Chefs, Food

Never ever become a chef: advice from a chef

Recently a 13-year-old kitchen dish hand (dish pig, dish bitch whichever you fancy) told me that he aspired to be an architect, something that brought a smile to my face – Ahhh to be young. I asked him what burning desire drove him to this conclusion, assuming he would say perhaps “I am passionate about drawing and design” or “my spacial skills are quite good, and I like challenges” or even “I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetic nature of a building”. however the response was slightly less convivial  “architects earn 6.3 million dollars annually”… after informing him that perhaps if he were Renzo Piano he may indeed earn that annually, however financial gain is possibly not the best incentive (particularly considering the average median salary for an exiting masters graduate employed full-time in Australia as an architect is 45K for a male, and 41K for a female). He then asked me an odd assortment of questions including:

“Should I not go to University?”

“Should I learn a trade/join the mining industry?”

“Why are you a chef?”

Astounded by the daunting stereotype of a generation who no longer follows passion but monetary gain, I hoped that perhaps one day, someone as bright as this young man could channel the same amount of passion he has in his future career as he does in his current endeavours (which I can only assume if he’s anything like I was, would have been: masturbation, anything involving the opposite sex and/or trying to procure alcoholic beverages). But the last was the biggest catalyst of the series. “Why are you a Chef?” What led me here, what keeps me here? After sharing a few stories with him about where I found my passion for food, he asked me what its like being a chef? So I thought i’d share some revelations, and insights. Ideally if this could reach anyone, its kids, teens, tweens and the like who aspire to be chefs, like I did many a year ago. This is a compilation of all the reasons you shouldn’t be a chef:

You will miss important life occasions

Birthdays; Public Holidays; Occasional Weddings; Parties; Christenings; Weekends.

Its unrealistic in this industry to assume that you’ll ever have these off. The rest of the world plays whilst you toil, weekends are almost a taboo – and this will generally eliminate most parties and birthdays as the rest of the world will want to do this on Their weekends. it is possibly the biggest killer of potential chef careers. It can be a very lonesome and frustrating life to those who aren’t willing to make the sacrifice. Regularly I will forgo a friend’s birthday even though I had booked the time off 4 months prior to that occasion (to whom I still have to apologise to regularly) In most industries you can “pick up the workload” on another day if you are unable to work. a kitchen however is more delicate. they have exactly the right amount of staff one person missing can halt the entire functionality of a restaurant. which brings me to my next point.

There is no such thing as sick

If you are not on life support, then you are fine. Cut your finger off? put a band-aid on…or better yet cauterise it on the stove both fast and effective. you have the flu? no you don’t it’s a cold, and even if it were the flu – put a mask on and get your arse to work. In my career, closely drawing a decade now, I’ve had two sick days: both times I was in hospital. If your feet can carry you, you can work…and you will work, nay not even from obligation, but from an odd combination of fear, guilt and compassion. Fear that your family will fail without you, fear that you will return having let them down.

introduction into alcoholism and drug abuse will be very high

It’s no secret that this industry is rife with illicit substances and drunks. We are already sourced from the fringes of society, people who often fit in nowhere else. Some use recreational drugs, some use hard drugs and are completely addicted. Often you will find a waitress or chef racking up lines on a pizza tray at the end of the day before heading out to a night club, looking for escapism. Addiction is high (pardon the pun) among all people in our industry, and your ability to cope, stay away from, or fall into it – is completely up to the individual. You will see some of the highlights of human injustice, and bear witness  to (and possibly be a part of) a plethora, and cocktail of drug (ranging from weed to smack) and alcohol abuse.

