Observations of a Kitchen Veteran

Any of my writing thus far that came off like a rant wasn't intended to, until now.... I will state right up front that this will be a rant. A few things that have been pissing me off for a long time that I just need to get off my chest before I stab someone in the fucking eye. I'll also admit from the get-go that it might just be me, mostly. I expect, and even demand, total professionalism in a restaurant kitchen. I get a little (read as "extremely") agitated when something goes wrong and the person accountable denies accountability and/or should have fucking known better to begin with! I'm also willing to admit that I'm not perfect, but I try to always have perfection in my cross-hairs, and will admit when I was the fuck up. Many of the worlds best Chefs agree, as do I, that perfection is never truly attainable, but should always be strived for. The act of reaching for it as hard as you can will make you a better cook. Indeed, this is true of any profession, but we cooks, those of us serious enough, passionate enough, and (let's face it) crazy enough to undertake this unattainable goal, tend to be a bit obsessive about it. To quote the late, great George Carlin, "I don't have 'pet peeves', I have major psychotic fucking hatreds!" This is a list of a few of mine.... Waitstaff: Ahh, waitstaff, also known as servers, waitrons, waitron units and "the morons".... My friend, my nemesis... First thing I have to say to them is "learn the fucking menu!" Take one home after you know you got the job and study it that night. If you have ANY questions about it I'll quite gladly take the time to answer them. I even extend the invitation to taste anything you're curious about so you can better describe and sell the dish. Whenever I change my menu I even demand that the floor managers gather all the waitrons for this very purpose. Before service at any fine dining restaurant we do whats called a "lineup". "Show and tell" is another suitable name for this practice. It's to educate them on any daily specials/soups for the same reasons, to tell you anything I can about the dish and answer any questions. So fucking pay attention! We're all here for the same reason, to make money! Sometimes descriptions can be lengthy, and things get forgotten. I understand this, but if you're picking your nose, reading a text message, or otherwise not focused during lineup and come back during dinner rush with inane questions, distracting me from getting the food out, don't look surprised when I blow a fucking gasket! Another thing... Nothing! Sits under! The lamp! Got it?! We do not work at Denny's, or Ram's Horn, or fucking White Castle! I've worked very hard perfecting these recipes and during service to get you the food your table ordered, please do not let it wallow under the heat lamp getting dry and over cooked! And be ready for it if you're gonna fucking hover over me waiting to get it! This is probably my biggest "psychotic fucking hatred" about waitrons. I've seen it literally a million times. They stand there at the window staring at you (which is fucking annoying to begin with) and as soon as they see you plating the food for their table they run off to get silverware, or bread, or whatever the fuck they need to have at the table, thus letting the plates bake under the lamp when that shit should have been done while you were staring at me like a dog waiting for me to drop a scrap of food! If your gonna hover, be fucking ready when the food is! Nothing pleases me more than seeing a server grab the plates as soon as they hit the window, and nothing pisses me off more than them running away when it's ready after they've already annoyed me by standing there watching me plate it! In the early years of my career I viewed them mostly with loathing and contempt. Immediately assuming the worst from them all at all times. Lately I've been seeing how befriending them helps. It makes it much easier to get them to do something I might need them to do if I've gotten them to like and respect me, not just fear me and my temper tantrums. Though, there are still a few that when, say, a customer sends something back or they just fucked up an order and need me to fix it, they approach me like a cringing abused child. Anticipating "the look" or thrown objects. I can't say I don't like that, to be honest, or at the very least find it amusing. A Chef I once worked under told me, "There are three kinds of waiters. The technical type, one that knows where the beef is from, what the primary diet of that fish is, what region that wine you ordered is from. This type is rarely very