Love this blog post by Dan, really shows what being a chef is all about.
As a chef you get asked a lot of the same questions “What’s your signature dish?”, “What’s your favorite thing to cook?”, “What type of cuisine do you cook?”, One that I love to answer though is “Who’s cook’s when your not there?
The answer is simple, The same people that cook when I am there!
The kitchen is full of hierarchy very similar to the military in ways, there are many different rolls throughout the brigade but the more senior you become the less actual cooking you do and the actual running of the kitchen becomes a priority.
Don’t get me wrong, as a senior chef you still cook but your not confined to a section or certain dishes, it’s your job to train and oversee all the other chefs to make sure there cooking your food the way you want it.
During service time the senior chefs will be pretty much conducting the other chefs, calling out checks, plating or finishing food, It’s all about a team effort from every chef, no one chef can do it alone.
It shouldn’t matter whenever you eat at a restaurant it should always be consistent and up to the standards expected no matter who is cooking.
When I was younger I got bored of working in London and wanted to gain experience further afield so I decided to move to Paris, I spoke with a mentor of mine and managed to get a job in a 2 Michelin star restaurant on the Champs élysées (hook up central right)
I knew a friend from my home town who was living in Paris called Dan and moved in with him, he lived in a school, in one of the roughest parts of Paris called Corbeil Essonne. Lets just say it wasn’t the nicest of areas, google it and see. He was a teacher (well by teaching he would hand out copy’s of the Sun newspaper and get the students to translate) he let me sleep on his floor, after just a week of living in an old class room and flooding adjacent rooms by leaving the shower on it was time to move more central. We found a place above a warehouse that was being used as an art studio, we weren’t actually supposed to be living there so the rent was pretty cheap. But it was a real strange place. Once the police has to be called because the landlord tried to strangle an art student who he was having an affair with because she tried to ruin some of his paintings. Do not mess with a woman scorned.
On my first day of work I entered the kitchen to a brigade of about 30 chefs and muttered the words “Parlez vous Anglais?” And got a swift answer of “Non”. Brilliant. I barely speak English let alone French. I knew some basic kitchen French as being a chef it’s in the fundamentals so managed to just get by just but they gave me a tour completely spoken in French and I didn’t have a clue what they were saying really, they showed me where to get changed and I started pretty much straight away. The hierarchy in the kitchen was just like the army. There was no messing around here. My chef de Partie told me that he would speak to me in English on the first day but as of the next he wouldn’t. He was true to his word. We never spoke English again.
I learnt pretty quickly. I think in a situation where you are dependent on the language you soon pick it up, I would watch what others were doing and just copy, the head chef would come round and proper shout at me but I’d didn’t care because half the time I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was a proper dick. One thing I did learn from him was how not to treat people.
I worked like a donkey there. Almost 16 hour days everyday. It was mental but I learned a lot. The food was very classical but the techniques were second to none and the discipline was amazing. When a kitchen gets busy (what we call being in the shit) the chefs start to push. There you had to push from the moment you walked in the door. I mean the staff food was better than lots of restaurants I’ve been to, there was a staff canteen that would serve a three course meal twice a day cooked by the chefs not just using left overs like normal but actually cooking classic dishes. They would also serve any cheese that had been cut into from the cheese board using only whole ones for the customers. It was pretty special.
After about 6 months of having my arse run into the ground I decided I wanted to leave. My flatmate Dan had already left his job and the constant drinking was turning us into border line alcoholics. I didn’t want to let my mentor down though by only leaving after six months so we came up with an idea which was probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.
We decided to fake the death of a sister that I didn’t even have. Dan was petty good at French at the time so he called up and explained that I won’t be coming back to work as my (imaginary) sister had died. As you can imagine they were quite shocked and asked if they could have my address so they could send some flowers. Dan obliged and gave them my mums address back home.
Starting to panic I called my mum and explained not to worry if she received some flowers for someone she didn’t know and explained what we had done. As you can imagine she went mental and made Dan call the restaurant back, he then spoke again with the head chef and tried to explain that my imaginary sister wasn’t actually dead but just in a comma. That also didn’t go down to well.
To try and settle our nerves from the ordeal we had put ourselves through we began to drink quite a lot of wine. We hit the town to try and cheer ourselves up and what happens , yep I bump into some fellow or what I should now say as former employees from work. It doesn’t get better than trying to explain that situation.
I’m not sure why I just didn’t tell the truth. I think for some reason at the time lying seemed easier. A lesson learned for a young Tom I tell you.
