Tired

There’s a point where you don’t have any fight left in you. Where you know you know better. But you still failed, and still gave up. 

Because you’re done. You don’t have any fight left. 

And that’s the end of your fucking story. 

And maybe that’s OK. 

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How to quit your job

I’ve done it. Like, a lot. From flaming with hate walk outs, to respectfully filling out my notice and sticking around until I knew they’d be OK without me. 

What I’ve never ever done, is not show up and leave what used to be my team in a lurch. I’d rather bleed out than not be there when I was needed. I’ve never left any question in anyone’s mind, and when I do quit I promise you, you’ll know exactly why. 

I don’t get this new generation of cooks. Who love the lifestyle, but don’t have any love in them for the job. The knife work is sloppy. The cook is always over done. They don’t taste anything. I get it. You’re 20. You think you’ve got it all figured out, because you’ve been in for 2 years. But let me tell you, I’ve been doing this a long fucking time. Over half your life, actually. I’m old enough to have fucked your mom and made 100 cooks just like you. And I’m not impressed by my misbegotten spawn. 

You’re impatient. You move your pans too often. You’re reckless. You don’t know how to look at something and say it’s done. Your goal isn’t to be good. It’s to be fast. You lose all the minutiae of proper skill and what love in the kitchen means. 

I’ve said before and I will continue to say, the kitchen isn’t where you bring your fucking issues. I don’t care about your anxiety. It makes you worse. Bring your OCD. That makes you better, sharper. Bring your addictions, obsessions, and perversion. We can work with that. All of those things can make you better if you focus them. Your anxiety makes you a fucking liability. It makes you weak. I have no place in my heart or my job for weakness. I have no patience for you if you’re not giving 100℅ because you crack under pressure like an egg under a boot. 

To all the kids coming up, who want to be rock stars, without putting in the time… Stop. We’ve got enough. You’re standing next to guys and girls who’ve played with the Stones, metaphorically. Old gods who have a handle on sex, drugs, rock and roll, and proper technique. Learn from us. We’ll teach you if we see the heart in you. 

That’s what the old guys want, after all. We want to do cool shit. We want to show you how. I want you to take in all of my knowledge and save yourself 15 years of hard lessons and scars. But don’t ever expect it to be fucking easy. I bled for it. I lost pieces of myself, (literally) changed, cleaned up, junked everything, and still killed service after I super glued the missing chunk of my finger closed. 

You want to know what separates you from me? I’ll always find a way to do my job. You’ll look for excuses why you can’t. 

I’m not going to miss you. 

This shit ain’t kosher

This week has been eye opening. I have friends regularly posting amazing new projects, plates, and ideas that they’ve been able to execute. I have a friend whose patron was so grateful that he’s in Monaco for the F1 this weekend. Last week my boss asked me the difference between table and kosher salt, and the only answer I could think to give was “everything” because I don’t have any love left for any food that leaves that kitchen. It’s boring. It’s dated. And it just fucking sucks.

They just bought a smoker. For those of you who know me, know that I made a point of playing with a smoker every single chance I had. But they’re letting people who can’t even be bothered to Google direct the projects. The result is a lack of subtlety, no seasoning, overpowering. The result of not enough knowledge and too little experience, while at the same time not even trying to access 20 years experience (between 2 chefs) who are at their immediate disposal.

My conclusion is this. You pay me to show up and cook. That’s what I’ll do. You want my recipes, my knowledge, and my experience? No. Those are mine. And you’re not worth it. An old friend and I had a talk a few weeks ago. It mostly concerned where the power in any restaurant comes from. The fact of the matter is this; I’ve been cooking for a long time. I’ve seen lazy chefs come and go. I’ve even taken over from them, and turned that shit around. If you want to train someone to be able to barely do what I do, that’s a 3 month process. I can get a new job in 3 days. Literally. That’s the longest I’ve been involuntarily unemployed. The power in the kitchen comes from the staff. I need an owner in my life twice a week, at best. Sign the delivery reports, sign the pay cheque. That’s all.

I’ve undersold myself for a safe gig. I’m not even trying anymore. And in truth I fucking hate it. Mostly because I’d rather be beside Karl in Monaco.

And because if you don’t know the difference between table salt and kosher, you’ve fucked up hard in your first year.

