Photo illustration by Donna

Inspired, manic post from Shuna on The Weeds, working harder, working faster, cooks' ethos and the chef's responsibilities.

–You've got to be able to dice five carrots for every one the cook you're training does. Nathan Klingbail, a talented Chicago cook, told me if for nothing else every cook in his kitchen respected the chef because they knew that that chef at any moment could walk onto their station and cook better and faster than they could; I'll never forget that; I know it made every cook in that kitchen push themselves every day.

–Dan Turgeon: "You can ALWAYS work faster."

–But Eric Zeibold: "Don't work faster, work smarter."

–But: working smarter makes the work faster.  They're both right.

–Nice Shuna.  I know how hard it is to get that kitchen energy, that kitchen mind, into words.  On the money.


106 Wonderful responses to “The Weeds, by Eggbeater”

  • Danny

    A little off topic but, are you in New Paltz a lot? I hear Chef Pardus lives there and if you’re ever visting him, there’s a new seasonal homestyle Japanese restaurant where I’m a cook, and we all want you to stop by!

  • French Laundry at Home

    What I loved about Shuna’s post is that it really can apply to almost every profession. Everybody gets in the shit from time to time, and you tell a lot about a person’s character and professionalism in the way they handle it as an employee and/or a manager or boss.

  • ruhlman

    that’s actually not accurate. how i would phrase it is that every profession stands to learn a great deal on how to handle their own personal weeds by taking a lesson from very good professional cooks. there simply is nothing like the stress, the humiliation of the weeds when you’re a cook. it’s personally devastating. There’s also an extraordinary physical expression of responsibility and accountability in the professional kitchen which doesn’t apply to most white collar jobs which i find elegant. as i’ve written before, it’s hard to lie in a kitchen.

  • JBL

    I have to agree with Ruhlman. “In the weeds” in the context of a professional kitchen does not translate well to very many other jobs; especially desk jobs.

  • carri

    It’s true! There is nothing quite like a roomful of hungry people all having expectations of YOU to produce…no excuses, because we chose to be there, but no deadline compares to a line of tickets and knowing only you can get yourself out of it, and that you are the one who got yourself into it in the first place!

  • Mike Pardus

    The restaurant which Danny refers to is Gomen-kudasai on Main Street in New Paltz, NY, owned by a friend of mine. My daughter and I actually ran FOH for the pre-opening party for her. It’s a great little place – NOT A SUSHI JOINT. I feel a bit guilty that I don’t get there as often as I should. If any of you get to NP, it’s worth a stop.

  • milo

    While it may not apply to every profession, if you think it only applies to cooking, you just don’t know much about any other profession.

    There are plenty of other jobs that are described perfectly by that post, white collar and blue collar.

  • Russ

    When you folks watch the news at night is it called the “6:05 or so news ??”No..it’s the the 6 o’clock news…or more often the 5:59:30 news. I’m a TV news cameraman who cooks as a second job and for the challenge… but I can say without a doubt that when you are crash editing a story for the evening news and tens of thousands people are watching the program and your story slot is fast approaching the pressure is definitely on… if you’re late by even a few seconds and miss slot all those thousands of viewers know something went wrong…and as for quality… if you don’t get everything just right someone is likely to sue. That’s why for me cooking professionally is fun.

  • jscirish27

    Michael, so right on. I cook in a high volume, and highly respected seafood restaurant in NYC. On a busy night we can hit 300 covers, and we only have two on the line plus garde manger/pastry. I spent most of my Friday night “under” and I can attest to your sentiments. Trying to maintain quality and maintain your “grace under fire” can be an enormous task. It helps to have a plan, and a contingency plan, as well as the ability to improvise like a jazz musician should the need arise. It also is essential to know your line partner like a spouse. When it all goes perfectly it is one of the most gratifying jobs in the world . . . and then there are the other times. Either way, no excuses, keep your head down, and go.

  • JBL

    With all due respect to Milo and Russ– the kind of mental/physical “abuse” which many a cook endures while earning their bones would not be tolerated for a minute in a “white collar” office environment. There would be a mass of lawsuits and terminations (and perhaps, strangely, more loyalty) if bosses adopted the methodologies many head chefs took to “inspire” their staff. Pray tell which “white collar” environments lend themselves to this if you know something I don’t?

