Who’d be a chef?

I was forwarded the following letter by a chef friend of mine which is doing the rounds on the internet at the moment, as these things do. It made me smile and empathise with the writer.It also made me wonder why any sane person would willingly choose this profession when there seem to be so many easier ways of making a living.

letter to a Culinary Student By Mark Mendez, Executive
> Chef, Carnivale, Chicago
> I am angry, so forgive me if I rant. You gave notice after
> only two weeks on the job and then didn’t show up the next
> day and really screwed me. I know why you quit; it was hard
> work, harder than you thought it was going to be. The funny
> thing is, you worked an easy station and never even worked
> on a busy night, funny right? The sad thing is you don’t
> even know how hard it really is, or what it truly means to
> be a line cook. It’s not all your fault; they didn’t
> really prepare you for this in cooking school did they? They
> didn’t warn you that being a great chef requires first
> being a great cook. They didn’t tell you about the
> sacrifices you have to make, the hard work, the hours, the
> dedication, the  commitment, the lack of sleep, the
> constant abuse of the sous chef, they didn’t warn you. You
> thought you would graduate from school and be like Thomas
> Keller in a couple years, that’s all it should take right?
> I know, I know, learning how to use you knife, make a great
> stock, or learning how to properly blanch vegetables is
> boring, it’s cooler to work sauté station or grill. I’m
> too old school anyway, no immersion circulators, no foams,
> no cutesy plates, no pacojet, boring really. Who wants to
> learn how to properly sharpen a knife or butcher a fish, so
> boring and tedious. Well I need to tell you a few things.
> One day, just maybe, you will be a chef somewhere. You will
> need to train and motivate the people who work for you,
> guide them, lead them, teach them, and inspire them. One day
> you will spend more time looking at a profit and loss
> statement than you do your station. You will miss prepping
> your station, making a sauce, butchering a piece  of
> meat, even sharpening your knife. You will spend time in
> marketing meetings, staff meetings, partners meetings,
> vendor meetings, all kinds of meetings. You will spend more
> time in the front of house than you really want to; spend
> time outside of the kitchen promoting your restaurant, give
> interviews, agonize over food and labor costs, kiss your
> wife goodbye while she sleeps because you have to be at the
> restaurant early for some insane reason, and somewhere in
> there make sure you are serving tasty food. You will miss
> weddings, birthday parties, graduations, all kinds of
> things. You will alienate your friends and family because
> you don’t write or call enough. There are no sick days,
> personal days, breaks, this is not like a 9 to 5 job, get
> over it. Get ready for years of sacrifice, hard work, and
> stress. Learn as much as you can, read everything, ask
> questions, write things down, save your money and eat at
> other restaurants, show up to work early  and offer to
> stay late, come to work on your day off just to learn how to
> make pastry or hone butcher skills. Taste everything you
> can, over and over, and ask the chef so many questions he
> gets annoyed. Take care of yourself and sleep as much as you
> can and skip after work drug/liquor binging, so you wake up
> ready and on time. Travel and experience another culture eat
> their food and learn to speak their language. Learn to
> appreciate the time you have right now, enjoy the ride, the
> process, don’t be in a hurry to be a sous chef or make a
> lot of money, it’s not about that and it never will unless
> you are extremely talented and lucky. There is only one
> Ferran Adria or Thomas Keller, or Grant Achatz, and they all
> have worked extremely hard to get where they are and
> continue to do so. Enjoy all the bull****   that comes with
> this life, embrace it, learn to thrive on it. One day, when
> you are an executive chef or chef/owner, there will be an
> epiphany so  powerful you will have to sit down. You
> will understand everything every chef or sous chef yelled at
> you, you will understand why we work why we do, you will
> understand why our profession is so wonderful, so unique,
> and it will hit you hard. I can’t tell when or where this
> will happen but I promise you it will if you work hard and
> keep your head down and do what your chef tells you. So keep
> this in mind when I give you a hard time and push you,
> criticize you and refuse that day off request. Maybe the
> next job you have you will suck it up instead of leaving
> them short a line cook on a busy night. tag anyone you know
> in the industry.. and pass it along 😉

I suppose just about all jobs have a learning curve but the chef curve does seem to be one of the steeper ones, where the rewards dont always seem commensurate with the effort required for the slow and occasionally tortuous rise through the ranks, though I am sure anyone who has fought hard to get to a position of responsibility in any job can recognise the sentiments expressed by the exasperated Exec chef here when somebody lets you down.

Kitchens can be tough places in which to work and the atmosphere especially in larger kitchens with big brigades can be very testosterone fuelled with all the fun and games that brings.Certainly I used to occasionally whinge and bleat about the hours I had to put in whilst working in the various hotels, restaurants, pubs and ships that eventually led me to West Dorset and The White House (still do sometimes if I am to be honest) and yes there was most certainly an epiphany when we bought our own business. I also realised there was yet another steep curve to tackle which would take me from Chef to Hotelier.

I never dreamed that my own journey from my first catering job as a snotty sixteen yr old Kitchen Porter in the Lake District in 1978 would have lead me to to being fortunate enough to have our own business in Charmouth. It has been sometimes hard but is rarely dull , often exciting and ultimately very rewarding. Having a patient, understanding and supportive wife also helps. We are certainly very fortunate to be doing what we are doing ,where we are doing it, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, producing some of the finest ingredients in the world for me to use.And that is more than enough compensation for all those 15 hour shifts endured on the journey here.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Mrs Tosh on June 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Hey Ian

    Good stuff!


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