Sunday, March 1, 2009


Warren Cook, my first Chef. This was back in 74. My buddies John Horn and Tim Fabatz worked at Merrill Hills Country club.There was an opening in the "dish tank". I finally turned 16 and could get a real job making real money. John was a DW and Tim was a busser. I jumped at the chance. My first restaurant job. woohoo! We had a blast working there.

The Chef's name was Warren Cook,(Yep,"Cook"). He had to be pushing 70. He spent most of his time sitting in his chair at the end of the line nursing a beer and quietly keeping an eye on things. He would sip on that beer all night and when the head would die down he'd salt the beer to bring the head back up. (Don't ask me?) He spoke with a severe lisp he obtained from a stroke he had suffered previously. His nose looked like a battlefield, pocked, pitted, and stained red from years of heavy drinking. His age showed as he'd tire easily and spend more and more time in that chair. He ran a good kitchen there was no doubt about it and the members loved him. And when it was time to move the old dude could move. I would work the outdoor grill with him for "Steak Fries" and that sucker would dance around that huge grill and manage a hundred steaks at a pop. Slicing prime rib? It looked as though he could do it in his sleep. He wasn't big on endurance but that old son of a bitch could cook if he had to. He's also the man who taught me one of my most favorite phrases in this business. Like most young cooks and chefs full of piss and vinegar the sous chef and others would make fun of the elderly Chef and his old school ways and his chair sitting. One day I was assisting him with the steaks outside, (I did the heavy lifting) he was standing in front of the packed grill and out of the blue mumbled. "That fuckin Banning, I've forgotten more than he'll ever know." Banning was the young "hot shot" Sous Chef. I laughed and didn't give it much thought.

I think about that statement more and more these days. In this world of hot shot wannabe super star chefs who can't figure out why they aren't famous or rich and look upon the old timers with disdain and disrespect. It's amazing how much you can forget in 35 years. I also contend that for everything you forget a little seed remains dormant and can sprout when watered with a reminder or just be part of that little voice that tells good chefs what's right and what's wrong. No matter how many forgotten things flourished in the gardens of old chefs heads the remnants of those ideas remain and nourish the soil. There is no substitute for foundation.

At 70 Warren Cook was a badass Chef. I wish I knew him as a younger man. I would have liked to pick up some of that shit he forgot.