  • Russ

    JBL…I agree that the move toward political correctness in many work settings has taken away the environment that helps weed out the weak.
    I wonder how even the kitchens of today compare to 20 years ago?

  • chico

    While I generally agree with you Michael, I have to question how the guy who wrote Walk On Water can say “there simply is nothing like the stress, the humiliation of the weeds when you’re a cook.” There are many, many professions in which the stress and humiliation of “the weeds” equals people getting hurt and/or dying. As for responsibility and accountability, when is the last time a bad meal prepared by a cook got them sued for big bucks?

  • luis

    Let’s see… cooking is heavilly time dependent. The logistics have to be right on. The food has its own expiration dates. The equipment needs to be solid and in working order all the time. How is that diff from a tennis match?
    If you don’t have enough crazy variables going on, you have to deal with the customers. Which may be the biggest unknown of it all.
    Cooking is trial by fire and if ever I get into this racket it would be my own place and my own cuisine. The way you describe the professional cook doesn’t seem like any fun at all. Like most other professions. You produce or you are terminated. How would you like sitting high up in Lehman Bros..or Wacchovia when the crows came home to rooost? Weeds are everywhere…. The trick is to put yourself in deep enough but not so deep you can’t breathe.
    Look guys if any of you are being abused by your chefs… just know you can do better. Make it a goal to do better/find better. Life is too short for you to willingly contribute to your own misery.
    Do not allow yourselves to be seduced into the tall weeds, there is no pot o’gold at the end of that tour.
    Instead figure out a way to be your OWN BOSS. This self inflicted pain I can understand.

  • Tags

    I used to work alone as a telecommunications (data network) engineer on midnight shift for a disaster recovery company.

    6 nights a week I would juggle multi-billion dollar clients’ temporary data connections well into the morning because my coworkers simply refused to take a turnover at the end of my shift.

    The customers are required by law to have a successful disaster recovery test once or twice a year and there were a fair number of daytime support engineers handling these clients. This staff often left the evening & night shifts exposed as they themselves were understaffed for the workload, even with so many.

    The weeds for me sprung up whenever I had to wake someone (or more than one) up to attempt to salvage a test that was poorly prepped (or screwed up by the phone company supplying temporary data links).

    So add to this lacerating of your ego the exquisite loneliness of having to make a phone call that is never received well to somebody who’s already thinking about how to shift the blame when they hear the phone ring.

    And that was just the tip of this ever-present iceberg. I won’t even talk about the lack of necessary documentation.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Shuna takes my breath away with her writing, I just wish she had a broader audience to mentor in her chosen field of cooking…it is clear she has a lot to teach and the empathy and enthusiasm and rigor it takes to do that. I have to say I envy her.

  • ntsc

    Both medicine and broadcast come to mind as similar to being a chef. All three operate in real time, with no chance to recover in all cases. I spent 26 years in broadcast operations, we sell time you can’t get the inventory back.

    I’m told that many surgeons are as abusive as any chef I’ve heard about and you’ve never heard abuse until you have heard a director who just discovered his exclusive Gulf War I satellite feed just got put on the air first by another network.

    If a Doctor blows it you may have a dead patient, the broadcaster loses audience which can take hours to rebuild, the chef customers who never come back.

    Anyone involved in a real time process such as these three may ‘go in the weeds’ as you can’t get the time back, won’t get the materials back, may not get the customer or audience back.

    There are probably other such professions. Nuclear power plant operations comes to mind rapidly.

  • lux

    I fight a daily battle with the weeds here at my desk. It’s not just kitchens where the weeds lurk, they wait for many kinds of teams.

  • Cameron S

    I think she has a reach that is growing, but I do agree – I hope she finds the widest audience that she wants to reach. Anyways, in the weeds is from military origins – or so I can tell with the aid of personal memory and some google searching, that meant you were about to be slaughtered, and that it will be touch and go for a while.

