Look around – they’re slowly, but surely coming back. You know – the individuals who found their mission as a cook – they have been tucked away since March of 2020 waiting for an opportunity to open that knife roll bag, draw their essential tools across that water stone and hone the edges on a steel and counting the days when they could once again find the rhythm of the line. They may have insinuated that they wouldn’t return, but let’s face it – working in kitchens, with all its rough edges, is invigorating and fulfilling. These warriors of the kitchen remember the heat, the aching muscles from standing on their feet for a 12-hour shift, the pressure of timing, the polished hands from grabbing too many scorching hot pans, and the staccato sounds of the POS printer ticking off countless orders.
Yep, I get the reflection time that was the hallmark of the pandemic shutdown, those moments when every cook and chef took inventory and wondered why it is that they work under adverse conditions, invest way too many hours, and do so for wages that never compete with other professional careers. I know that there are plenty of reasons why it would make sense to walk away and find something, anything different to do for a career, but a day or two back on the line, back to creating beautiful, delicious food, back to working with a team in total sync, and back to the adrenaline rush of a full board of dupes and plates sliding in the pass – and you are hooked again.
Of course, you will feel the pain once again, the aching back and throbbing feet, the sweat running down your back, and the sting from an occasional burn or finger nick from that extra sharp knife – but then again, there is that feeling of accomplishment, the ability to push yourself to get better, faster, more proficient, and totally tight as a team member that brings you back day after day. Do you really want to give this up?
If any line cook really wants to become a property chef – they can, in time, with dedication, with a commitment to learn, and with the patience and resilience that is necessary to build a skill set and the aptitude that must accompany a future chef. You can do it, and deep inside you know it. Find people to learn from, attached yourself to a culinary mentor, study, and practice, learn from your mistakes, go the extra mile, and build a methodical plan to move from line cook to sous chef, to working chef, and on to the executive position in a volume, high quality operation. It can be done. This is a career that affords anyone the opportunity to define their destiny, to work at it and move forward.
Look around – there are plenty of chefs in the making – they are the cooks who after wrestling with those questions” “should I return to the kitchen or not”, said: “of course – I must”. Are you one of these cooks, or did you hang up your apron for the last time? Is that knife roll collecting dust and the experiences that you had only exaggerated stories now? How long before you miss those stories, miss the energy, or miss the creativity?
If you decided to hang it up and you are fine with moving on – more power to you. Find your passion, look for your destiny, be happy and fulfilled – this is what life is all about. If you were pulled back in by the magnetic field of the kitchen – then make a commitment to move forward. Don’t delay – say “I will” today!
The smells of the kitchen are intoxicating. Bacon lardons rendering in a pan, fresh bread cooling on a rack, that thin crust pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil being peeled from a woodfired oven, shellfish sauteed in lemon butter, fresh rosemary lending its perfume to a roast, garlic and onions simmering till they are golden brown and sweet from reduction and caramelization, or a Black Angus steak dripping through the grates of a chargrill – adding fuel to the fire and sealing in the goodness of that incredible cut of meat. This is what welcomes a cook every day throughout his or her shift. The feel of a perfectly balanced chef knife in your hand – the blade that is honed to the sharpness of a razor blade is a tool that feels like an extension of your hand. The rapid-fire sound of cooks who are in complete control of this knife cutting piles of perfect dice, brunoise, julienne, and chiffonade. How do you feel when that plate is assembled as it should – perfect balance of color, texture, height, and marriage? When the sauce is the final touch just before a cluster of appropriate herbs that tie the plate together – you know that you have just painted another masterpiece – one that a guest will take a picture of and share with the world – one that they will remember and tell their friends about. HOW COOL IS THAT????
As you step back into that kitchen you remember what it was like to look to your left and look to your right and know that you can trust those individuals at their stations to work just as hard, care just as much, and dedicate themselves to playing their role in making sure that the collective work of the team is memorable. If you could have someone video tape the work of this team and put it to music, it would be a symphony, an intriguing interplay of artists working individually and collectively at the same time – a work of art. You remember this now – don’t you?
The orders start to arrive as the team acknowledges they are ready. Mise is tight, everyone knows what needs to be done, pans are lined up, plates are stacked, side towels are folded and the expeditor calls everyone out – “are we ready?” Ordering, order fire, pick up, refire, give me an all day, yes chef! This is the language of the line and for the next four hours the commands and responses will come in relentlessly. The energy will peak around 7 pm when the board is full, and everyone is in the zone – it is a point of time when things can go either way – towards excellence or over the cliff. This is where you thrive, this is what you live for, this is where great cooks are made. You make it through, the adrenaline stays full bore, the orders start to dwindle, a smile comes to your face, and you nod to your teammates, give a few high fives, and start to plan for tomorrow. You have missed this, you know you are good at what you do, and you are able to look in a mirror and say – “this is what I was meant to do.”
So, for those who return to the kitchen – start today to solidify your future where the responsibility and authority coalesce, where the pay begins to match the skill, where you are more in control of what you invest in time and effort, where your talent is recognized, and where every day you will have a chance to help mold the future of another young cook – a place where you began.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
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