I knew when I decided to write about this topic I would probably offend a whole lot of people and have death threats made against me. But in my endless drive to educate the unenlightened proletariat on the truth and madness of the restaurant/ foodservice industry, I had to express myself on this subject. Please bear in mind I literally have 34 years of blood, sweat, and tears invested in this business, with a myriad of observations, and in no way am I trying to demean anyone, I am just pointing out the truth after interviewing many people like myself in the trade, and drawing from my own humble experience.
It seems the term “chef” is given out like candy to anyone who can lift a knife and cut a vegetable. Someone who graduates from culinary school with no previous experience is called a chef and enters the work force expecting a huge salary and an executive title without paying the dues. I decided a long time ago I would rather be a good cook than a great chef. I have worked and run the 4-star hotels and resorts and I know how to make the fancy French cuisine that impresses the ostentatious crowd of gastronomic snobs. But by choice, most of my career has been getting down and dirty making burgers, sandwiches and chicken wings for the everyday people who just want a good meal at a good price. Fancy food is exciting, but no one eats like that all the time.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you graduated culinary school and cook for your family and friends that is great, I am happy for you and wish you the best. But if you are looking for a job as the executive chef or kitchen manager position on a line filled with people who have worked their way up from the bottom of the kitchen food chain (bus boy or dish washer), you had better be prepared to work 60 or more hours a week, sweep and mop the floors, wash the pots and pans if needed, and scrub down the kitchen like the rest of them. You can’t sit on your laurels and write the menu and spend all day at the organic produce market and then expect everyone else to sweat to make your recipe and menu ideas come to life. You will never get the reverence you think you deserve. I am sure you have great recipes and menu ideas, but I hope you are prepared to make them 40 times a day for 7 days in a row, 365 a year. This isn’t a dinner party you are doing once, with 12 people showing up, and sitting at the table with their place cards and a glass of the flavor of the month. And the dish needs to taste the same every time you make it, or when someone else is making it if you aren’t there.
For all of us who work and toil in the industry, we applaud the fact that you went to school, and we pray for your success. My research has shown that a few things are not mentioned to the students. There are long hours for low pay and you will have to work holidays. You have to cover when someone calls in sick or hung-over (believe me it happens all the time, especially after payday). You will be the only cook on a busy night and you will have to do dishes or wait on customers. You will have to put the deliveries away and you may get your chef coat dirty. You might actually have to stock the kitchen yourself, do the prep work and cook all at once. Food you think is perfect is going to get sent back to be prepared correctly (gasp!). It isn’t an easy life, and that is why we take exception to those who walk into the kitchen with big ideas and no understanding. I am not bitter or resentful because I never went to school. I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut and listen to those who have been around the block. School is great, but this is an industry where you never learn everything. It is also an industry that will chew you up and spit you out if you let it. You could spend a lifetime just learning the food of one culture. So if you ever get the opportunity to run a brigade, make sure you tell them “great job” after every service, and buy them a round of drinks after you help them clean up.