    I could invent scenarios where any profession could have a moment in the weeds.

    You are an internal ISO certification manager and your documentation system was just destroyed with no backups and the ISO auditors are visiting tomorrow!

    Your John Deere Skidder-buncher-feller just toppled over, and you are heading down the mountain side as your roll cage scrapes the world bare. Boy, you sure are in the weeds on this one!

    Your co-pilot is drunk fast asleep. Engine #3 is out and #2 is sputtering. Fuel gauge stopped working earlier in the day. You are trying to remember the procedure for what to do next and the stewardess is vomiting in the aisle.

    You are a crab fisher in the Bering Sea, the boat is icing up and may topple over at any minute, as you bust ice from all surfaces and haul in crab traps, you realize with a sinking feeling that the captain is shouting something about the engine, and it is not an encouraging sort of shout.

    And so on.

  • Rhonda

    Shuna has a post on her blog from May 16th 2008, entitled: “Group Dynamics. In kitchens & Everywhere Else In Life” which everyone may enjoy as well and is equally illuminating.

  • bob mcgee

    It may be slightly masochistic, but one of the biggest highs for me is that feeling of leading my line out of the weeds.
    Jumping on the station to help one of the cooks out. finding the potential weak link before it snaps.
    When you finally get a chance to look up, and there are 300 people eating still hot food, that 5 or 6 of your cooks have just made, and made perfectly.
    If it was easy, everybody would be doing it….

  • faustianbargain

    i dont understand this recent trend to make cooking appear to be something more than what it is..cooking. every job is a job that is stressful and needs to be done well. but there is this elaborate fantasy about cooking in kitchens that is frankly embarassing. sometimes, it makes me want to cringe. stop it. it is a great disservice to the lives of real cooks who are looking to make their work environments better and more civilised. all this writitng about cooks in professional kitchens havent made the slightest dent in either the cook’s or the diner’s experience. energy spent towards getting restaurant cooks a living wage and insurance is energy well spent. my 2c. thats all.

    (no disrespect to shuna herself)

    to compare a doctor to a chef? please…good fucking grief..what is wrong with you people?

  • latenac

    I have to agree with faust every job is stressful and every job needs to be done well. Let’s not get carried away. First I’ve every been tempted to say snob when reading this blog.

    I find no fault with Shuna’s post which is very good. I love how she motivates people (or at least me) to reflect on things.

  • milo

    JBL, with all due respect I think you are just having a tough time imagining work beyond “desk jobs”.

    It may just be a difference in defining what jobs fall under white collar/blue collar, but there are plenty of jobs that have all the stress and “abuse” and more as what a chef goes through.

    Hell, there are plenty of jobs where a screwup can mean the difference between life and death. Look at the “desk job” of air traffic controller. I don’t want to take anything away from the profession of cooking, but I think it does no favors to chefs to try and paint the restaurant industry as more stressful (or more whatever) than any other job.

  • JBL

    And how many air traffic controllers get either verbally ripped or objects thrown at them or temporarily demoted or, in some cases, physically assaulted (in the legal sense of the word) then report back to work the subsequent day?
    I’m not asserting that other jobs aren’t stressful (i.e.: Air traffic controllers, ER surgeons, etc…); only that very few run the full mental AND physical stresses that professional cooking does on a consistent basis (cameron s’s post about the John Deer tractor scenario and drunk pilots illustrate isolated instances not business as usual).
    I find your statement that I have “a tough time imagining work beyond “desk jobs”” laughable. Man..I wish! Prior to my desk job gig I had a few years in construction then about 10 in hospitality (front and back of the house). As per the ISO certification and Disaster Recovery analogies, imagine that 10+ hours a day 6 days a week! It’s not quite the same ballpark.
    And faustianbargain…dude..find Vishnu or Brahma, smoke a good hooka, listen to some Ravi Shankar and relax!

  • Carri

    Wow…isn’t this a food forum? No one is saying that being a cook is more important than any other job…the stresses we all endure are valid, whichever way we got there. That said, I think the point of our gracious host is that it’s not better or worse, just a very different kind of pressure, that’s all. Now all you brain surgeons can get back to what really is important…what’s for lunch?

