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Restaurant Kitchen Stories You Would Never Believe No. 2
If You Can't Stand The Heat...Get Out Of The Kitchen
When in the Culinary Arts industry, as a Chef I have had the opportunity to meet a wide range of people, personalities, and attitudes. Its never easy working over a 500 degree grill, which is next to a 4 basket fryer, sandwiched in between a 6 burner gas range. When you combine that with several overworked, underpaid, stressed cooks the equivalent can sometimes be disastrous. Tempers flare, pans get thrown, hell I even saw one of my Executive Chef's turn a refrigerator over one night in the heat of the moment. The defining results in most cases are bonds that are created between co-workers that are near unbreakable. It's the "I'll fight you right now and be your friend tomorrow!" mentality. Or in frequent cases, troubles are resolved over heavy drinking after a long shift. Clashes of people and personalities are inevitable. So when they say "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" it can be taken both literally and metaphorically, but either way take it seriously!
As you may have already guessed, throughout this entry, I'm going to share a couple of my own high strung accounts with bosses, coworkers, and college classmates. The fact of the matter is simple, some people just can't cut the mustard. They don't have what it takes to withstand the brutality of the industry, and for my first recollection there was a guy I went to school with that was a prime example.
In culinary school, there are a couple of things that are asked, expected, and required. The first is attendance. Developing good habits will take you a long way. I tell my employees "if your on time then your late". Since my beginnings in the restaurant business I have always been early, and it has set a precedent which bar none is top of the line. Another thing that is expected while in school is that you give 110%. You determine your own success however, the teachers are there for you and will help you excel as much as you are willing. The only person that can put forth the effort though is you. Lastly before I get into the interesting part of the story is they ask that you bring your passion. Someone can be taught text book material and processes but unless you love what you do and you truly devote yourself to being the best you can then success will be unlikely.
I had a classmate, mid 50's in age, a rather burly fellow. Intimidating to say the least. He was one of those guys who stuck out like a sore thumb really. A veteran, and unemployed he resorted to culinary school perhaps to fill his time, maybe he dreamed of opening a restaurant one day, who knows? What I do know is he had an attendance problem, never studied for his test, and gave off an unmistakable vibe of lack of interest overall in having someone teach him how to do something. The abscence of the willingness to learn or be taught may be why his custard pie in baking class came out green and soupy. I can remember the image of it to this day. Disgusting. Descriptively enough this sets the scene for the type of guy he was.
With that being said, it probably would surprise you that this guy did not want to do his own dishes either. Which everyone is responsible for, and when there are extras left at the end of the period on several occasions, its a natural reaction to figure out who not pulling there fair share. There was a solution!
Everyone had a pretty good idea that it was this fellow who even denied it when confronted. So one day throughout the duration of class, as he would leave his station to retrieve something, a fellow classmate would mark the underside of his dishes with a small dot from a permanent marker. Ingenious! At the end of class, when there were again extra dishes, they were flipped over to expose nothing other than tiny sharpie dots, revealing the violator. When confronted, he still denied with persistence. When the explanation of the black dots was given to him, he turned beet red, started hollering obscenities, and stabbed his knife into the wooden table top putting everyone on edge! No one knew how to anticipate his next move. The rather tiny pastry chef of our course, who I am sure was shaking in her little trotters, walked over and asked him to leave. Without hesitation he did to all of our relief, but he was never to be seen in the culinary program again. I assumed he was suspended or expelled.
Just goes to show that you can never know what to expect when people get stressed, put under a microscope, and clash personalities which is the daily life of a chef. 1 week before I graduated, which was about 8 months after the indecent, I turned a corner in our hallway and who do I see? That same knife-stabbing fellow, only this time toting a stethoscope and a thermometer. Who knows to this day how he slid his way into the nursing program. If anyone reads this and knows please tell me, because I am blown away and overcome with comic relief. Best of luck to you but I would prefer if you never operate on me sir.
On another note, there have been times in my career when I have been mad and can't think clearly. I recall, one particular instance in which I nearly came to blows with not only my sous chef, but he was also my roommate and good friend. What it often comes down to in preventative measures, is communication. The fundamental ingredient in any good kitchen. In this particular scenario that was lack there of. I do not recall the exact reason for the dispute, but when your in the weeds with tickets and dripping sweat on the line it can be hard to recall anything during that short amount of time other than what's in your face that very instant. To set the scene, it was a standard sized kitchen line with grill cook, saute cook, and expediter on either side of the window. On the line side was my sous chef and good friend. I must have done something wrong but it wasn't worth arguing over I know that. When he turned around and started yelling and hollering it found very easy to be engulfed with rage. All of the stress from the job itself at that busy point in the evening was expelled in those few moments and it was a necessary formality that someone stepped in to diffuse the situation. In my case, I stepped off the line, bowing down to my superior and went to cool off outside. After collecting my thoughts, returned to the line and finished out the dinner rush. Handling the situation as it comes is of utmost importance and as cooks. our main goal is to present people with good food and make them smile. After the shift was over he came to me I apologized for whatever petty issue it was(and probably my fault mind you) and we shook hands and overcame our obstacles. Those times are when the largest amount of learning occurs, or one who cannot understand will fail. It happens often times and in the most trying circumstances. Often times your biggest battle is yourself!
One of my last points for now on this topic, is getting along with your superiors. I mentioned this earlier, however It deems of enough value to me to highlight. Throughout my career, I have been blessed with a gift of a form of wisdom when it comes to this topic. Mostly experiential, but noteworthy nonetheless as I wish I would have had the knowledge that I do now when I was in these types of situations past. For me until recently, when I did not get along with someone, or see eye to eye with, my immaturity grabbed hold and prevented me from acknowledging the fact that someone else can be right, I can be wrong, and/or we could both be right or wrong about the same subject with slightly different views. There have admittedly been several instances in my time where if I did not necessarily agree with my boss, I found myself doing the things he hated most without getting in trouble. Just always pushing the boundaries or completely lack there of. This is wrong, in most cases. Now mind you, there are isolated incidents of harassment, bullying, or taking clear advantage of but usually it doesn't come to that. In retrospect, the lesson that I have learned is that I can spot when I am going to have a particular issue with someone in my work environment in advance. Whether its going to be an argument that night, or a developing situation where I know i'm going to have a problem interacting with a person on a day to day basis. My advice, nip it in the bud. Sit down with that person, your boss or whoever, and discuss the matter courteously, respectfully, and professionally. It goes a long way, and if it cant be resolved then sometimes you just have to deal with it. Remember, usually you both have the same end goal in mind no matter how you go about it. Your boss is superior for a reason. If you have a problem with that, then work your ass off to get where he/she is at and then do things the way you see fit. Otherwise, knuckle down and do the job to the best of your ability