Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chef Rant...Sometimes it just needs to be done.

Alright, I need to rant a little. For anyone who doesn't know much about the restaurant industry (and no, watching Hell's kitchen is not giving you the gospel truth) feel free to read. If you work in a kitchen or restaurant and like reading the rants of others (admit it, we love reading others misery) read on. If you read or not, I promise to follow this post with a delicious recipe in my next one.

There are three major problems with today's kitchens in my eyes. And here they are.
1. Lack of training.
2. Employees are expendable, or made to feel that way.
3. Lack of leadership.

So here's my rant.
On lack of training. With the boom of franchise restaurants these days, high school kids who need a job get a position opening packages and reheating. They think they can suddenly cook, but really, they can recreate by rote. Which is great for franchises, but you aren't a cook! You're a monkey. Yup, I call them line monkeys you better believe it. If they ever had to think to figure out how to make a sauce on their own, their heads would likely explode. Everything is prepared for them either off site or by skilled cooks ahead of time. If they run out of something, like say gravy, they 86 it without a thought. Cross training is non-existent besides most line monkeys don't have the desire and there's no sense even bothering with them.

Employees are expendable. Great way to encourage any sort of loyalty from your staff; make them feel like or tell them straight up, that they are completely replaceable. I hope you all caught the sarcasm there.
But you know what, for the most part, they are. But you don't tell them that!
There are lots of dishwashers or people willing to do the job. Plenty of servers and there are tons of Line Monkeys hoping from McJob to McJob. Kids that will bow and scrape, do the dirty work and don't really have any formal training at all. They're cheap labour after all. Then there's the actual formally trained cooks who simply aspire to nothing. They're usually content getting stoned and drunk every night after work with the monkeys. But not all employees are expendable. You WILL have a few come along that are shining stars. Dishwashers who watch your every move trying to learn. Line Monkey's who ask questions and show real passion and desire to learn. And Chef's that can fill any position, will at a moments notice, they work hard and they're the real deal. Appreciate it at least once in a while, or you're going to loose it. All it takes is a real thank you or a compliment. Even the monkey's deserve their praise now and then too. Because honestly, none of us makes enough money for the crap we put up with, so throw a bone wouldya?

Lack of Leadership. This is a biggun for me. I've worked in restaurants with old school chefs, I've been in kitchens that have working chefs, I've spent enough time in kitchens that only give the title kitchen manager, but the title shouldn't fool anyone. That person should be skilled, talented, knowledgeable, confident, assertive, strong willed and willing and able to set the example. If you show up drunk, high or hungover at work, your employees will too. If you are sloppy and lack professionalism, your employees will as well. And if you try to be everyone's buddy, you're doomed. You set the pace and those you select to work as your right hand, need to be of the same mind as you.
If your assistant kitchen manager drops a chicken breast on the floor, dusts it off and serves it up, is he really helping you or your restaurant?
If your sous chef disappears for hours on end or is serving up beer to your line monkeys every night during service, is he helping you?
If your Junior sous forgets to place the vegetable order on the Friday night of a long weekend, should he have that responsibility?
These are a Chef's closest companions in the kitchen, and if you can't get them towing your party line, everyone else knows they can run rampant too.
Now, I don't agree with the attitude of the 'old school' chef either, throwing things, humiliating cooks and generally being an ogre in the kitchen.
There is a happy medium. Your employees can like you and still respect you and your kitchen. It takes some time to get it right, and everyone has a different approach to finding it. But if you aren't even going to bother, don't be surprised when things start falling apart at the seams or ripping right down the middle.

Kitchen life isn't easy. But these things don't need to make it more difficult. Unfortunately, they too often do.

Okay, I feel a little better.

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