  • Rhonda

    I have to agree with Carri. This is/has become a “salon” in which Michael has graciously agreed to host and guide. A forum in which professional and non-professionals can learn from the best Chefs in the trade. Religion, chef bashing and insulting those whom have mastered their trade is not cool. If you want to self promote or claim “snobbery” or in any way insult those who are contributing and I mean contributing, then this is the wrong forum. This is a 1920’s Gertrude Stein salon opportunity that you will not find anywhere else. If pettiness comes into the picture, we may all find ourselves without a place to communicate and learn from each other. I repeat,LEARN. Differing opinions are excellent but this is not the website for the EEOC. If you want to learn about cooking or what it is like to be a chef (from OTHER chefs), great. Otherwise, please do not abuse this opportunity for the rest of us. It could go away and that would be a tragic loss. You always have Paula Dean…

  • Kansas City rube

    Another stressful, time-sensitive job where newer people get yelled at and hazed: attorneys. Try working in litigation.

    Sure, the room isn’t above 100 degrees and the work isn’t as physical, but how many chefs have to literally stay up all night for days in a row just to cook?

    At least kitchen jobs end when the restaurant closes.

    And since when did being physically abused by a superior become something to brag about, like its some sort of perverse badge of honor?

  • Natalie Sztern

    Michael you are wrong in so many ways to the response to Laundry and on so many levels – the one that comes first to mind is from my own personal experience, of course. Think Lawyer who fights the fight for others, innocent others, and then loses that fight. Do you think humiliation, personal devastation, responsibility and accountability are not in play at the end of that day?

    I also like the air traffic controller example.

    It is demeaning to your readers to think that a kitchen is the only place to learn that. In every industry there exists these fundamentals and many in which you can’t lie to cover it up.

    Even an author who writes a book nobody buys? Are you telling me that author, on whom his/her very reputation lies in each word, would not feel in the weeds then – that the kitchen is the only place where one fails to devastating degrees?

  • milo

    “And how many air traffic controllers get either verbally ripped or objects thrown at them or temporarily demoted or, in some cases, physically assaulted (in the legal sense of the word) then report back to work the subsequent day?”

    Again, if you think things like that only happen in restaurants, you’re naive and you’ve led a sheltered life. There’s absolutely nothing about having an abusive boss that’s unique to restaurants.

    And I have to agree with Kansas City rube, why is getting abused by your boss (especially to the point of a physical assault that would cross the line of breaking the law) such a badge of honor?

  • Natalie Sztern

    Kansas, I did not see you highlighted my point first, perhaps m.r. ‘smoked some weed’ when he responded…ok that was a light-hearted laugh-at-myself joke not intending that he would ever do such a thing…..

  • JBL

    Firstly, apologies to faustianbargain. I didn’t think that mentioning a deity or two would constitute bringing in the entirety of one’s religion. I did not mean to offend and for that you have my sincerest apologies.

    As per the Air traffic controllers here’s a direct quote from an air traffic controller I had at my bar: “It’s other people’s lives not yours or your loved ones”. When I pressed them further they admitted that that was the attitude they needed to adopt to be proficient at their job.

    Do you honestly think the ER surgeon loses a wink of sleep at night when losing a patient on his table?

    Milo, maybe you are correct; perhaps I am just not as worldly and wise as you.

  • milo

    “Do you honestly think the ER surgeon loses a wink of sleep at night when losing a patient on his table?”

    If he knows that it’s because of something he did wrong, and if that patient would still be alive if he had acted differently? Of course.

    And even in cases where he did everything right and still lost the guy, having to face death on a regular basis can’t be a walk in the park.

    I find it hard to believe that a comparison between chefs and ER surgeons is even being made.

  • shuna fish lydon

    Thank you Michael for the nod. After reading all these comments what I find most interesting is that my post about this expression, “The Weeds” was inspired by, and about, how a cook gets into the weeds. But it was also about how their lives can get there too, if they don’t learn the ‘how-to-get-out-of-the-inevitable-weeds’ tools.

    faustianbargain: what never ceases to amaze me is how coarse and sharp your words read. You are absolutely wrong when you say,

    “it is a great disservice to the lives of real cooks who are looking to make their work environments better and more civilised.”