Here’s the thing; we do this because we love it. It’s nice to hear you liked it too. We yearn for approval from people who’ve laid their money down and tried our food. But, seriously, fuck you if you don’t.

The way this world works, honesty is rebellion. There’s nothing more honest that never speaking a fucking word and letting my food speak for me. You’re seeing everything I love and laid hours of pain, passion and learning in front of you. Cooking is my purest expression of rebellion. It’s every scar I’ve healed and every one I still wear. It shows my love of knives with every imperceptibly even cut. It shows my patience in the plating, planning, and prep. It shows my respect that something had to die to put it all in front of you.

When your plate is delivered to your table, you’re looking at at least two lives in front of you. My entire experience, all my education, every scar, every service, brought this to you as perfect as I could make it, and as fast as I could deliver it. More importantly, SOMETHING FUCKING DIED so I had the chance to love exactly what you’re looking at. I think we forget that too much. So the next time you’re looking at a plate of food remember: a heart stopped beating. For you. Another is pumping hard, sweating, and swearing. For you. Earning our scars. For you.

So sit back. Appreciate the fight. Enjoy your meal. But never forget that at least two lives have gone though hell to give it to you (and it’s probably closer to 20).

The shitty corporate gig

We’ve all been there, at one point or another. When someone offers you more money than you could sanely imagine, and your only job is to fix/manage/maintain/train…Whatever the problem they may see that they have.

We, as cooks, chefs, industry folk… We’re probably far more familiar of that exact point in our lives that will buy our passion and we’ll tow the owner’s line. Mine lies at $50k, with a cut of the business I turn. If you wish to pay me hourly…. You’ll probably regret that. Because I’ll always aim to be first through the door, and second last out after the dishwasher.

I had a friend, recently, tell me that those chefs/lead lines/sous chefs that berate and yell at you in the middle of service will only ever inspire you to your absolute minimum. Those guys that hijack your section because they’re better line cooks than leaders and need to get back in control… Those guys suck. And they don’t do it on a rewarding level. I’ve been out of the “in charge of shit going down” game for a long time. And I absolutely see myself doing it. I’ve had, for the most part of the last 3 years, a solid team behind me that didn’t need or want me to take control. But that’s where I am again. And it’s far too fucking easy to just take over a section and scream and point. Any idiot can read. And tell you the next six things you need to do. That takes 0 skill, tolerance, patience, experience, or knowledge. The key has always been to focus and trust, and pay attention to what you’re doing while you pay attention to what everyone else is doing.

The key is having the balls to look someone in the eyes and tell them that it’s not good enough for your service, and to see horse shit when it’s being dropped in front of you. Maybe prep today was off their game and all their cuts suck dick. That’s why you check your section when you start. That’s why you pay attention, and why you don’t submit to that asshole that keeps time checking you.

It’s why, when you say “it’s going to take longer” and show me what you’re dealing with, what you were left with, I’m no longer mad at you, and I write several furious messages to people in charge. Don’t sacrifice what you know is right for easy praise or an easy pay day. I’d rather take 12 minutes to get shit right than have it in my hands in 6 and not be happy. Because then, I’m mad at you. And it’s taking 18. And I need to justify that, and food waste, and the fact that I became an absolute shit head for 4 minutes that ruined your night until you bounced back.

Retirement homes pay insanely well for a very good reason. All the food is over cooked, bland, and they all want chicken parmigiana. That $18/hr is you soul leaving. Your passion dying. Instead, find 5 minutes in your shift to do something cool, that everyone else has only read about. Even if it’s only making pickled fennel. (I made pickled fennel last week. Minds blown).

Challenge your team to be better. Speed comes with time. But sacrifice quality once, and you’re fucking doomed. Challenge yourself to be better. To not accept the mediocrity that they try to push out 2 minutes faster.

The big secret is, every chef worth his weight would rather wait 6 minutes for perfect over 4 minutes for acceptable. But it’s always our job to expect perfect. It’s how we train and show our idea of perfection that makes us worth that magic blend of what we’re worth and what we can do.

PS. I quit the 50K gig after two weeks.

Still never got paid.

Lessons

This started off inspired by the fact that we just hired a new guy. And I mean NEW. If only all my produce were so green. But then, I read something Mike Rowe posted on Facebook and I started thinking. He’s started the hash tag #notafraidtowork. And if I get to pass anything on to Newbie, it’s exactly that.

