It is disheartening to occasionally hear of cooks, chefs, and service staff who dislike their jobs, find the work less than rewarding, and most discouraging – fail to feel a unique connection to the people who they share a kitchen with. This has never been the case for me. What I take the greatest pride in and what I gain the most satisfaction from are the friendships that I have developed in kitchens across the country and overseas, and those young cooks with whom I have had some level of positive impact on. There may be other industries that share this level of connection with their coworkers, but from my view – none at the level of food service.
Of course, we all share in our frustrations over lifestyle imbalance, insufficient wages, a lack of reasonable benefits, and the sometimes brutal, physical work conditions of the kitchen, but that aside, we do this work because we really enjoy it. The work just seems to fit us like a glove.
Some businesses refer to coworkers as “colleagues” (someone who works in the same organization or department as you – Macmillan Dictionary), while others may use the label “teammate”( someone who is on the same team as you – Macmillan Dictionary), but few go so far as to refer to their fellow workers as friends (A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts – The Free Dictionary). Sure, there will always be friendships that develop in any work setting, but I have found that those of us who work in kitchens have a unique bond that is simply different. See if you concur with my personal experiences and feelings about kitchen friends:
 THE SURVIVALIST APPROACH
Working in a busy, professional kitchen is oftentimes 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.
 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.
 THE INNER ARTIST
Pull aside any professional cook and show them a picture of a new plating concept, a unique use of ingredients, a well developed knife technique, and a flavor combination that gives them pause, and they will smile and nod just as an art lover will marvel at a unique expression in paint or sculpture, or a music lover who is in awe of a virtuoso’s technique. Cooks can fall into the same category of 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.
 THE NEED FOR TEAM
There is no question that human beings enjoy being part of something larger than them. We gravitate to sports, bands, clubs, or numerous other activities that build camaraderie – this is human nature. 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).
 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. If you are part of the club then you have an automatic connection to every other cook and an acceptance that crosses all cooking genres. When cooks go out to another restaurant as a patron there is always that nod, the thumbs up, or salute that says: “I’ve been there man – nice job, keep the faith”.
 ACCEPTANCE – NO PREJUDGEMENT
As I have stated many times before, it all comes down to putting in the effort and demonstrating your dependability. 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 organization, 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. Discipline is a requirement of this kitchen friendship and a bond that is very strong.
 AND 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. This ability to be expressive is essential for every frustrated artist who enters the profession and again provides another hash mark on that list of “creating an environment for special kitchen bonds”.
 EVERYONE CAN BE A LEADER
You never known when it will occur or what will drive the opportunity, but every cook realizes 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.
 A PATH TO THE TOP
Not every prep or line cook will become an executive chef or a restaurateur, but all realize 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. Whether realized or not, it is this common opportunity that can make team members stay the course and feel good about a chosen career.
 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.
 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. “No person left behind” doesn’t just apply to the military. When one team member is having challenges, others will step up to assist. After all, that’s what friends do.
 PUSHING EACH OTHER TO GET BETTER
Finally, 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.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
**PHOTO: Guest chef event at Quail Valley River Club – Vero Beach, Florida
From left to right: Chef John Kolesar (Ocean House), Chef Dean Moore (Harvard Club – Boston), Chef Adam Young (Sift Bake Shop), Chef Joe Faria (Quail Valley River & Golf Club), Chef Mark Porcaro (The Club at New Seabury), Chef Paul Sorgule (Harvest America Ventures).
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