    I know that you are incorrect because I receive, field and answer hundreds of emails from cooks and chefs all over the world who explain to me in full detail how my words, and being able to find them, have made amazing differences in their lives and work places.

    I am and have always been an advocate for cooks and support staff. I took Whole Foods to the NLRB when I was in my early 20’s and they have a ventilation system at their Berkeley/Telegraph location in the back bakery because I called OSHA.

    p.s. I went to SUNY New Paltz, so it’s quite interesting that the sub-thread here is about it.

  • JBL

    My point was that you could NOT compare them. The fact that this has escaped you shows me the futility of discussing a Vacuous Proof. I’ll spare any further wasted bandwith.

  • faustianbargain

    shuna, it never ceases to amaze me how in this time and age, you continue to speak in glorifying terms the abuse of kitchen employees. no employer can treat his staff that way without getting sued, yet, there is a flush of excitement every time some chef waxes poetic about how ‘harsh’ life is in a kitchen and abusive,crass behaviour is exalted. the ones who get excited are the ones who are not ‘in’ the industry. it is perverse.

    perhaps, you havent been in smooth functioning kitchens or under gentle chefs who mentor with a firm, but kind attitude. or if you have, how come we dont hear so much about them, eh?

    can you tell me honestly…and please be honest..do remember that this is a close knit community where everyone knows everyone else…how many times exactly have you been in the receiving end of ‘abuse’ from your boss? in all your years of working in the kitchen..how many days of it were you cowering in shame? why the exaggeration and the disservice to the industry you claim to love?

    i like the way you write, but i dont take the content seriously because i believe that you take a lot of artistic licence in what you choose to share in your blog. thats ok by me,tho’…i dont care..i still like to read your words. and its only my opinion anyways..but since you want to know more about my ‘coarse and sharp’ words..here you go…this is why it is so..

    i see a very creative rehash of a couple of ideas that you hold very dearly…but you are speaking to an audience who dont work in kitchens. remember..they probably think that it is the norm everywhere…in that you have a responsibility to your industry.

    why not talk about the depression..the debts..the lack of insurance..how one doesnt have time for oneself or one’s family…the bone numbing tiredness…and how there needs to be a LIFE outside the kitchen..but no, you want to keep talking about the s&m mind games chefs play in the restaurant kitchens…the sad reality in a few restaurants becomes masturbatory material for people who never step into those kitchens. stop it. please. i suppose you can make an interesting story out of a kitchen that hums and throbs efficiently. maybe the chefs who dont write you about why there is so much slant and spin in your writings dont have time to do so..or they dont have the internet to browse blogs or they cant read…or..or.. you do not represent the industry. am i still coarse and sharp?

    jbl: i am not offended..nothing takes me by surprise anymore. i am just curious..obviously, you made that comment after reading my blog…were i a xian, would you ask me to get down on my knees and pray to jesus..were i a jew, would you ask me to bang my head on the wailing wall..were i a moslem, would you ask me about virgins in allah…yet, you want me to listen to ravishankar and smoke a hookah? because i have an opinion i am not supposed to have..? because you know nothing about who i am or what i do? i think it says more about you than me.

  • Bob

    This blog is quickly getting out of hand… Can’t we leave religion out of it (unless its discussing the proper way to kosher or hallal a tasty lamb…)

    My 2 cents… I go out of my way to avoid places with abusive chefs (or bosses, etc). I’m trying to lead by example. Don’t reward bad behavior. So thanks to Shauna for her detailed listing of affiliated restaurants in CooksDB… I’ll not be going to anyplace where she still hangs her manacles.

    Speaking of Weeds… curious about the source of this statement… I always heard it first playing golf.

  • faustianbargain

    shuna said:

    “I am and have always been an advocate for cooks and support staff. I took Whole Foods to the NLRB when I was in my early 20’s and they have a ventilation system at their Berkeley/Telegraph location in the back bakery because I called OSHA.”

    but …but…did you blog about it?

    oh never mind..carry on. i am too coarse and sharp for this crowd anyways.