You can call me at 10 on my day off, because someone fucked up and you need me. AM or PM. I’ll be there in 20 minutes. I may not be shaved, and I might be a little worse for wear. But I’ll be there. Love what you do so much that everything else in life means less. Find that one thing that makes your heart beat. It’ll never be a woman or kids. They fuel you, and inspire you, and give you fight you need to get through the rough spots. But you need to find that one thing that you get to do, that’s all about you. That’s passion. It’s relentless, it’s perfect, and it will dominate your life. I’ll show up to work, because I love being there. I’m frequently an hour early, because I’m bored and can’t wait to start.

There’s two kinds of people who find this job rewarding ;There’s the adrenaline junky, who needs the rush of a massive service, and there’s the passionate. Ideally, be both. The best I’ve worked with love it and need the rush. Those are the ones who show up ready for war.

Learn the lessons that 80 years of combined experience are offering you free of charge. Learn calm. Learn how to hold your knife, and how ingredients interact. Learn everything you can from everyone you can. Likewise, never be surprised if you teach me something.

He’ll be sent next door for the bacon stretcher tomorrow, will the Newbie. I’ve already worked this out with their chef. He’ll be crushed and beaten, and built back up. But never will he learn from me that it’s OK to give less than 100%. I’ve been at jobs when I’d lost my focus. It sucks. If he learns anything from me, it will be this; 1. Something died so you can do what you love. Respect the ingredients. 2. Someone paid what could be a days wage to sit at your table and allow you to have fun with them. Respect your customers. 3. You’re only as good as your last cut and your last service. Take the time. Harvest a reputation. Respect yourself. 4. The guy who works beside you is fighting his own little war, in his head. He may be distracted. They may have a sick parent. She may have an abusive relationship. Be there to ask if they’re OK. Respect your team. 5. You’ll bleed. You’ll burn. You’ll sweat. If you don’t, you’re not doing it right. Respect the job.

And never, ever forget to laugh. Tell dirty jokes. Live with lust and passion. And never be afraid to work.

To the kitchen wives

Please, never ever forget: we love you. We love you in an impossible way that makes 14 hour days worth it, that fuels passion, and that we trust enough to ask “what do you think?” when we try a new recipe. We adore and idolize you in a way we can never possibly express.

We know we hurt you. We never, ever mean to. But we know it happens. We know how drained we feel from our work day, and how you feel when we get home and just want to fall over. It is an immediately oppositional force, to know something takes every ounce of love and passion out of us, to come home and have to accept the broken, splintered shards that are left. To look us in the eye, and hearing more love come from our stories of a new idea, or a brilliant service, than we’re capable of showing you on a day to day. And then to turn around after a brutal service and just want quiet, or solitude, or warm moments with take out on the couch. We understand how bad the dynamic can be. I, for one, know that my ego gets in the way of having a nice evening with your friends. I despise cooking for people when I can see their faces, and they can watch me through the process. I am not used to being that fucking vulnerable. Please, never ever ask me to cook for your friends. It will go sour as soon as the ketchup (catsup) comes out. As soon as they ask for their steak well done, or tell me to make sure their chicken is well done, we will be fucking enemies for eternity. I don’t dislike them, but much in the same way that you don’t make an accountant do your taxes over drinks, you don’t get us to cook for you. We’re not a fucking accessory. We’re not a novelty act. Wolves do not perform in your circus.

But we love you. We want you, and everyone to be happy. If someone is at our table, we want every bite to be perfect. We exist in a realm where someone saying “it’s OK” is failure. We see that as a 3 star review, and obsessively will need to know where we lost two stars. The passion for our job guides our lives.

I deliberately avoid dinner parties and family functions where the cook is not already designated. I don’t care if you’re Bourdain, or an amateur who pulled a recipe off Google. I’ll keep my mouth shut and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour until they ask. Even then, I’ll be polite about it unless they press the issue for the most part.

I’ve deviated substantially from the initial point by now. Please, just understand we love you. Your face is in the back of our heads with every new plate. Your voice in our ears when we feel we have nothing left at 8 on a Friday night when we know we have 3 hours left of fight and blood and sweat and burns. You drive us. Our greatest weakness shall ever be that we treat our most trusted partners as equals, and no one, in any kitchen, ever gets treated as equal with the Chef.