good table side, chatting with and entertaining the guests. Then there's the outgoing type. Great with the customers, talkative, easy to get along with. This type is rarely good with the technicalities. The third is one that's good at both.... we call them 'managers'...." Which brings me to... Floor managers: A good one can be a cooks best friend, a bad one can be your worst nightmare! Managing waitrons is very much like herding cats, so I do not envy you your job.... At least try to keep them organized... Please?! If you know one tends to crack on busy nights, give them a smaller section. If an otherwise good server has a bad night (and we all do), discreetly let it slide. Keeping the kitchen informed of the reservation count on any given night is also a good idea. At the very least, leave the "ressie" book in a place that's accessible so we can look ourselves. If we know a ballpark figure of what to expect for the evening things will run a lot smoother since we'll know (somewhat) what to expect and prep accordingly. And another thing, if a guest has a complaint, don't blow up on the staff before it's investigated. And please, for fear of your untimely demise, do NOT try to tell a kitchen veteran how to cook... Especially if you've never worked in a kitchen! If you haven't noticed, we tend to get a bit testy about that... and we have knives.... I'm not tryin to say anything, just sayin... Disorganized cooks: It's like fingernails on a fucking chalkboard to walk by a cooks station and see a disaster area resembling Baghdad after a bombing. His mise en place scattered and in disarray, dirty towels and pans strewn about, dirty cutting boards covered with bits of herbs and butter and scraps of food. Most of the time I'll just walk away and address it later when the action dies down, because I know myself, and therefore I know I'd try to start the talk calmly but it would inevitably crescendo into a psychotic rant episode. What's worse is when I get in the weeds and need help, but that guy is the only one with the spare time to assist. So by the time we get caught up he scurries off and my station looks like the Tasmanian Devil on crack just whizzed by. Please listen to me carefully, work fucking clean! If you keep things clean and organized it'll make service that much easier! Not to mention the sanitation issues. This is generally the same fucker that NEVER has his sani-water close at hand, if he even has it at all! I keep using a male model for this archetype because women in professional kitchens very rarely fall into this category. The chick in an upscale restaurant kitchen is usually also the biggest ball-busting hard ass in the room, so even if she did it's doubtful anyone would say anything to her for fear of getting your nuts clamped with a pair of tongs, or worse! Dishwashers: Also known as dish-dogs. These unsung heroes have a special place in my heart, probably because that's where I started in the industry, so I know how unappreciated they feel. However, as the job title implies, your job is to wash the dishes. Wash implies "make them clean"! This is not a hard thing to accomplish! If it comes out of the machine and it's still dirty, scrub the fucking thing! DO NOT put it away! If I find it, it's just going to come back to you any-fucking-way! Save me, and yourself the aggravation, and just get it done right the first time! The dining public: As a guy that's been in fine dining as long as I have I can tell you there's a love/hate relationship between cooks and guests. Most cooks view the dining public with what can only be described as writhing contempt. Automatically assuming they know nothing about food or how to enjoy it. Even to the point that when we are payed a compliment the thought that usually runs through our heads goes something like, "that's nice, but you probably wouldn't know a perfect plate if it hit you in the face, so I'm gonna take your kind words with a grain of salt..." In restaurants where customers are paying top dollar for their meal one would assume they'd to be able to appreciate, even expect artistry. Not always the case. We cooks will go out of our way (the dedicated ones anyway) to accommodate a guest that we know appreciates food in all it's various forms. But when a vegetarian, or worse, a fucking soulless vegan, walks into a steakhouse and expects the menu and the whole staff to accommodate them, guess again. Or when a person who won't touch sushi walks into a sushi bar, don't expect to be greeted with open arms. Understand where you're going and that not all places can accommodate your picky, narrow minded little food views.

