When we listen to a catchy song by Steely Dan we think of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen – the founding members of this iconic group. Yet, Bernard Purdie probably played that laid-back rhythm that defines their songs on drums. Purdie, a studio musician, was responsible for the Purdie shuffle that made hits of dozens of songs by well-known groups over the years. Or maybe you were entranced by the tight guitar riffs on albums like Countdown to Ecstasy or The Royal Scam. There is a good chance that they came from the guitar of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter who sat in with a handful of bands in the 70’s and 80’s. That driving drum phrasing on Steve Miller Band albums like Fly Like and Eagle, and the brush work on Van Morrison’s Moondance – was from Gary Mallaber who toured with these groups, and others for a time, but made a career as a studio – sit in. Billy Preston played keyboards for the Stones and the Beatles, Tower of Power horn section was behind many of the iconic songs by the Band, and Nicki Hopkins was every bands keyboardist of choice for a few decades. All of these incredible musicians were not in the limelight – they rarely took bows on the stage, and only received cursory recognition on the albums that they helped to define – yet, their role in creating lasting songs is unquestionable.
Now think about the role of these studio talents and apply the concept to successful restaurants. It is the chef, after all, who makes the newspapers and magazines, receives the applause from happy customers in the dining room, is respected and feared by all who knock on the kitchen door to make a sale, and is given credit for the restaurants success by managers and owners. Yet, on any given night, it is the cadre of line cooks (the restaurant industry’s version of studio musicians) who cook those meals, adjust the seasoning, and paint beautiful pictures of enticing food on Italian bone china plates.
The chef may write the songs, or design the menus, but it is the line cook who makes it happen, who pulls together the chef’s thoughts and executes a dish in a consistent manner, hundreds of times each week. The chef may step in now and again, probably expedite the flow of preparation and service, adjust plates and add a garnish, and certainly work to make sure everything is in place for the cooks to succeed, but it is the line cook’s steady hand, clear mind, fine tuned technique, and well-educated palate that brings everything to fruition.
Talk with the members of a successful band and they will point to the chemistry among their members as the most critical part of success. When this chemistry exists, then there is interplay, symmetry, creativity, discipline, and a common voice. We have all witnessed the magic that happens when a band is in the zone. The exact same thing happens in a restaurant when those line cook studio musicians, who have exceptional skills and timing, connect with everyone else on the line. A line comprised of those extraordinary technicians and artists who do not typically live in the lime light, will consistently impress and inspire all who witness their magic.
Some restaurant chefs make the connection and realize early on that their success is tied directly to the unified approach of those talented line cook studio musicians. When they are brought to the range and orchestrated properly then a restaurant will earn the accolades that are sure to come.
The Similarities Continue:
 Studio Musicians are highly competent technicians who understand the foundations of organized music and can apply technique in a masterful, consistent manner. Competent line cooks are highly competent technicians who understand the foundations of organized cooking and can apply technique in a masterful, consistent manner.
 Studio Musicians understand the importance of timing to the integrity of quality music delivery. Competent line cooks understand the importance of timing to the integrity of quality food delivery.
 Studio Musicians are able to play a variety of musical styles, and do it very well since they never know what artist they are going to work with next. Competent line cooks are able to work with a variety of cooking styles and cuisines, and do it very well since they never know what chef they are going to work for next.
 Studio Musicians are extremely well organized and know that every tool they use has a place and must be in its place for seamlessly great music to result. Just look at how a drummer sets up his or her kit or a keyboardist arranges the various pieces of equipment to be used in a performance. Competent line cooks are extremely well organized (mise en place) and know that every tool they use has a place and must be in its place for seamlessly great food to result.
 Studio Musicians understand what is behind the music – the cultural influences, the feelings of the writer, the environmental conditions that were present when the music was first played, and the anticipation of the listener. It is this understanding that allows the musician to feel the music and portray it as it was intended. Competent line cooks understand what is behind the food – the care that the farmer places in growing ingredients, the feelings of the menu planner, the environmental conditions and ethnic influences that fed the original preparation of a dish, and the anticipation of the diner. It is this understanding that allows the cook to feel the preparation and portray a dish as it was intended.
 Studio Musicians know their place and can tow the line when it comes to following the directives of the songwriter or prominent musician in a group, but have the ability to add their unique signature to any piece of music if the opportunity arises. This is one of the primary reasons why bands in the 1960’s and 70’s hired Nicki Hopkins to play keyboards on their records. He could fill the subservient role, but just as easily take on a lead part in defining a piece of music. Competent line cooks know their place and can tow the line when it comes to following the directives of the chef, but have the ability to add their unique signature to any dish if the opportunity arises.
Show appreciation for the skill, confidence, and chemistry that line cooks provide. It is their ability to “sit in” that helps a restaurant cross the bridge from good to great. A chef is only as good as the team of studio musician line cooks that stand firmly behind him or her and perform exceptionally well, day in, and day out.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC