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If you've never worked in a professional kitchen you may not realize that chef life is tough, real tough. It's not all Thomas Keller rosy with hints of Ferran Adrià genius. In fact, it's a life full of sacrifice and uphill battles beautifully detailed in this open letter from Chicago chef Mark Mendez.
"I am angry, so forgive me if I rant. You gave notice after only two weeks on the job and then didn’t show up the next day and really screwed me. I know why you quit; it was hard work, harder than you thought it was going to be. The funny thing is, you worked an easy station and never even worked on a busy night, funny right? The sad thing is you don’t even know how hard it really is, or what it truly means to be a line cook."
The chef goes on to say that perhaps the root of the problem is culinary school, which trains students in cooking techniques but doesn't adequately prepare them for what it really takes to be a chef in the real world. Mendez writes: "They didn’t tell you about the sacrifices you have to make, the hard work, the hours, the dedication, the commitment, the lack of sleep, the constant abuse of the sous chef, they didn’t warn you."
His letter highlights the fantasy where culinary students think they'll graduate and immediately becoming the next Grant Achatz. As someone who graduated from culinary school and worked at restaurants I can attest to the fact that it takes years to actually ''make it'' in the business of cooking.
You don't become a chef overnight, you first have to become a cook - a good one at that. This is part of what Mendez communicates in his letter and he is definitely spot on. He recommends culinary students "get ready for years of sacrifice, hard work, and stress."
Here's more brilliant advice:
"Learn as much as you can, read everything, ask questions, write things down, save your money and eat at other restaurants, show up to work early and offer to stay late, come to work on your day off just to learn how to make pastry or hone butcher skills. Taste everything you can, over and over, and ask the chef so many questions he gets annoyed."
Although the letter is from 2009 the message is still poignant today. Read the full letter over at Dining Chicago and let us know if you agree with Mendez in the comments below.