Relationships will be difficult

Unless your partner is understanding you will have a string of unfortunate relationships. Another common misconception when someone goes into a relationship with a chef is that we will cook for you constantly. Though we are passionate about food, generally we will be working when you want to be fed. I’m one of the only chefs in my circle of peers who still cooks “properly” at home on a regular basis; most survive on a diet composed of instant meals, take out and dregs of half eaten chip packets. One must not fail to mention that most chefs are courteous and sociable on seldom occasions generally, and they are worse post a shift; only further propelling this relationship over the proverbial waterfall..this babies going over!! Bail overboard whilst you still can!! Time however is probably the biggest killer of relationships in our industry. It is difficult for most (not all, there’s still hope kiddies) to be with someone who is consistently never there, someone who (it seems) is more dedicated to his or her profession than the potential love of his/her life. Time will always be an instigator of hardships when it comes to chefs. which progresses to the next point:

Your hours are fucked

though many people will regularly complain about an 8 hour day (inclusive of 2 to 3 breaks) or even god forbid a 10 hour day, you will savor the rare occasion you get an 8 hour shift with no break whatsoever. The average shift for a chef is around the 12 hour mark (according to a recent census) though I personally and quite regularly work more. You will stand on your feet all day, sweat, and toil. Your entire working career will be an endurance marathon for both your body and mind. cuts, burrs, burns they are all part of the process.

You’re a piece of shit

or at least the majority of your superiors will inform you of this. Where as in the real world verbal bullying is now room for a class action lawsuit, in our domain it is second nature. “You fucking little shit, what is wrong with you?” could roughly translate as “wow, you have made quite a mistake young sir, I’m amazed at how you’ve made such an error” or perhaps “what’s wrong mate? too busy thinking about sucking dicks on your days off to do your fucking job” could easily be interpreted as “excuse me, is something the matter? you seem to have lost concentration and I can see it’s affecting your work”. On occasion it gets multi-lingual “which fuckwit touched my fucking Mise en? are you fucking retarded” which of course means “someone seems to have rifled through my preparation as it is now disorganised, and now I’m in disarray.” Not to mention a lot of this toiling will be for a very minimal pay until you eventually secure a respectable position. Also unlike the majority of things in this modern-day and age you are never “given” anything in this industry – because contrary to the ribbon you get for participating in a school running carnival (coming 4th last) you, like everyone else, start at the very bottom.  you must earn it, you must climb the hierarchy slowly and arduously. No rewards are given for “trying”  either you do your job, or you don’t.. and get fired -simple. Peeling 100kg of potato, picking 1kg of individual thyme leaves (don’t you dare cheat and just strip the stalks, I will throw that shit back in your face) these are all jobs that will challenge your very essence to overcome the sheer boredom, inanity and pain of it, as all of the chefs before you have done. But this is the process, you will start learning, you will always be learning.

But perhaps you are someone like myself, who even after reading this says “who cares” or “I’m better” or even “I’m going to be the best chef who has ever lived” then congratulations, you have the only tool that you’ll ever need to surpass any adversity, to conquer any fear, any challenge and emerge victorious. You have something that people in this day and age lack, something our 13-year-old kitchen hand will one day hopefully learn, something that has driven me to a succesful career. That driving force is passion, passion is not listening to those who doubt you and doing what you’re heart desires, ignoring the nay sayers and becoming what you are capable of. If you so choose to immerse yourself with confidence and dedication, your ends are limitless. If in any profession you are lucky enough to not only be enamoured and passionate about what you do, but also earn a living from it, then nothing will stop you. If per chance this does fall into the hands of a young mind wanting to be moulded I urge you take this wisdom.

Be relentless in your willingness to learn

Never steal, and try not to lie

Be resilient to all adversity; It’s one of the greatest weapons you can use (and there will be many more problems than i have listed here)

You’re never too good, you’re never too old and you’re never too unintelligent to achieve if you so desire

Standard
Food

Enemies of the state

“You odious shit stain of a human being” I think whilst falsely nodding in agreement and smiling.

“You incredulous wanker, do you even…fucking… life” I mull over hateful thoughts internally as I try to drown out the incessant, inane string of words dribbling out of the owners wife’s mouth. I am trying to show grace rather than lose control, shoving her face into a deep fryer and going completely postal before being arrested….or even worse losing my job. Yet another prime example of a kitchens worst nightmare appears as if on cue. Telling me how i “should” do my job, or about how the hospitality degree she received from the Broad beach TAFE in 1988, for hotel management, is somehow relevant to my job, and of course what I can do better – to meet their expert standard. I mean after all you’re very qualified; you don’t work here – you have no restaurant experience, you’re the wife of the owner (whom also doesn’t work here) so I trust you know exactly what you’re talking about when it comes to this venue.

