Allow me to begin with a generalization: most restaurant cooks are introverts, viewed as different, sometimes odd and often times lacking in self-confidence. Now you might disagree from your experiences in the kitchen, but it is my theory that “the kitchen” is the vehicle that allows the introvert to come out of his or her shell. These unique people are not easy for outsiders to understand, appreciate or connect with; thus cooks friends happen to be other cooks, servers, chefs and ancillary pirates from the kitchen.
It may very well be that the hours that a cook works tend to limit his or her ability to create “non-restaurant” friendships, but my un-scientific theory points to other factors. First, introverts find it difficult to establish common denominators with others and fear a lack of approval from people. Some may put on a front of indifference to other’s opinion, but most really do care what others think. Realizing that this will not come easy for others, the introvert tries to distance him or herself from the pack and may even seek out a bit of shock value in how they look, dress, act out or what they choose to do with their lives.
Introverts go against the grain and will confuse others. More often than not, these same people are incredibly creative and have the ability to step outside normal thinking processes and actually solve problems that others find insurmountable. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Apple Computer as they tried to distance themselves from the pack of other tech companies:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Like cooks and other restaurant people, those introverts in the computer industry need their special environment to shine and show potential. Apple, MicroSoft, HP, Samsung, Google and Amazon are havens for technology introverts who are changing the world.
In the right environment, introverts morph into different people; ones with a common goal, but more importantly ones who can be themselves, accept others and have others accept them. They become truly transparent in their approach to others.
From my experience, restaurant employees become, in many respects, perfect friends. They may never be that “best friend” that we all hope to find, but real friends none-the-less. Think about that person who worked next to you on a restaurant line and reflect on the attributes that you share with them:
1. You will spend more time with your cook friends than with anyone else, maybe even more time than you spend with your spouse or significant other.
2. Your cook friends will see you at your real best and worst. Feelings and actions are rarely hidden in a kitchen.
3. Your cook friends will learn to anticipate your reactions long before they happen. Spending so much time together reveals advance signals of anger, emotion, frustration and the ugly meltdown.
4. Your cook friends, through close proximity will know what music you like and hate, what your opinions are regarding politics, what sports you enjoy and despise.
5. Your cook friends will freely tell you about past employers and what they thought of them.
6. You will share common passions about food and beverage with your cook friends. They will know what you like to eat and drink and could easily prescribe a meal for you depending on your mood.
7. You will learn to respect your cook friends tools and possessions and in-turn they will respect yours.
8. You may joke and prod your cook friends, sometimes with tasteless references, yet when they are in need of support or assistance, you are there for them – always.
9. Your cook friends will make fun of you, but never allow someone out of your restaurant family to take a similar shot.
10. You will, after a period of time, know exactly how your cook friend will function on the line. Your communication on a busy night might simply be a nod – enough to trigger the right action or response.
11. Your cook friends will welcome you into their network of other friends. “A friend of Jake is a friend of mine.”
12. When your kitchen team is in full sync it is just like the Three Musketeers – all for one and one for all. As Howard Schultz, CEO for Starbucks once said: “Success is best when shared.” Cooks share the glory of a well-executed service and share in the dismay over a night that did not go well.
13. Your fellow cooks are completely honest with each other, example: “Your sauce sucks.” Or “You aren’t really going to serve that – are you?” Sometimes the response is positive and when it is you can trust that they mean it: “That dish will rock their world.”
14. Your cook friends become your family away from your family. “True friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent, it is almost equal to family.” – Don Corleone from The Godfather.
15. Cook friends never let you fail without joining the fight.
16. Even the classic friction that may exist between cooks and servers during the heat of battle is quickly forgotten at the end of the shift when they clink glasses and share a laugh.
17. Cooks may appear to be pirates to those on the outside, and many do swagger like they are ready to board your ship and raise the skull and crossbones flag, but will slip into a comfort zone once they put on their cooks whites and sharpen their knives. This is their place. The kitchen is where they are only judged based on their work performance and ability to accept each other.
Trust me, I have worked in enough kitchens to realize that they are not always as idyllic as I portray, but many are. These are the kitchens, the restaurants that have life, produce exceptional food, service the customer with pride and change how people think about food and beverage.
“Friends may come and friends may go, but you should know that I’ve got your back. It’s automatic so never hesitate to call.” – Brandy
Your cook friends will ALWAYS have your back.
Anthony Bourdain stated once (and this is a paraphrase) that if he were in trouble his first reaction would be to call his sous chef before his spouse.
Restaurant people have a unique friend relationship. A bond of commonality that is unique to the food industry; one that out of necessity creates a connection that would be hard to replicate anywhere else.
Friend a cook – you won’t be sorry.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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*The picture in this article is the restaurant team at the Mirror Lake Inn 2007 Food and Wine Festival. Lake Placid, New York.