I love restaurant people- always have, always will. What is it about this motley crew of unlikely team members that makes being a part of their family so enticing?
For my time in the kitchen I have been able to develop a rationale for how and why a culinary team is built and what draws people to this truly insane business. First, nearly every cook, server, chef, and dishwasher who has been in the business more than a few years shares one deep-rooted commonality: they are frustrated artists. I have worked with line cooks who are incredible guitarists, drummers, keyboard players and masters of the harmonica (harp). They love this form of expression but have found it very difficult to earn a steady paycheck. Others, in their spare time are quite good at drawing, painting, and even sculpting, but alas can’t find a sole to fork over any cash for their work. I have even found prolific writers disguised as cooks hoping for a chance to express themselves in print some time.
What draws them to the kitchen is not just a paycheck, but the ability to show their artistic ability on a plate. This is the only art form that appeals to all human senses and unlike painting, music and writing, there is usually immediate feedback from those who are paying for your work. Just like the artist who is devastated by a bad review of their music, painting or novel, look into the eyes of a cook when a guest says that they don’t like the food that they purchased.
Second, there is a natural high that comes from working in a busy, demanding kitchen. While some fall by the wayside under the stress, many others thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from a board full of dupes, a window full of finished plates waiting for a server, a station at capacity with guests, and cooks or servers who are “in the zone” and loaded for bear. Long-time restaurant people are lured into this environment for the rush. If you have not experienced this it may seem odd, for those who are part of the “family” you definitely know what I am talking about.
The downside to this is that the older you get (and remember kitchen jobs are measured in dog years – 7 for every 1 served), the harder it is to keep up with the rush and recover for another round tomorrow.
Third, restaurant people don’t seem to fit in with “regular” folks. They don’t understand 9-5, they don’t seem to relate to 8 hours of sleep, they are typically inclined to socialize with only others who are in the profession, they are uncomfortable talking about things other than food, music, acting, or high intensity sports and they tend to ignore the long-term and focus on today. Yes, to many outsiders restaurant people are “misfits”.
Finally, and most importantly from my perspective, restaurant people are “real”. This is why I love them. What you see is what you get. They are very transparent, speak their minds (at least to other restaurant people), are dependable (if not they are usually encouraged to leave), are trustworthy (or they are not encouraged to join the club) and are interesting as hell.
In kitchens where I worked there was no bias about age, size, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual preference, political views (not that we don’t argue or kibitz about all of these), the key is “do you play well in the sandbox and do your work”. We may make a few jokes now and then about each other, but if you are on the outside of the restaurant family, don’t ever make a snide remark about those who are inside. We are all unified around support of those who wear the colors. My kind of people.
By the way, if you are thinking about entering the food business and none of the above makes sense to you, then you might be better off with another career choice. This could be an interesting entrance exam for culinary and hospitality colleges:
1. Are you a frustrated artist?
2. Do you thrive on being crazy busy, relish stress, and enjoy having 15 things on your mind at once?
3. Do you find 8 hours of sleep each night a waste of time?
4. Would you prefer not knowing from week to week what your schedule will be?
5. Do you have any bias towards people who are “different”?
6. Oh, and by the way, how many tattoos do you have?
What are your kitchen experiences with this unique cadre of misfits?