But we love you. We adore you. We know you feel the same. And we’re very much afraid that you’re better. If only for putting up with us.

Rules of running a pub

1. It’s a fucking pub. Don’t let your title effect your role. People turn up for good, familiar food done well. Cuban style pork doesn’t belong on your God damn menu. Neither does a 20 year old, french inspired chicken dish. Ditch the pretense.

2. Shepard’s pie CONTAINS FUCKING LAMB. THAT’S WHY IT’S CALLED SHEPARD’S PIE, ASSHOLE. If it’s exclusively beef, it’s cottage pie. Period.

3. Don’t offer me 6 different kinds of burger. You’re wasting your money on overhead on all the frozen, garbage product you’re ordering instead of having great ingredients and going from there. If you want to be a burger joint, own that shit. If you so desire, offer extras on a well selected regiment of 3-4 options.

4. Stick to the classics, put a spin on it if you want. If you want me to buy chorizo shrimp kebabs, open…. A…. Spanish/…
Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/Southern Asian fusion joint. Or the dream cafe from Seinfeld. Whichever. Let me know when you’re selling your equipment in 18 months.

5. “Southern fried chicken”. Fuck yourself. Get some anti psychotics for your menu. X2 for your beef fajita burger. X3 for the maple salmon plate. 1999 brought the party. It’s tweaking hard, and is borderline schizophrenic already.

6. Flat bread; knock. It. Off. You pretentious god damn twats. Especially when you’re trying to serve it as a sandwich. No. Just….. Fucking….. No. I can’t believe I haven’t run into the words ” balsamic glaze” yet.

7. Liver and onions. The most British thing on your menu, is the single most poorly done dish on earth, and one of the most consistently disgusting things I’ve ever tasted, and the hall mark of “horrible food from England”.

What these 7 things are doing to you is dividing your attention, confusing your purpose, and compromising your identity. Pull your shit together. But maybe I’ll partake in your Mac and Cheese, or the chicken wings.  Also, nice job on the obviously frozen ricotta gnocchi.

In conclusion, FUCKYOUFUCKYOUFUCKYOU.

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Seriously though. Look me up in 18 months. I’m gonna want to look at those fridges.

Dying breeds

It’s become apparent to me that there’s two distinct and discreet groups of “kitchen guys” (this also includes the ladies, who in my experience are twice as tough as the most veteran of line guys. Because they have to be). But that’s a subject for another time.

There’s the old school, hard core “yeah, I’m bleeding. I’ll be with you as soon as the glue sets”, running triage and cauterizing their own cuts to get back into the action and not let their team down people. The committed. The passionate. The die hards, who give everything and take nothing.

Then there’s the new bloods. Who show up for their pay cheque, cut corners in the name of speed, and have no respect for the business, the ingredients, or the customers. This is directed at you, you insipid jack offs.

I’m not your baby sitter. I’m not here to tell you what to do when a ticket rolls off the printer. That sound should be hard wired into your brain already. Printer=game on. If I can hear it when I’m taking garbage out, I know you can hear it when you’re 5 feet away. I’m not here to teach you how to sauté. If you want to know, ask. If you don’t care, get the fuck out of my way newbie. Go back to trying not to fuck up calamari, and trying to understand how I’m grabbing your fryer basket when it’s done based solely on sound.

Yes. I can do that. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Please, ask. I’ll tell you that you can hear it shift in sound exactly three times which is exactly when it’s done.

Stop shaking my fucking sauté pans. Stop. Touching. My. Station. Don’t touch my mise. Put inserts back exactly in the order you found them, asshole. Don’t touch my tongs. They’re laid out for raw, cooked, chicken and veg in a very specific order so that I can find them blindfolded, weeded, and without thinking. Same goes for my cloths. One for section cleaning and wipe down. One for plates… You know what, just avoid any part of the line that’s within my arm span. That’s mine. I’d piss on it to prove a point, but then I’d need another rag that you’d probably use to clean plates.

Tonight I saw the unforgivable… A cook, finishing plates with a specified allergen. When I called him out on it, he just replated, leaving the dish that came into contact with the allergen in the window. Less care, less dedication.

