Every day, every night in the kitchen is the culmination of hours of preparation for battle. Similar to any pre-determined military skirmish or battle on the athletic field – preparing for service requires a definitive strategy, detailed organization, respect for the chain of command, exhaustive training, nerves of steel, and a determination to win. Those who call themselves line cooks are the soldiers of the kitchen or the first-string offense or defense on the gridiron. These are the best that a restaurant has to offer – they are crusty, determined, confident, and full of energy. These line cooks are an interesting breed – they are warriors.
Anthony Bourdain described them as swashbuckling pirates who have an uncanny ability to face adversity with the desire to conquer whatever is thrown their way. They wear their scars, burns, cuts, and bruised muscles as prizes that demonstrate commitment to the end goal and unwillingness to let anything divert their focus from the job at hand.
“In many societies in which a specialized warrior class exists, specific codes of conduct are established to ensure that the warrior class is not corrupted. Common features include valuing honor in the forms of faith, loyalty, and courage.”
Professional cooks are conditioned to fit into this secret society or class who have a bond that stems from these three honors: faith, loyalty, and courage. To outsiders this may seem like a stretch, but to those who wear the uniform there will be many nodding heads. Faith in each other – everyone is ready, competent, willing and able to pull their share of the work and execute tasks on the line with a high level of excellence; loyalty towards the trade, the kitchen team, and to the food that they are fortunate enough to handle; and courage to face the unknown every shift. As well as the line cook may be prepared it is impossible to know exactly how the night will progress. What will the guest order, how steady will the orders tick off the POS, what curve balls might be thrown his or her way over the course of service.
The CODE OF CONDUCT for this warrior class will often extend beyond those three honors. The line cooks code, due to the nature of the work and the close interdependence of coworkers may very well include:
- “We may criticize each other, but nobody outside of the warrior class has the right to do the same.”
- “We win as a team or lose as a team. If one cook is in the weeds it becomes everyone else’s responsibility to help him or her through it. We don’t point fingers, we rally together.”
- “I don’t care if you are small, tall, male, female, young or old, black or white, republican or democrat, once you join the warrior class we are all the same.”
- “In the heat of service we never criticize others – we step up and get the job done. Critique can happen later.”
When this code of conduct is broken, and it does happen in restaurants of all types – the battle is lost, the game is over, and the warriors will leave deflated. To be a true member of the warrior class means that the code must be maintained. If we suffer scars from a battle hard fought, then so be it. We might even show these scars as a mark of loyalty and commitment to the game and to the team.
“Kitchens are hard environments and they form incredibly strong characters.”
Does this sound pretty crazy? The answer is probably yes, but I assure you that it happens every day, every night, in professional kitchens from coast to coast. Cooks may find the time to point out that the work is too demanding, the pay is never sufficient, the benefits are non-existent, and the somewhat military style organization is medieval in comparison to any other profession, yet when the clock hits 5:00 and those first tickets start to arrive – it’s game on.
When did this all begin? How did this secret club of warriors come to be? Does this even make sense to anyone (It doesn’t to most people outside of the restaurant business)? Yet, the club of warriors, swashbuckling pirates with hot pans and sharp knives, continues to exist and to many this may even seem a bit romantic. All for one and one for all is the theme song that every cook knows by heart.
“All for one and one for all; united we stand, divided we fall.”
Alexander Dumas – The Three Musketeers
There have been countless warrior parallels to life in the kitchen because the environment is known to be contrary to normal comfort levels and at times even a bit hostile. The kitchen requires a warrior mentality and conditioning.
“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Harry S. Truman
So, the warrior environment continues in kitchens. Once a cook is accepted into the club, he or she is a member for life. There is an unwritten rule that as members we are equal, we have fought and continue to fight the important battle every day or night behind the line and as a result have earned the respect of all who wear the uniform. Every shift we are in it to win it. This takes a special person, a person we call “cook”.
If you are ready for the challenge and prepared to fight the good fight, then tie on an apron, sharpen your knives, wipe your brow, and step up to the plate.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC