I attended a pock luck dinner party the other night. My wife works as a therapist at our local hospital and the dinner was a gathering of her colleagues, most of whom were self described foodies. Just before dinner was served I took over one of the ovens in order to heat up a Moroccan chicken dish that I had made for the occasion. Along with my dish there were several others which needed to be warmed and one of them was a batch of blanched green beans and almonds. When I offered to warm the beans for the guest who made them he expressed concern that I might burn them. “Don’t worry I’m a professional chef, your beans are safe”. I promised.
Noticing that my friend was not placated, I added the fact that as a young chef I had been threatened with my life many times by older chefs who had given me the responsibility of cooking thousands of dollars of meat at a time, and a few green beans did not scare me. He seemed relieved and graciously allowed me to take over. In the end his beans were perfectly warmed and all was well.
After dinner the bean guy asked me what I thought of Gordon Ramsey and all the other chefs who seem to take pride in yelling at other chefs on national television. I responded by saying that I thought most of it was a choreographed crock of #*^% designed to enhance ratings. Not to mention the fact that when these young chefs do get screamed at, the common reaction seems to revolve around tears, whining and temper tantrums, which is something that would never happen in the professional world.
This of course forced me to explain what my thoughts were on kitchen discipline and where I thought the line should be drawn in kitchens today. First of all, it’s true that kitchens can be hot beds of temper and abuse. If you put ten people in a super heated environment and work them fourteen hours a day at break neck speed, something is bound to happen, but there are some parameters.
I began my training as a chef in the mid 1970’s long before the notion of kitchen rock stars came to fruition. When I was learning how to cook the focus was much more centered on getting the food out and paying rent, than it was on getting a James Beard award. Cooking was considered to be a thankless profession that paid nothing and took everything, including your soul. Its true I was yelled at quite a bit when I was coming up the ranks, but the yelling was centered much less on my being an idiot than an overall desire us to get the job done quickly and efficiently. In short, the chefs I worked with acted much more as coaches to a football team that needed to be pushed, than today’s moto of humiliation for the sake of it.
In the old days (I sound just like my father) if you could not cook like a monster already, you would not be working in the kitchen to begin with. There was no pussy footing around, us cooks were there to make money and nothing more. If you could not cut muster in a kitchen you were fired long before there was any reason to yell or question your skills. And this I believe is the major difference today in the world of food.