The old school guys, we hold our word as sacred… When we say “3 minutes”, that’s up, in the window, finished. Not a ” leave me alone, I don’t know “. Respect and honor is a commodity that’s disappearing fast, lately. Too many fans of Hell’s Kitchen, who don’t know anything about what Ramsay actually advocates, let alone who Thomas Keller is, or why you should worship at the altar of Per Se. Too much anger that’s directed nowhere. Just to be that yelling asshole who needs to seem in control instead of taking control.

That’s the big “aha” moment. Or at least it was for me. When you’re really in control, you don’t even need to raise your voice to be heard because the world waits for your words. Trust me when I say, if I need to be heard my voice will shake the walls. That’s the difference between cook and Chef, new blood. The world hangs upon his voice. You fight to be heard. The less you fight the more ground you will win. The less you yell… Maybe you’ll find your niche to lead.

Chef isn’t a title. It’s a skill set that’s bound up in creativity, leadership, respect, and honour. I’ve met a lot of cooks who have “chef” embroidered on their jackets. I’ve worked with a few cooks who are great chefs. I’ve worked with great leaders who despise the word chef, when it’s applied to them.

Your passion for food is what fuels you. Your inspiration for creativity is what drives you. Your lust for the fight keeps you coming back everyday. It’s always a war of inches. Your pay, buys ingredients and clears the rent. BUT… New blood… If none of those ring true… Get out now. I’m better without you. A pack of wolves is as strong as its weakest member. There are a thousand other jobs that will tolerate your lack of fire. This job is not for the weak, and it smells weakness like burning bread left in the oven.

The tiger and the lion may be stronger. But the wolf does not perform in your fucking circus.

The job, the process, and the processed

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There are, essentially, two kitchens you’ll ever work in. There’s the assembly line, and there’s the experimental. The processed, and the process. One, you’ll learn and grow, and get to feel the real creativity and passion that comes from doing something you love. The other, you’ll get paid. And if you’re good at it, you’ll get paid well.

A little catch up on my culinary life for the last few months; I took on a new job in a bumping little hotspot that had no respect for the food, less for the process, and very little for the customers. But Jesus Tapdancing Christ, it was busy. And the money was good. A few days ago I got a phone call out of the blue, from a place I’d never applied at, but somehow got my number. This is something you’ll get used to, after you spend long enough in the business. Your reputation follows you and often precedes you. They wanted me to come in for the age old kitchen tradition. The stage. You work for free for a day, or two, or however long it takes if you just want to learn…. Think of it as auditing. But with fire. I spent two and half hours making and talking great food, and several rounds with the Chef later I had a new job. I make less, but not significantly so. Being somewhere that doesn’t crush the love out of you is worth a pay cut. But they were still hitting in the same ballpark.

After 3 hours (ish) of talking shop, I already felt that process coming back. I didn’t even realize how far it had gone away.

There’s nothing wrong with that corporate environment. It’s comfortable. It’s profitable. It’s secure. There are a ton of benefits working for Moxies, The Keg, etc… But creativity isn’t on that list. The sous chefs I work with have as much culinary skill as a marginal prep cook who work in a process building. They’re quick. Their speed comes not from years of honing their own process and technique, but from cutting corners better than they cut veg. The only fire they bring is centered on their ego, and their temper.

This isn’t a condemnation of the processed. I’d be dead and unemployed several times over if it weren’t for these places. But it’s also an affirmation that it’s not for me. I’m quickly realizing that I’m entering my Danny Glover years. I’m too old for this shit. Too old to be taking critique from some 24 year old, who can’t create and uses jugged sauces instead of trying. Instead of experimenting, and fucking up a thousand times until you get that shit nailed down.

The real chefs I know have this magical, quiet calm and confidence. Even in the middle of a service that’s falling apart, these guys and ladies don’t crack. They have an easy, unshakable quality. Every move is smooth and deliberate, fueled by the memories of a thousand other nightmare services, and the first 200 times, they broke. They screamed. They were inches from tears. They fought back and prevailed.

I’m not taking anything away from the processed. Those folks will always be the backbone of a solid team because they follow orders. I’m advocating that every single one needs to spend a portion of their career with a process team. Because it will fundamentally alter how you look at your job for the rest of your days.

I’d love to try and teach them. But they’re young, and they haven’t had their egos broken yet and been built back up. I would. But I’m too old for this shit.