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Advice for young chefs

Totally Kosher

Comments and Suggestions by Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

  1.  Be fully committed. Don’t be a fence-sitter or a waffler. If you’re going to be a chef some day, be sure about it, single-minded in your determination to achieve victory at all costs. If you think.. you might find yourself standing in a cellar prep kitchen one day, after tournéeing 200 potatoes, wondering if you made the right move, or some busy night on a grill station, find yourself doubting the wisdom of your chosen path, then you will be a liability to yourself and others. You are, for all intents and purposes, entering the military. Ready yourself to follow orders, give orders when necessary, and live with the outcome of those orders without complaint. Be ready to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
  2. Learn English. You must learn speak English to make it easy to talk with customers.
  3. Don’t steal. In fact, don’t do anything that you couldn’t take a polygraph test over. If you’re a chef who drinks too many freebies at the bar, takes home the occasional steak for the wife, or smokes Hawaiian bud in the off hours, be fully prepared to admit this unapologetically to any and all.
  4. Always be on time. Don’t be late come to work. Because your staff will follow what you do and that will give you trouble one day
  5. Never make excuses or blame others. Do not try to find other people false or weakness because to show you are good.
  6. Never call in sick. Do not always MC or cheat your leader.
  7. Lazy, sloppy and slow are bad. Enterprising, crafty and hyperactive are good.
  8. Be prepared to witness every variety of human folly and injustice. Without it screwing up your head or poisoning your attitude. You will simply have to endure the contradictions and inequities of this life. ‘Why does that brain-damaged, lazy-assed busboy take home more money than me, the goddamn sous-chef?’ should not be a question that drives you to tears of rage and frustration. It will just be like that sometimes. Accept it. ‘Why is he/she treated better than me?’ ‘How come the chef gets to loiter in the dining room, playing kissy-face with [insert minor celebrity here] while I’m working my ass off?’ ‘Why is my hard work and dedication not sufficiently appreciated?’ These are all questions best left unasked. The answers will drive you insane eventually. If you keep asking yourself questions like these, you will find yourself slipping into martyr mode, unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction and death.
  9. Assume the worst. About everybody. But don’t let this poisoned outlook affect your job performance. Let it all roll off your back. Ignore it. Be amused by what you see and suspect. Just because someone you work with is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious and corrupt asshole shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them or finding them entertaining. This business grows assholes: it’s our principal export. I’m an asshole. You should probably be an asshole too.
  10. Try not to lie. Remember, this is the restaurant business. No matter how bad it is, everybody probably has heard worse. Forgot to place the produce order? Don’t lie about it. You made a mistake. Admit it and move on. Just don’t do it again. Ever.
  11. Read! Read cookbooks, trade magazines-I recommend Food Arts, Saveur, Restaurant Business magazines. They are useful for staying abreast of industry trends, and for pinching recipes and concepts. Some awareness of the history of your business is useful, too. It allows you to put your own miserable circumstances in perspective when you’ve examined and appreciated the full sweep of culinary history. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is invaluable. As is Nicolas Freleng’s The Kitchen, David Blum’s Flash in the Pan, the Batterberrys’ fine account of American restaurant history, On the Town in New York, and Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel. Read the old masters: Escoffier, Bocuse et al as well as the Young Turks: Keller, Marco-Pierre White, and more recent generations of innovators and craftsmen.
  12. Have a sense of humor about things. You’ll need it.
  13. Avoid restaurants where the owner’s name is over the door. Avoid restaurants that smell bad. Avoid restaurants with names that will look funny or pathetic on your résumé.
  14. Think about that résumé! How will it look to the chef weeding through a stack of faxes if you’ve never worked in one place longer than six months? If the years ’95 to ’97 are unaccounted for? If you worked as sandwich chef at happy Malone’s Cheerful Chicken, maybe you shouldn’t mention that. And please, if you appeared as ‘Bud’ in a daytime soap opera, played the Narrator in a summer stock production of ‘Our Town’, leave it off the résumé. Nobody cares-except the chef, who won’t be hiring anyone with delusions of thespian greatness. Under ‘Reasons for Leaving Last Job’, never give the real reason, unless it’s money or ambition.

Posted on: April 15th, 2013   |   No Comments

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