Archives for: June 2011
What goes into the experience of being a chef? Depending upon whether you work privately or at a restaurant, many skills beyond simply "knowing how to cook" are required. Many TV reality shows that feature cooking spotlight some of the elements of the chef's panoply of skills / talents. I thought I'd outline many of them here, for easy reference.
First, there's The Kitchen.
Equipment: Knowledge / Familiarity; Use / Maintenance; Placement / Organization.
Layout / Flow Pattern: Pantry, Walk-in Fridge; Reach-in Fridge; Freeze; Deep-Freeze; Prep Stations; Garde-à-Manger / Service; Front of the House; Washing. ...etc.
Health: Product sealing / storage of foodstuffs.
Economic ordering; Seasonal ordering; Meal Planning with leftover-processing in mind; Date-marking of all foods.
Safety (High Hazard Potential)
2. Fire / Heat
3. Spills / Spatters
4. Emergency measures
Kitchen Comfort / Ergonomics / Mood:
Special flooring, stool(s), Music/sound, height/other adjustments. Special attire.
Teamwork: Roles, tasks, strengths/weakness
Supervision of employees: Many of whom are young, novices to work force/ethic.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Getting it all out at the same time and the right temperature:
Computing starting time, employee arrival time, delineating and assigning all prep tasks to right staff and at the right time. Proper estimation of execution time, knowledge of cooking methods' time requirements and ingredients' responsiveness to those methods. Different service requirements of a meal's various components. Warming and waitstaff issues.
FRONT OF THE HOUSE: Psychology Will Take You Far.
Understanding that there is a particular psychology with respect to Restaurants.
You're dealing with Hunger, which affects the mind and behavior and feelings. You're dealing with Taste, which is a very personal matter. You're dealing with style and aesthetics of presentation of that food. Then there's atmosphere. A well managed Front will be flexible to time of day (differences between, say, a Rush- and a Fringe- hour) and will be staffed by sales people (wait staff) that are well-educated about the menu. A good chef must take the time to offer waiter tastings and explanations.
Plus: Here in America, "The Customer Is Always Right" is the order of the day. You want a manager on the floor who abides by that, ensuring that customers walk out happy, even enthusiastic. This requires a commitment to the Whole Experience, from the welcome greeting through Food, Drink, Music, Mood, Service to Farewell.
THEATRE: The curtain goes up. The front door opens. The door between Front and Back of the House is thin but ever-present. The audience is "out there", though every now and again a customer will want to see the chef. One must be ready and happy to interact with him/her.
I'm not addressing the Food itself here. But having backup dishes and knowing how to materialize great food under urgent conditions, should these arise (and they will, they will) is a priceless skill to have. Think: Readiness to feed the 5000.
Restaurant Psychology stands the chef or restaurant manager in good stead for just about any interpersonal challenge life can hand one. Expectations around Food AND Retail AND Theatre are very, very high; people can be intense under the combined circumstances.
Restaurant work is stressful for the chef: Too much so for many. Some of us found certain areas wherein we tended to be blessed with miracles time and time again. For me, every night was full of these.
There are a number of those Reality Shows on TV. Chefs and ex-chefs watch them with a certain amount of relish and/or nostalgia for the crises and challenges we've faced and surmounted as a matter of course, as part-and-parcel of the job.
That said, we are still artists and care most of all about the food and - for me - the soulful, human enjoyment of it.
I hope this has conveyed some sense of what professional cooking entails. Kin'a makes you glad you're in your own kitchen, creating beautiful, healthful (diet-compliant?) leisurely meals for yourself and maybe a few others?