David Chang, a carnivores hero

David Chang, owner/executive chef of the Momofuku restaurant group in New York has become a hero to all carnivores. I recently heard from multiple sources a story about him that made him the envy of meat loving chefs everywhere. Apparently there was a complaint at one of his properties that there weren't enough vegetarian offerings on the menu. He went to work on that immediately! The next day every single item on the menu had bacon incorporated into it! Go David!!! Speaking of vegans, kill yourself.... seriously.... If your gonna drag your weak, pasty ass out to a non-vegan restaurant for whatever fucking reason, eat before you go. It's insulting to me and my efforts and my hard work for you to come in and tear apart a dish with your fucking finicky eating habits. Or force me to drop everything and pull something out of my ass to feed you. Humans evolved as OMNIVORES! We have canines for a fuck-damn reason! Do the future of the species a favor and either recant your blasphemous ways or remove yourself from the gene-pool however you see fit! Might I suggest hanging, or a shotgun blast to the head will surely get the job done... Fuck you... Fuck your politics... Fuck your bleeding heart, limp wristed, whiny hippie bullshit... Go die! While we're on the subject, there's another sect of the vegetarian camp that pisses me off just as much as the vegans, though for entirely different reasons. That would be the "pesco-vegetarians". These are walking sacks of brain-dead meat with eyes that won't eat animal flesh.... but somehow fish don't count as animals... Apparently, they only appall the consumption of the cute animals, and have actually formulated a twisted non-logic that says fish aren't animals. You're not a vegetarian if you eat fish, you retarded fucking asshats! Maybe I'm coming at this train of thought the wrong way, if so there should at least be a different label for this group of fuckwits. Picky eaters are a different story when food allergies are involved. If you are honestly deathly allergic to foods, or are one of the poor bastards that's a celiac, we understand and will happily do what we can to help you. The occurrence of honest food allergies in humans is pretty low, however, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% or lower of the population. But it seems like they ALL go out to eat for every meal! This is due to false positive tests, which occurs 40-50% of the time, and just plain dip-shits that say they're allergic to a food just because they "don't like it" and because they know we HAVE to take allergy claims seriously. Onion allergy claim is my favorite one. Most foods have onions of some kind somewhere in the preparation and the flavor of them that comes through in most cases is mild and almost unnoticeable. Assholes that don't like eating onions whole in any form tend to be the most common offenders of this. In any case, if you have a true onion allergy (which, by the way, most doctors have never even heard of!) there's not much I can do for you. There are onions in the ALL of the stocks we use, all of the soups, most salads, salad dressings, most starch preparations, a good portion of the vegetable preparations, and in meat marinades. If you don't like onions, just fucking say that! Ask for them to be omitted! That's not a problem. Don't sit there and lie to the server or cooks face because YOU "don't like the texture" or what-the-fuck-ever! If you have a real allergy to them, though, you're pretty much screwed. Sorry to say. "V.I.P.'s": This comes up all the time, especially in fine dining restaurants. The General Manager will come into the kitchen and say,"There are VIP's at table 6, take care of them. Make sure their plates are perfect." Now, I may be in the minority here among professionals, but my psychotic O.C.D. won't allow me to put ANY plate in the window that isn't as perfect as I can humanly make it. So taking "extra special care" with a tables food is pretty much impossible for me, I do that with EVERY table! You want me to give 'em a slightly larger portion? Sure! I can do that! You want me to send out a little freebie appetizer, or maybe a dish we've been experimenting with? No problem! I can't really do any better than I would for any other table, though, 'cause I already do my best on every freakin' order! And please don't ask me to go out to the table and talk with these people! A) I'm busy. B) I'm not good with people, and generally don't like them. And C) Most "VIP's" are total self-absorbed douche-bags, or worse, try to tell a cook HOW TO COOK! In any case, the situation could end very poorly. If it's a personal friend or family of someone in the restaurant, no problem. It's just that most VIP's aren't really accustomed to the way cooks in general talk and behave. We're normally not very good at censoring ourselves. Our crude language and gallows humor will most likely offend their sheltered little ears. That's one of the reasons we're