Chefs are tempermental souls. After working in two of the most famous restaurants in Miami Beach, I can confidently vouch for this. Either insanity is a culinary school pre-requisite, or it’s only because as artists they automatically posses some amount of lunacy. Given the right circumstances (and power), it will rear its ugly head. Hitler was an art student, he got a little power and look what happened to him.
So as boss of the kitchen, the ugly head is ripe for rearing.
We get the word "chef" from French. In English, it translates to boss. And in the kitchen, the Chef is the king priest boss on high. The kitchen is his country, and he’s given ultimate control. Since every line cook aspires to work his way up to Chef, they pander to his every crazy demand, no matter how insane the rules are. Not to mention at 8pm on a Saturday night, tensions are high, the heat is on full blast and the Chef’s success or failure depends on a bunch of obsequious Mexicans to carry out his vision. You can see why he’s prone to go a little nuts.
A few years ago I worked in a famous restaurant that kept an arrangement of Sake bottles on display. As I was setting them up one afternoon before we opened, the chef approached me and asked if I would pour him a carafe (not a shot, a full carafe) of our house sake. I agreed, assuming he needed it for cooking. As soon as I handed him the sake, he proceeded to chug the entire carafe in front of me. Well not the entire carafe. Some managed to leak out the corners of his mouth and litter his beard with stray dribbles. I’ve seen fraternity boys bong beer with more class.
As I watched him sloppily stumble back to the kitchen, I wondered what celebrity was going to come in that night and call him a genius. I stood there in shocked silence, probably looking more like a hooker than a waitress – my mouth hanging open in a perfect “O.” I probably should have run after him and tried to prevent him from getting his hands on any knives that evening. But what could I do? He was the Chef.
So you can imagine my surprise when I started working for a new restaurant in New York, where the Chef is actually…normal. Normal and nice. His benevolence is so surprising that I’m fully prepared for the day he’ll come into work, smile at everyone, pull out an AK and start shooting. Nice, I tell you. He doesn’t yell, he treats the servers with respect, and he actually gets his hands dirty in the kitchen. (Most Chefs only parade around the floor of the restaurant and accept compliments for the food that the sweaty slaves in the back are actually making.) He’s so nice that there’s no way he meant to offend the bartender who I was lucky enough to witness him inadvertently insult last week.
J the bartender, is sweet. The sort of niceness that doesn’t deserve to be the object of insult. She’s also been trying to loose some weight. So far she’s been successful, shedding a respectful 12 pounds. And her efforts did not go unnoticed by the Chef.
“Hey, J.” Chef began. Did you loose some weight?”
“Yeah,” she brightened. “I did.”
“About 12 pounds right?”
Given that that’s a pretty precise guestimate, her faced twisted up into a confused contortion that said, “How the fuck would you know, stalker? Did you stick a fucking computer chip in my scale or something?”
She actually said, “Uh…yeah. How’d you know?”
He smiled, completely oblivious to the insult he was about to make. “Cause I cut meat all day.”
Satisfied with what, to him, was a perfectly logical explanation, he walked back to the kitchen to continue working. But if you've ever been on a diet you can imagine how she felt. Most women don't want to be seen as just a piece of meat. More importantly, while J has been diligently dedicating her efforts to look better in a bikini, Chef (albeit obliviously) only made her feel like a slaughtered cow.
But what can we do? He’s the Chef.