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The days of the tyrannically angry, shouty chef may be largely a thing of the past in today’s top kitchens, but there are still things that are guaranteed to push even the calmest and most professional chefs to boiling point, especially when the quality of the finished dish, kitchen morale or the fluidity of service is at risk.
Chef Paul Sorgule ,who has spent over four decades in professional kitchens and writes about the psychology of this unique environment over on his Harvest America Ventures blog, has selected 18 such points below. Do you agree? Let us know over on our Facebook page.
18 things that drive chefs crazy
1. UNDEPENDABLE VENDORS
Chefs take pride in their ability to produce consistently great food, in a timely fashion, that exceeds the expectations of the guest. This is, after all, the core of their job description. This is difficult to accomplish if vendors fail to produce the right food, at the expected quality level, at the time requested. When vendors fall down in this regard the chef’s system falls apart.
2. SALESPEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW THEIR PRODUCTS
Although I do hate to generalise – far too many salespeople today do not understand the chef, the kitchen, or the product that they are trying to sell. “Where is it from – what farm – what part of the country? How was the animal raised? What is the flavour profile of that pork? What is the typical yield from a case of…? What is the shelf life of that cryovac meat? When was the fish caught and how was it handled?” These are not unusual questions, nor are they unrealistic expectations of a person whose job it is to sell a product.
3. BEING LATE
The real test to punctuality is whether or not the person is present, at the scheduled time, and fully ready to work or engage. Failure in this regard is the quickest way to experience the wrath of a chef.
4. NO CALL/NO SHOW
This one is simple – unless you are in the hospital, or are in the midst of a real family emergency, if you do not show up, or call to explain why, you are done in the chef’s mind. Some chefs lose their cool over this while others simply write the person off. The real tragedy here is the impact that this has on the person’s teammates.
5. DULL KNIVES
To a chef, this is the most basic requirement of a cook – take care of your tools! When a chef sees a cook with a knife that is unable to perform because there is no proper edge – well, let’s just say that the cook will not have to wait too long to feel the presence of the chef.
6. A LACK OF RESPECT FOR INGREDIENTS
Everything that a cook works with has value – not just monetary value, but even more importantly a connection to the hard work and passion of the person (farmer, fisherman, rancher, cheese maker, charcutier) who toiled over the process of growing, raising, or preparing that ingredient. When a cook fails to show respect for this – the chef views it as an affront to all of those individuals, the chef, the restaurant, and the guest who will eventually consume the finished product.
7. NOT LABELLING AND DATING
Everybody knows how important this is – label and date, first in-first out. These rules are imbedded in every employee’s subconscious in an effort to preserve the quality of ingredients, minimise waste, and make sure that costs are controlled. So – why is it that so many fail to follow this simple rule that takes but a few seconds to accomplish?
Profit margins in a kitchen are very slim. It doesn’t take much to turn a potential profit into a loss. Profitability in a restaurant kitchen is everyone’s responsibility and a good place to start is eliminating or at least – minimising waste. Use everything! Find a use in stocks, purees, soups, features, staff meals, etc. As a wise French chef once told me: “You don’t make money on the onion – you make it on the onion peel. You don’t make money on the lobster – you make it on the lobster shells.”
9. THINGS NOT RETURNED TO THEIR PROPER PLACE
We learn to practice mise en place at our stations, and most cooks through trial and error, pick up on this rather quickly. The same mise en place needs to take place throughout the rest of the kitchen. How much time and product is wasted because items were not returned to their rightful home?
10. SLOPPY COOKS / POOR SANITATION
Cleanliness is the first rule of the kitchen. Personal cleanliness, uniform cleanliness, station cleanliness and sanitation – these are the absolutes of any kitchen. When a cook doesn’t look or work clean the chef has every right to be livid.
11. BEING THE TASTE TESTER
“Chef – taste this and let me know what you think?” This is, of course, a reasonable request by a cook – one that every chef insists on until the cook has built a trustworthy palate. The typical response from a chef would be: “Have you tried it first – what do you think?” When the cook states that he hasn’t tried it yet – the chef sighs with disappointment. This transference of responsibility drives a chef crazy.
12. CARE FREE ATTITUDES ABOUT BROKEN CHINA AND GLASSWARE
It happens – a misplaced item on a shelf, an over-burdened server tray, a plate too hot to handle, or a glass rack stuck in the dish conveyor. Suddenly we have china casualties. We expect this in a kitchen, but we must try to avoid it. That tray of broken dishes might equate to much of today’s profit margin. When carelessness and an aloof attitude result in breakage, or even worse, when people laugh at the broken result – the chef has to pause and collect him or herself.
13. NOT BEING READY
Whatever it takes, when those dining room doors open, when the bus arrives, when the bride and groom return from the church – the kitchen must be ready. There is no excuse – this is the Cardinal rule. If the kitchen is not ready it is ultimately the chef’s fault – when a cook or other staff are the cause, then the chef’s temperature is near boiling point.
Learn how it should be done, ask questions, make corrections, but when you know how it should be done, it must be done that way each and every time.
15. CUSTOMERS BEING RUDE AND CONDESCENDING TO SERVICE STAFF
Many things happen inside the restaurant that create tension – we deal with this. When a guest causes this tension because he or she feels entitled to do so at the staffs’ expense, then the chef will always come to the defence of the team.
16. NOT DOING YOUR JOB TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY
If you don’t know then it is the fault of inadequate training. When you know and fail to execute towards excellence, then the chef will shake his or her head in disbelief. When this happens frequently, then the chef may lose it.
17. LACK OF TEAMWORK
If a staff member fails to step in to help, if he or she is opposed to taking a few minutes to help the dishwasher, if a line cook who is caught up doesn’t see the need to help service staff by clearing trays or making more coffee, if the right hand avoids helping the left hand then a chef will find it necessary to state his or her disappointment.
18. NOT MY JOB
These are three words that can only be uttered once in a kitchen.