The Culinary Ladder of Success Built on a Bed of Broken Glass Within a Ring of Fire

25Mar09

Musings on working in the back of house seem to be less rampant on the web. Probably because most of the shit-talking has to do with your actual co-workers than with the irreverent idiots that come into your restaurant. That, and I don’t think people find it funny when you serve a dish that you picked up off the floor.

Every Saturday I’ve been externing at a restaurant and trying to make my way through the different stations. I’m still surprised they’ll let me back there, let alone touch food that others will eat. I feel like I’ve learned and done more in the 2 months or so I’ve been here, than the 9 months I worked at the W Hotel in LA. Every task, whether menial or complex, has taught me so much. I’ve done things from peeling individual edamame to handling soft boiled quail eggs like ticking time bombs for hours on end. I’ve learned to sharpen my own knives as well as how to properly “break down a duck.” My culinary skills have grown greatly and as well as proportionally to my tolerance for sex jokes, foul language, and criticism served with a side of spit.

The mood of the kitchen all depends on the head chef. Some chefs are known for running a “tight ship,” where breathing above 0 decibels is reason for getting sent home. Others will rage to classic rock and run a kitchen where towel whipping happens as routinely as flipping a burger. While my restaurant’s mood doesn’t near any of those two extremes, there are a few things that won’t be tolerated, a few things I might have done during my shift.

This past Saturday, I got to work on the line and help  plate all the entrees during dinner service. This was my unofficial “learn how to drizzle sauce” course in my unofficial “culinary certificate program.” You should enroll, it’s free.

I unknowingly leaned on the counter and had my arms crossed casually, while I was waiting for the components of the dish to cook so I could plate them. The following is based on a conversation I was engaged in shortly thereafter:

“I’m going to give you some advice. Don’t you EVER lean on the counter and cross your arms like you have nothing to do. There is always something to do. Don’t ever let me catch you do that again.”

“Sorry chef…”

“You’re lucky I’m a nice guy, or I’d have thrown you out of the kitchen and you probably wouldn’t have come back.”

“Yes, chef.”

“If I was David Chang, I’d throw a pot of hot oil on your face”

“Thank you, chef.”

A restaurant kitchen is not unfamiliar to this kind of beautiful imagery. In an industry that is structured as an apprenticeship,  the ladder of success isn’t made out of dollars, but with rungs of respect. You earn the right to step on each rung and instead of a 401k at the top, you get to look down on everyone below you and kick each of them in the face.

And with the combined effects of working in a space with no natural light, blazoned with fire, sharp objects, and an overabundance of testosterone, well I guess you can’t blame them for wanting to say the F word and slam their fists every once in a while.

It’s like being a part of a back alley gang with hoodlum gangsters. Except I get to be that cool chick the boys will eventually respect once I cut my first real victim. So far, the only potential victims that need to be concerned are myself and a stack of dead poultry. ::Sigh::

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4 Responses to “The Culinary Ladder of Success Built on a Bed of Broken Glass Within a Ring of Fire”

  1. 1 Rachel

    Ahhh! I wish I had gone to your restaurant while I was in NY so I could have chanced a glance at you in your element! The things I wish I had done while I was there keep piling up. I need to go back already!!

  2. Ahhh! I wish I had gone to your restaurant while I was in NY so I could have chanced a glance at you in your element! The things I wish I had done while I was there keep piling up. I need to go back already!!
    Should say good post! Looking forward to seeing your next one!

  3. Now I’m quaking in my chefs clogs.

    And I’m only 8 weeks into culinary school.

    Oh dear.

  4. 4 Rachel

    wtf. that second post was posted by a counterfeit rachel.


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