Thursday, October 22, 2009

Depth of Knowledge

It's very common these days to see young chefs with glowing resumes. It's typical to see: graduate high school, go to culinary school, stage in impressive high-end, preferably famous restaurants then land a job cooking and cheffing in top notch, high-end restaurants. It seems like a logical progression. Upon viewing one chef's resume I mentioned, "you've only worked in fancy restaurants?" He proudly said, "yes, nothing wrong about that." I replied, "it's about depth of knowledge", it's useful to experience different types of food-service establishments, how things are done outside the foodie world. You can't help picking up some useful tools for the future. Not everyone lands a job in New York or Chicago and understanding the preferences of a broader range of customers will pay off. Not to mention the capabilities of the available staff.

As a result young chefs tend to be inflexible in their idealistic beliefs and frown upon methods that are perceived as less than the way they've been taught. It reminds me of the saying, "young chefs know the rules, old chefs know the exceptions to the rules." These young turks may not understand the value of a diverse food-service background now but if they are still in the biz 20 years from now they will. I've tried to explain this over and over again to the noobies and they all look at me like I'm crazy.

Give me a guy who started flipping burgers, found he loved this crazy business and then worked his way up the culinary chain. He will be more open to alternative methods and products, be more tolerant and will most likely last longer in the business.

With that being said I have lost my tolerance for arrogant hot shot chefs who were born after I got my first chef's job. I actually had one start explaining to me how to cost meat portions. I was like, "you must really think I'm an idiot, do you think I'd be operating a profitable restaurant for 15 years and not know how to cost meat? Tell about me something I haven't been practicing for 35 years kid." I've also been cutting meat for 35 years, do you think he'd be open to suggestions on how to utilize more product and cut more efficiently? Hell no, he knows everything already.


Michael Walsh said...

You hit the nail on the head on this one Scott. I started from the bottom at a diner with a huge steam table over ten years ago and never took a step backwards from my goal to work in the nicest restaurants in town. Once I was put in charge, the biggest thorn in my back has been "properly trained and educated" cooks who think they learned the single, and only proper way to do things from Chef 'I Can't Run a Restaurant Kitchen' at Hill's and Mountain's Culinary School.

Cat's have 9 lives, so you better come up with the tenth way to kill one if you're gonna get the job done.

Just Jim said...

They're so cute before their eyes open

darkmoto said...

I am glad I started at the humble position of breakfast cook. I stumbled into the kitchen at the age of 12 years old as a favor to a friends father who needed someone to wash dishes for a day and I ended up working on the line the very next day. Learning from a guy in his late 70s how to cook short order breakfast for about 350 people in 4 hours time solo. I learned from flipping my first over easy egg to making the somewhat trendy food of the last couple places in my career through blood, sweat and a lot of time. Working 120 hours a week to do what needs to be done because it needs to be done and I was raised by the idea that you always do your share and more. A lot of the young "chefs" I see don't understand simple things. They also feel they are entitled to whatever they want.

I have fired far more culinary grads than non grads. Something about learning in the trenches makes a better co worker and/or employee. My best guy I ever had in a kitchen was a high school dropout who just plain worked as he understood nothing in this world should or ever would be handed to him. He was and still is fiercly loyal. He has followed me from kitchen to kitchen over the years. A good friend and easily the best sous a guy could ever ask for.

I have considered going to school a couple of times but now it hardly seems worth it.