Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chefs and society

I've worked at Lacroix for over two years now. That's a pretty long time. One of the perks about this, is that I get to see people come and go, and I get to see them evolve (this is magnified because I only work Saturdays). I remember my second Saturday working there. The then-chef de cuisine had just left. I asked another chef if he was the new chef de cuisine. He laughed, and said no, with a kind of "yea right" attitude. Shortly after he was given that position.

Some people don't change. I can think of a few people who in all my time working there, are exactly the same. I guess either their change is not noticeable to me, or they're done evolving. Conversely, some people change magnificently. I remember a cook who used to be constantly yelled at. Now he's one of the leaders. The appointed chef-de cuisine has gone from rather uninspiring, to "most looked up to."

Last week at Lacroix, a cook was behaving rather "strangely," as some would call it. Said cook had started working here long after I, and I've watched him go from timid, with little personality, to crazy yet likable. I asked him a question I'd been pondering for some time. "Is it working in kitchens that has turned you crazy?" He replied "No, I've always been like this. I really think it's the other way around. Crazy people flock to kitchens because it's the only place where this kind of behavior is acceptable. We're kind of like the outskirts of society." I asked him, half jokingly, if the sommelier (religious french dude) is what grounds them from going totally out of their minds, but in all honesty I think it's more than that. I think the crazy, inappropriate, and often obscene behavior ends with the realization that when you walk out the kitchen doors, society doesn't end. That when you take off your checkered chefs pants, and remove your white jacket, no matter how far on the border, you're still a part of regular life.

Gives you a little somethin to think about eh?


CHEF said...

Yup. You hit it right on the nose, Nick. The restaurant environment has always been the safe house for vagabonds, criminals, drug addicts, etc. It's where the outcasts can go and be themselves, and is one of the main reasons I was drawn to this profession. Restaurants have always harbored the belief, that if the job gets done, we don't really care what you do in your personal life. A lot of the guys I've worked with were ex-cons, former crack and/or heroin addicts, or just plain crazy m-fckrs. And a lot of them were really, really good behind the stove.
I love the part in Ratatouille when the woman (can't remeber her name) is explaining some of the background on the cooks in the kitchen. It is the epitome of a restaurant kitchen staff. Gamblers, murderers, and circus freaks.
However, hotels, conference centers, and contract food service is diferent story. Drug testing, back ground checks, and meticulous screening weed out a lot of really good cooks. That's why hotel food is so bad. If most restaurants screened employees as harshly, there would be nobody working.

Anonymous said...

are you on crack? jk...