What’s that love? You had soft shell tacos for dinner two nights ago, and they did it for 3 dollars so that’s how much It should be when we do it? I agree they’d fit in perfectly with our french slanted bar snacks and classic bistro food. Oh joy you learnt how to use Facebook, someone get this woman a media and events management shirt stat!!. Wow!!…you made tea towels with our restaurant logo and some funny sayings on them? Brava!! I may as well throw in the towel and let you take the reigns. “Boys, stand back, she’s got this one covered!!”

This particular scenario from yesteryear was in the form of an owners time rich wife, who can’t control her own children from running amuck and breaking everything in site, or her husbands drinking, masturbating and cocaine addictions – let alone a professional kitchen. It seems all too familiar, these vacuous creatures lurking within every corner of the hospitality industry; sucking the life forces out of chefs and front of house staff like a succubus on heat. They come in various shapes and sizes, but all are equally as painful as the last.

I present this guide of unfathomably hated anti-kitchen archetypes, that isn’t confined solely to the internal walls of our workplaces, in hope that if you’re driving and see one crossing the road, you’ll better the world by mowing them down.

the bored housewife

20131029-233320.jpg
Possibly the most common of all. Bored house wives whom have no experience, little knowledge and misguided opinions on how things should be operating. Unfortunately as man and wife are an extension of each other, telling her to “fuck off with your shit ideas” is not just insulting to her but to her husband also (weird right). And who in their right minds would try and insult their employer. Fuelled purely on head strong, oestrogen pumping, blatant disregard to all others opinions, bored house wives will fight against all grains to implement their horrid ideas, usually at the cost of core staff members. Ranging from decor – to menu ideas – to website design and staffing. No stone is left unturned by a house wife who knows all.

The Masterchef customer

20131030-084520.jpg

Ahhh the masterchef phenomenon. Making people think they can cook since 2009. Don’t get me wrong the notion that people are more concerned with the cooking of, and eating of food will always be a good thing. But like cocaine, babies and firearms; in the wrong hands it’s detrimental. Never have people been so rude or falsely misguided into a sense of know it all-isms “Umm I don’t know if you know…but paella has chorizo in it – THATS HOW GEORGE DOES IT!!!”.
Two things: George Calombaris is a fat annoying Greek. More importantly paella is a Spanish dish, traditionally cooked by men on Sundays for the entire family. The dish varies from region to region and can include, but is not exclusive to: rabbit, chicken, chorizo, prawn, clams, razor clams, mussels, calamari, peas, saffron and so on. We spend countless years gathering knowledge to better our cuisine. So generally speaking – we know what we are doing.

The idea that watching a television show makes you an expert at something is the same as me going down to the latest crime scene and using my investigative powers, because I’ve watched the entire series of the wire (possibly one of the best series ever)

The well done beef-er

20131030-092553.jpg
As if transported from a parallel universe from the masterchef cohort. Presented to us is The well done beef-er: who’s soul purpose for eating is sustenance rather than substance. Where any food-stuffs in any other language is a taboo not to be trifled with. “pomme what? Don’t you have like..chips?”. “Do you have any tomato sauce for my steak?” As a waiter sighs, and we place the perfectly portioned piece of sirloin into a pan, knowing the end result will be a dry, rubbery, shrunken hunk of arsehole – our hearts drop a little. Because we do take such a high level of pride in our produce. My main qualm with the well done beef-er is why waste your money in a casual fine diner/fine diner? The end result will taste the same and you might as well have just gone to a fucking hogs breath cafe where tomato sauce is already conveniently placed on the table for you (I assume)

All this talk of kitchen enemies has got me flustered. I’m going to go and consume beer.

Standard
Food

Le Bastard Critics

4177.5 hours.

No, not the unedited version of James Franco’s film 127hours, That’s how long I spent yesteryear behind the stove of a professional fine dining kitchen. Four thousand one hundred and seventy seven point five hours. That’s around five sixteen hour shifts in a row (though occasionally I get half days so therefore there are some twenty plus hour days in the mix). My misanthropic peers and I spend eighty plus hours of our weeks, painstakingly and meticulously preparing produce, using what could only be described as kitchen sorcery to turn food in to a Monet-esque presentation that will aid you and your partner to get laid on your anniversary.

