Back in the day I never ran into a bad line cook. They simply didn't exist. A line cook, if you don't know are those guys (an occasional girl) that put the food out night after night. They are the backbone of this business. A good line cook is like your sergeant. Invaluable, experienced and will save your ass time and again. If I was a general and wanted to rule the world I would gather up all the best line cooks on earth and lay waste to all who dared to challenge. They epitomise what I think a human being should be. Strong, aware, emotional, smart and quick thinking. A true warrior.
Back then it was pure survival of the fittest. No other business that I'm aware of is more like living in the jungle. You do it or you're done, period. There were so many able workers back then that you didn't waste your time on the weak and feeble. This is a damn tough business that few really are cut out for. It amazes me how many try. It amazes me more how many are still employed. They may still have a job but they will never succeed. They will never fulfill their dream. They just don't have it. Over the past few years I have told more than one young line cook that they will never make it. The shock in there faces an expected response. Tears, if they already knew. I usually will try and soften the blow with "maybe you should try baking?". If you can't cook on the line then be a waiter or a bartender. This is a small club.
Line cooks are broken into three groups in my book. First, a good cook. If you aren't good, you're not employed. Second, a cook with style. Someone you know will do a good job and has made a little bit of a reputation for himself. He's learned a few tricks and can get you out of a jam. Third, the rare, "cook with class". simply put, if you still have style under pressure you got class. That guy who bales you out when you are in the weeds. He just senses it and the next thing you know he's turning your fish, or stocking your station right before you crash and burn. The dude who you love to have next to you. The dude you'll go to war with.
These days good cooks are far and few between. The ones who are out there are most likely Mexican and probably from Oaxaca. They tend to be transient and go where the money is. The white guys are either unreliable, drunks, drug addicts or all of the above.
The recent food network "chef craze" has not done us any favors. Everyone wants to be a chef. The thing is, you can't be a good "chef" without first being a good line cook. They need to learn how to cook, on the line, with your bro, in battle.