall in love with it.
You are never really hungry and you are never really cold.
You have to move your ass, which is wrapped up pretty tight all the time.
Sanitation is at the front of everything you do. I don't think there was a word one concerning proper food handling techniques on "hells Kitchen".

The kitchen is a great environment for learning what hands on management is. I did not go to School, I went to work and this is part of what I learned:
1) When your people hit the door you say 'Good Morning" and brief them on the business of the day.
2) You are present as someone starts a project so you can demonstrate and explain the particulars and the formula of the operation.
3) You check production and assist in the middle of a project in order to fine tune the procedure and insure quality is maintained.
4) You are there as a project is finished to check counts and quality and redirect the staff to the next task.
5) You de-brief your people at the end of their day to insure any issues will be addressed and to give an overview of the next days business.

You stay calm and and always say "Good Morning".
You teach, you train and you inform.
You do the opposite of what they do on "Hells Kitchen".
That guy is a Master Chef- but he is a European Master and they are quite common.
You would not believe what it takes to be an ACF Certified Master...there are not very many of them... ...the success rate for the 2-weeks of testing is 15%. Seems like a few years ago there were 60 in the world. I worked for a Chef that went for the testing and came back on the 4th day.
Anyone in charge of two or more people will find out teams are not built by humiliation and intimidation. If people are not doing what you want them to, its probably because you didn't tell them what you wanted or take the time to be involved in the Operation.

It takes intelligent planning and commitment to training people, people being your greatest asset.
It takes providing a learning and growing environment.
It takes a lot of tact and tender loving care.

Any oversights or memory lapses or inefficiencies have severe consequences.
What makes a cook sweat? It has less to do with the heat and more to do with knowing he is not ready for business.
There are no extensions, no grace periods, no coming back tomorrow to finish up the lunch for 500 people at noon today. The reality is that Lunch starts at 12:00, not 12:15 and it all has to be there.
The thrill of pulling it off is like no other and it takes everybody involved being on their best behavior.

Especially the Chef.

Thanks Grizzbabe and


GEWELS said...

What a nice post- I can add that those "nicer" qualities also help in raising children- Gee I wish I had those when mine were little.
I betcha Gordon Ramsey is a dreadful father, and you, Steve, a keeper.

Akelamalu said...

Well that's left me in no doubt - I wouldn't want to be a chef, it's damned hard work!!

Great post Steve.

Old Lady said...

I have a couple of nightmare stories I've been storing for the future. Just may pop one out this weekend! Chef Horror stories, Bwahahahahah.

GrizzBabe said...

Refresh my memory. What did I do to warrant your gratitude?

Barbara said...

Just reading this makes me nervous. Coming from a family of 3 and having a family of 4, I never learned how to cook in large quantities. So the idea of Hollandaise with 90 eggs simply blows my mind. I picture myself opening those eggs and just as I dump in the 89th egg realizing it is rotten.

When I cook for a dinner party, I have a master time line for every single thing I need to do. Otherwise, I am likely to leave something half-made in the refrig.

I find this post incredibly interesting because we always wonder what really goes on behind the kitchen doors of an upscale restaurant.

If I ever give another really big party, I may just have to fly you in to manage the kitchen!

Head Duck Wrangler said...

Excellent Management Story - a version of that would read well in Business Week!
Quack, Quack!

soubriquet said...

Gordon Ramsay is famous here for being an utter prick.
In recent times the 'Celebrity Chef' has become a fixation of cheap tv programming.
And spats between rival chefs hit the news regularly. One who was local to me was Marco Pierre White, who trained Gordon Ramsay.... "Marco does, however, accept some responsibility for creating what he calls the “monster Ramsay” by exposing the future star of Hell’s Kitchen to daily rituals of humiliation, foul language, flying knives and almost unbearable pressure, as was the norm behind the scenes at Harveys. But Ramsay could take it. In fact, it wasn’t until his last day before going off to work for Albert Roux at Le Gavroche that the then youngster cracked.
“I can’t remember what it was about, but I yelled at him and he lost it. The next thing I knew he was sobbing in the corner, holding his head in his hands, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He was saying things like, ‘I don’t care what you do to me. Hit me. I don’t care.’”
Marco insists that his harsh regime at Harveys was not manufactured. “I was just concerned with what was going on people’s plates. If you hadn’t been to Harveys you hadn’t been anywhere.” Ramsay has gone on to be a bigger star, but Marco doesn’t regard him as a chef at all, not any more.
“You can’t be a chef and appear on television all the time. It’s impossible. At least when I earned my stars I was always behind my stove."
It seems some chefs rely on fear to dominate their staff, Ramsay certainly does, but as you say, I can't see that such a regime will bring the best out of a team.

Mother of Invention said...

I can see how it would take a lot of calm, patience and planning to pull off a good job.

I sure couldn't do it...I'm not really an admin and manager of people type plus I can't cook !

No wonder you got burned out.

red dirt girl said...

hey! do you remember that scene in the shining where Jack Nicholson says,"i'm back ...." or something like that.

i never liked this show. i don't like people who enjoy belittling others in public. i don't like people who enjoy belittling others - period.

steve said...

Gewels- it all just comes down to having good manners and being polite, no?

Malu;its very hard work.

Ol lady; Looking forward to it...I don't have to tell you that even good chefs can be assholes!

I wish i could remember...probably had something to do with you and the collaboration you had with Success Coach for a while.

barbara; i'd love to come up...but I keep telling my daughter that I can't cook worth a damn anymore...i keep trying to 'wing-it" like I know what i am doing, but itas not my second nature anymore...I actually have to use a measuring cup to make pancakes these days...I havent used a measuring cup since i don't know when!

Business Week? Really? Royalties?

souby; That sounds about right...what I don't say in the Post is that most Chefs go through a Stage like hells kitchen before they discover that all the Drama isvery uneccessary and then we spend years unlearning what Ramsey is selling.

mom- i bet yiou make a nice rhubarb pie!

RDG- Wecome back, so sorely missed you have wonder i have lost my inspuiration/ really says a lot about people, don't it, when Simon cowell, Donald "You're fired " Trump, and Jerry Springer become folk heros for just being small and mean...

red dirt girl said...

my thoughts exactly, cowboy ! it's good to be back and take 'my place' in the line-up ..... hee, hee.