in the kitchen, locked away from these people, and YOU are out on the floor. Leave us to our cooking, and we'll happily let you deal with the public, with your fake painted on smile. Well done: Possibly my biggest psychotic fucking hatred of all! Squirmy little shits that get squeamish at the sight of a little meat juice or blood on their plate. Marco Pierre White has been known to kick these fucktards out of his restaurant, and Bourdain talks about how he used to employ the saving of the older, almost unusable (but not quite sickness inducing) cuts of meat for these orders, marking them "reserve for well". This may sound disgusting, but when you cook the crap out of it you won't notice the difference, and I'd rather save the nicer cuts for people who will actually appreciate them! My personal approach to these nitwits is somewhere in between. I'll use an older cut that's filled with gristle and big chunks of fat and purposely burn the shit out of it. Again, I've worked very hard on these recipes, obsessing about them, developing them, even sleepless nights working them out in my head, not to mention the time it took learn how to cook it properly. Now this mush-mouth comes along and wants me to ruin it? You want me to paint a clown face over the Mona Lisa while I'm at it? Just because you like clowns? FUCK YOU! You'll eat that burnt piece of shoe leather I give you and like it, or you'll get nothing at all! I don't give a flying fuck if you aren't happy with it and NEVER come back! That's actually my goal here! So fuck off, and go back to your hut you fucking peasant! Dishonest menus: Anthony Bourdain wrote in a passage from Kitchen Confidential that "mise en place is my religion". I couldn't agree more, and would like to take that a step further by saying "the menu is my Bible" (you can quote me on that!). The plate that lands in front of the guest had better fucking be what the menu description said it was! The biggest lie perpetuated on menus is the ever present "wild mushrooms". Be it "wild mushroom risotto", "sauteed wild mushrooms", "wild mushroom compote", or "wild mushroom soup". Most of the time this means they used a blend probably consisting of Shiitakes, Portobellas, Criminis, White Buttons, maybe some White or Blue Oysters, and maybe even Trumpet Royales. While some of these are certainly exotic, NONE of them are wild! They are ALL cultivated! This is yet another of my biggest psychotic fucking hatreds! Blatant dishonesty in menu wording to make a dish sound more appealing. Believe it or not, this practice of lying to the dining public extends farther than you think. Even into the realm of sushi! Ever had Red Snapper at a sushi bar? You may think you have, but in actuality MOST sushi bars use Red Tilapia and call it Snapper. There are several reasons for this. The first being it's cheaper and looks so similar when cut into the small pieces required only a well trained eye can discern the difference. Then there's the fact that real Red Snapper looses it's color quicker and therefore doesn't keep for more than a couple days. It also doesn't freeze as well. Yes, contrary to popular belief, most sushi fish has been frozen, but there are good reasons for this that even I can't bitch about, primarily to kill parasites. The final, and maybe biggest reason this ruse is so far widespread is the unreliability of the fresh product. Red Snapper is a delicate fish that needs to be served as close to catch as possible, so it's a dice throw when you order it whether or not it will be of high enough quality to serve it raw. Health Inspectors: As soon as you see that strange face with a clipboard walking through the kitchen you know it's that time again, health inspection. Nothing gives cooks the feeling of walking on egg shells like one of these megalomaniacal power-tripping twits. Not that I'm saying they aren't needed, but the fact is most health codes were written for keeping in line the slack-jawed, hockey helmet, nose picking fucktards that work for street vendors, fast food chains, and chains like Denny's. In short, the lowest tier of this profession. The ones that don't know any better, don't care, or don't understand the germ theory of disease. In most cases those of us in the upper echelons of the industry understand better than the inspectors what is risky and what isn't. The constant changing and morphing of the health codes just adds to the frustration. They seem to delight in the fact that they know since their last visit their cryptic and sometimes illogical canon of guidelines has changed, and they also know you are unaware of this. Therefore they have no problem citing you for an infraction that just six months ago was a non-issue. They also seem to enjoy citing you for things they don't even recognize without asking any questions. I was cited once for "open container of gravy at room temperature". When, in fact, if the hyper-vigilant fuckwad would have asked me what it was it wouldn't have been an issue. It