I loved my time in Paris. It kind of made me change from a boy into a man. Those that know me will probably say I still haven’t changed. But I definitely learnt a lot there. Not just cooking but about life too. I have done a lot of stupid things there but most were a massive learning curve. Well as the French say “Cest la Vie”
Bocuse D’or more like Bocuse hardcore.
Rene Redzepi once said “Everything is good with butter. If an ingredient is not good with butter it is not a good ingredient”. Well some chef minded scientists can now pretty much tell us what ingredients work well with others. You’ll probably need a mathematical brain to understand it all and if you don’t not to worry it just means your dumb.
It was first imagined in the 90’s by chefs Heston Blumenthal and François Benzi, called the food pairing hypothesis that states that ingredients will work well together if they share similar flavors. This has now been taken one step further by Physicist Albert-László Barabási and some other mad scientists who have created what is called The Flavor Network which is a giant web of ingredients linked by their shared flavor compounds.
Barabási has created an extensive network about the many chemical compounds responsible for giving different foods their distinctive smells and tastes.
The idea is simple enough, ingredients will taste great together as long as they have enough flavor compounds in common. but once you look at the charts you can see this is no easy feet.
You can see an interactive version of the network here
Ingredient combinations were taken from 56,498 recipes with researchers concluding that Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients.
There are already many books out there which delve into the world of flavor and science such as Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking or The Flavor Thesaurus and we now have extensive information available about the many chemical compounds responsible for giving different foods their distinctive smells and tastes with increasing availability of information like it opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice.
Don’t be afraid of new techniques - Embrace them.
Read the original article and see the flavor network in all it’s glory at Nature.com
Birkenstocks - the chefs choice of shoe, you know you’ve been a chef too long when a pair of these makes your week.
It takes time to break them in but 1 week of pain gives you years of comfort.
In all my years of cooking I have been the receiver of good and bad reviews, mostly good mind you. I was given this speech by a mentor of mine. It’s by Theodore Roosevelt and puts everything into perspective, no matter how good or bad the review is.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.
This saying said so much to me I got it tattooed onto my arms, It reminds me everyday that as long as I do my best that’s all that matters.
It’s very common among chefs to cut or burn themselves, part of being a chef really.
This happens a lot more with less experienced chefs, I’ve seen arms on some young chef’s that look like there into self harming.
What’s really interesting though is the hardiness of most chefs, lots of the cuts or burns can actually be quite bad but happen during service. So it’s a quick wrap up with cling film or tape, chuck a glove on and deal with it later type scenario.
The attitude is always “I don’t have time to bleed now, I’m in service”. Such tenacity and stupidity tied in together but mostly just male bravado.
I’ve always had a first aid kit at home where I would do my own stitches and redress any wounds my self, no chef want’s to to spend 2 hours in A&E after a 16 hour day so it’s off home, 10 minutes in self surgery, a splash of TCP and all is good.
You can call me Doctor Tom.
"Your dog will never betray you but maybe your wife will" - The truffle hunters.
A great video about truffle hunting from: The Perennial Plate
There aren’t many jobs around today that are not stressful and unless your some playboy millionaire lounging around your mansion we all have to work.
Being a chef though has to be up there with the top of them.
We work in a busy environment where timing and taste is everything and have to consistently deliver to a high standard that is forever being criticized.
I think about a Sunday brunch I worked not so long ago, I turn up to work to find one of the night chefs had walked out on us and another had called in sick so nothing is set for the next service.
On top of that two chefs are running late for breakfast and the dishwasher is also broken.
We have a fully booked restaurant of 370 and have to prepare actual food into not just edible dishes but dishes that highly demanding and probably hungover customers will enjoy and come back for.
It’s a Sunday so the Dossant is on special and a journalist is coming in to do an article on it (no added pressure then)
We manage to scrape through the day with sweat, blood and tears as the other chefs in the team pull together in a heroic band of brothers type scenario but that was one hell of stressful day.
The pressure of running a restaurant is hard enough with a full team and everything in working order without having a 101 other things to deal with.
Having to adapt to a constantly changing situation whilst trying to remain calm and collected takes a lot of practice. The key is to look in control on the outside but actually screaming on the inside “What the hell am I going to do?”
I could never work in an office in an office typing the same boring stuff day in day out into a computer, this job throws something different at you everyday and I wouldn’t want it any other way, well a little bit less stressful.