20131029-092841.jpg

So it comes as no surprise that the majority of chefs know and are all together more passionate about food than you will ever be or ever want to be for that matter. Unless of course you’ve seen the Masterchef series which would instantaneously make you much better than I am at my job. But if we are such creatures of passion, how do we judge the food that we consume? when you, a mere mortal, place that faux lasagne you saw on Jamie’s 15 minute meals infront of me… chef, nay GOD of cuisine – am I thinking to myself through a false smile “I made a better looking meal this morning on the toilet after my morning coffee”?

I think firstly we have to kill a myth: chefs are not food snobs Yes we would disavow And probably castrate a chef who had committed cardinal sins of cookery like the arsehole who thinks packet gravy is an acceptable substitute for making one because he is too fucking lazy. But most of us were drawn into cooking because we enjoy eating food, not hating and judging it. We all have our guilty pleasures too; David Chang and his chicken nuggets; Bourdain and his love of gooey processed cheese; and my personal preference for any form of sausage, of any mutant variant, slapped on a bun and labeled a hot dog get inside me now you delicious slut. A lot of chefs diets are comprised wholly of a combination of the Golden Arches, the colonel, Chinese take out and the daily staff meal, hence why we look like spitting images of health.

Secondly, when a chef is dining out, you have to consider a chef not only has pre-conceived standards and insider knowledge, a chef also knows what every meal costs to put on a plate, he probably knows how much people are getting paid, a ball park figure of the rent and so on: therefore a chef actually knows whether or not a meal is worth what you pay for oh.. you want to take me to your favourite “family restaurant”? where they sing happy birthday, slap a thirty eight dollar barely passable MSA grade rib eye on my plate accompanied by a fluorescent dressed salad coupled with shit service and that stupid fucking parsley garnish circa 1983, which obviously can only be made better with a cocktail so green it looks like it’s Lou ferrignos piss after he went all Hulk served in a glass so long and phallic I think I may be arrested for lewd behaviour in public. If you want to take me here, chances are I will probably judge your dining prowess quite poorly. Or why not try out the new modern gastro Moroccan, African fusion restaurant bar, cafe, rug and tapestry house …Put it this way, if You can’t describe what the establishment does in less than 4 words it’s probably a shit hole, in fact it may be worse than a shit hole. Just because it sounds different doesn’t mean it is good or that I want to be there…just don’t bother. If you want a safe bet, tell your chef compadre how poor or rich you are and I’m sure they could list 20 places off the top of their heads that would be better than the TGI mc fucking Fridays steakhouse you want to take them to and you also get to cater to their giant and ever expanding ego’s.

Thirdly and most importantly if you decide to cook for a chef at home: KISS – keep it simple stupid a Chef is generally craving home food, it’s a rarity for us to be home and eating, it’s a pleasant sanctum to be in. The main place people go wrong when cooking for chefs is the assumption we require something extravagant or outside the box and give themselves too much and dishes of too high a level of difficulty. PUT THE FUCKING PURÉE DOWN we eat extravagant food often, we make it every day. The last thing I want Is a watercress velouté or a foam of smoke essence which I would actually start to judge because you’ve probably done it wrong. I want simple, home food, barbecues, and roasts. If a dish has a nickname such as bangers and mash or it comes in a pie variety, then we will be immensely happy. Pastas with nothing but butters and capers makes me smile. As much as it pains me to say it Jamie Oliver’s cooking in a home circumstance is good though I differ to his professional work, his food for the everyday home cook is spot on. If what you’re cooking can’t be done whilst drinking a beer or wine, then rethink what you’re doing.

If you still, even after reading this, have an undying desire to prepare food for a chef then heed my gospel

-Thou shalt not cook well done beef.
-Thou shalt not purée or foam.
-Thou shalt embrace pig in all of its glory be it crispy or soft, bacon or pancetta, or any other form.
-thou shalt not put unnecessary sprigs of herbs unless it actually adds to the flavour of the dish.
– thou shalt keep it simple stupid.

20131029-092325.jpg

Standard