was roux, not gravy... butter and flour are the only ingredients, it's cooked thoroughly, and they are BOTH safe at room fucking temperature! In most restaurants the health inspector visits every six months or so, and it's usually unannounced. So whenever they show up there's a covert mad dash in the kitchen to make sure the walk-ins are organized, everything labeled and dated, and all is up to the last known set of standards. Passing an inspection 100% is nearly impossible, though, because even if the inspector can't find anything to bitch about, in most cases they will just look harder until they do. Not wearing gloves is their favorite citation. It appears they would have us sleep in the damn things, and the procedure they want us to adopt most of the time is impractical at best and not cost effective by any sense of the term. I once worked at a bar that served a lot of burgers, and the health inspector said he wanted to see the guy running that station put on a fresh pair to pull them out of the cooler, another to toast the bun, another to handle the toppings (which were getting cooked anyway) and yet another to season and put the burger on the grill. That's 4-5 pairs of gloves for EVERY burger sold, and we sold around 200 every lunch alone! Close to 500 every day! We got 4-500 fresh burgers in every morning! Do the fucking math! That's a huge expenditure in latex gloves! Most of the time they're getting served medium and medium rare, so the customer OBVIOUSLY understands that it will be undercooked, and menus are fucking REQUIRED to include advisories about undercooked meats! So how is this an issue at all so long as the cook in question washes his hands on regular basis?! Which, by the way, is another thing they harp on about, so every cooks station is within reach of a hand sink. They also like to drone on about the paper towel supply at each of the 4-5 hand sinks located throughout any kitchen. All the dispensers need to be full at all times, as if the paper towel fairy must be on his toes and replace every single used towel with a fresh one immediately! This is usually not a citation worthy offense, but they will still yammer about it every single time they come through. If the dispensers are less than totally full, you're gonna hear about it. We'll fill it back up when it's empty, asshole! I'm not gonna waste any time of my already hectic day to refill the paper towel dispenser if there are still usable towels in it! Get a fucking life, and get over your over-compensating Napoleon complex! You have the power to shut us down, whoopty-fuckin-doo! If there is honest reason to do so, go for it! If there isn't, again, we have knives.... a lot of them... and grease traps that conceal bodies quite nicely.... I'm not tryin to say anything, just sayin.... Parting words: I hope this little tirade enlightens somebody that needed it. Even if it does not reach any of the groups mentioned it was written as catharsis to begin with, so it's already served it's purpose. To me, anyway. I'm guessing most people browsing the food blogosphere don't fall into any of these categories, so self therapy is probably the best I can hope for, but I know there are those that find my rants amusing. In all honesty, so do I! So self entertainment was also accomplished. Phew, that feels better already! Now hopefully I won't be quite as aggravated the next time a waitron fucks up or some douche-cunt orders well done lamb chops..... but I wouldn't count on it... I know myself well enough to know better... Jack http://www.momofuku.com/

5 Comments  to  Observations of a Kitchen Veteran

  1. Kelly A. says:

    That was hilarious. You were really channelling Bourdain there. I wish waiting tables was a career here, like in France. They were professional and knowledgeable and not overly friendly. Just awesome. And professionally dressed and just so slick with the timing of the food, drinks, and the bill. Now I’m depressed. :) Dining in Michigan is overall pretty pedestrian. I would just as soon go to a good burger place or a high end place but skip the mediocre places in between.

  2. Jack says:

    Thank you for the comment, glad you found it amusing! I was kinda goin for Bourdain/Lewis Black/Foamy the Squirrel all rolled together. In most parts (in my head at least) it had very much the same cadence and pace of a Foamy rant.

    Thanx again!

  3. Deano says:

    Jack, Sir,

    You are my Fuck Damn hero.

  4. joe says:

    well said my brother!. I’m surprised though, you left out my personal favorite, those who claim to be allergic to gluten whom are in fact only atkins afficianados.

  5. Jack says:

    Haven’t run into that one, not that I know of anyway… But if you walk into a sushi bar you pretty much already know there’s little chance of escaping rice. Most Atkins followers I’ve encountered at my current job will ask for a roll made with a sheet of cucumber instead of rice and nori.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *