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To pounce on an obvious analogy, the heat of the kitchen is the environment in which many a lifelong friendship is forged. The sense of battle, of a siege mentality, as the kitchen gears grind into action creates cast-iron bonds between culinary professionals that hold under even the most stressful conditions in and outside of the kitchen. There’s an unspoken understanding and respect between cooks that transcends the job.
Chef Paul Sorgule, who we feature regularly on the blog, has identified what makes the cooks bond so unique in 13 points, from his decades of experience of chef life. Have a read below and let us know what you think over on our Facebook page. Perhaps you have something to add to this from your own experiences?
1. THE SURVIVALIST APPROACH
Working in a busy, professional kitchen is often compared to a battle or war. The conditions are extreme, the pressure is intense, and the expectations are relentless. Those who accept this as their daily routine and their career calling could easily be considered “survivalists” – individuals who have developed the methods of adaptation through close interdependence, trust, commitment, and drive.
2. A REAL CONNECTION WITH CRAFTSMANSHIP
Especially in the kitchen, those who make it are those who have committed themselves to the development of a polished skill set that allows for consistency even when ingredients and conditions fight against that goal. Craftspeople are able to “make it happen” because they have the skill and the experience to problem solve. Cooks learn to respect each other’s ability to do this and as a result build on that connection that leads to friendship through respect and trust.
3. THE INNER ARTIST
Talented artists always respect and admire other talented artists. Look at a cook’s folder of pictures on his or her smart phone and you will likely see more photos of food than of people. They appreciate the art and the artist.
4. THE NEED FOR TEAM
Kitchens demand not just teamwork, but more importantly the dynamics of a team outlook (common goals, helping each other, learning about each persons strengths and weaknesses and collaborating to complement where it makes the most sense).
5. AN INSIDE APPRECIATION FOR HOW HARD THE WORK IS
Cooks appreciate other cooks. They know how hard every cook works regardless of the kitchen or the menu concept. They have felt the pain, they know about the heat, their feet have felt the same as every other cook’s, they have the battle scars from knives and flames, and the stress of a busy restaurant is universally felt.
6. ACCEPTANCE – NO PREJUDGEMENT
Cooks (at least after those first few days of razzing the new recruit) don’t care about who you are, what you are, where you are from, what you believe in, or any other factor outside of commitment and performance. Once this trust is present then kitchen friendships simply happen – you’re in.
As loose and out of control as some cooks may appear, they are discipline addicts. One of the most common traits of a professional cook is his or her organisation, the structure of minutia that allows each individual to feel ready to perform, their absolute acceptance of directives, and obsession with how they assemble plates. This discipline is a unifying facet of kitchen work and the real price of admission into the team.
8. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
It may seem like a contradiction, but discipline and freedom of expression can coexist in kitchens. Every cook, at some level, has the ability to contribute something new. It may take time before their ideas are accepted, but once they are – the cook is part of that special group of individuals who give a restaurant and the kitchen their unique signature.
9. EVERYONE CAN BE A LEADER
You never known when it will occur or what will drive the opportunity, but every cook realises that the time will come when his or her ability to lead the team through battle will become apparent. When one part of the kitchen machine loses direction another part must pick up the slack and let the team see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
10. A PATH TO THE TOP
Not every prep or line cook will become an executive chef or a restaurateur, but all realise that the opportunity exists. With commitment, passion, hard work, patience, and a determination to do what is necessary, any professional cook can rise to the ranks of chef or even chef/owner.
11. WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET
The common thing about friendship is that there is usually complete transparency. Friends don’t hold back, yet friends always listen and support. If they see a flaw in a friend’s character or performance, a true friend is quick to point it out while offering to help the person make the necessary corrections. To this end, cooks tend to be very transparent and this can be refreshing.
12. WE HAVE EACH OTHER’S BACK
When all is said and done there is a common bond and an unwritten rule in kitchens that outsiders shouldn’t mess with their team. This can even extend beyond their team and include any and all who wear a chef’s coat and apron.
13. PUSHING EACH OTHER TO GET BETTER
The chef may work hard at trying to encourage cooks to improve, but peers are even more effective. Cooks are a competitive lot, but not in an antagonistic way. When one cook sees another master a particular skill there is unwritten incentive to follow suit. Cooks push cooks and freely share the process for self-improvement.