  • milo

    This whole tangent came from a comment PRAISING the linked article, I’d like to go back to that:

    “What I loved about Shuna’s post is that it really can apply to almost every profession.”

    I completely agree. I think it’s great that most if not all of it can describe many other pursuits in life.

    Chefs are one of many occupations that face stresses and challenges like this – and it’s great when all can learn from each other, I find that much more refreshing than taking the attitude of “nobody else goes through what I go through”.

    Great article, Shuna. Thanks for writing it.

  • Rhonda

    Ok del Grosso, et Pardus (Chef Pardus, Carol must make room because I love you too…), you’re on watch. This blog is waaaaaay out of control and we all need a good old fashioned “pee pee slap”.

    We are waaaay off course.

  • mike pardus

    I think you all know were I stand on this one, I’m a cook. The last time I tried to explain that here, I unleashed a similar shit storm and wasted WAY too much time. Those here who are cooks, drop it. I have no fucking idea how stressful it is to be anything else but a Chef…and I’m not particularly interested. When I am, I’ll go to “Abusedwhitecollardeskjockey.com”.

  • French Laundry at Home

    Since I appear to be the one singled out for creating this shit storm, let me say this: my commenting that I enjoyed Shuna’s piece for the reasons I enjoyed it had absolutely nothing to do with comparing or contrasting professional cooking to any other job, trade or profession. It had nothing to do with encouraging any sort of one-upmanship about who in this world has a more stressful or abusive real-life or hypothetical career.

    So, let me take a moment to clarify my earlier thought, if I may. What appealed to me most in Shuna’s post (and what I’ve now learned I should probably quote verbatim anytime I post a comment) was exactly what she posted above about what inspired it — the HOW of getting in the weeds, and how not “getting it” can shape your career and your life in a direction you didn’t intend or desire. It’s the larger lessons she described in her post and the derivative principles about responsible leadership, communication, and personal and professional accountability that I related to. It’s refreshing, to me, to read about those kinds of things from someone who has a wholly different job, profession, skillset, background, and context than I. It makes me feel like there’s some sort of common ground that could lead to ongoing learning and discussion.

    I don’t know what it’s like to be in the weeds in a professional kitchen. I’ve never done it. So, I can’t presume to know who best can learn from whom. I’ve learned some of my most poignant and formative work principles in some of the strangest, most counter-intuitive places and situations, so is it possible for me to learn and grow in my professional life by “taking a lesson from very good professional cooks”? Absolutely. But is it also possible for some very good professional cooks to learn something from someone else in another business, trade, or profession altogether? Yeah. I think that’s possible, too.

    The only context I can speak to is my own. And, with my own life experience as a backdrop, Shuna’s piece struck a chord with me because what she wrote felt universal in its appeal when you work with, manage, lead, and work for other human beings, no matter what the fuck you to do earn a living.

  • luis

    It’s just thinking inside the box. Perhaps it says more about the cooking profession than we realize. If you think about it that is what trade school tends to produce. Not a somewhat well rounded individual but a very focused technician. Sports is the same … very focused very now. I have heard stories of graduates from culinary institutes that are happy to cook at Howard Johnsons type joints. Never gave it much thought.. but if some folks are being abused at the high end high pressure joints…it makes sense. Why put up with abuse? life is too short.

  • Aaron

    “it’s personally devastating.”

    I think the only comparable profession to professional cooking is being a pro athlete. If a lawyer f’s up in court the judge or the guy running his firm doesn’t burst into court and call him a worthless piece of crap who’s best qualities ran down his mother’s leg, but that’s common in the kitchen, and what’s worse? You start to wonder if maybe the chef is right.

    The sous chef I work with told me that his night depends on how his potatoes are, and there’s only 20 seconds between perfect and crap. 20 seconds, between making perfect food and fucking your entire brigade.

    The thing that most people are missing is that it’s not about a dining room full of hungry guests. It’s about personal bests. When I see a ticket I don’t see 3 people sitting at a table waiting for dinner. I see that it came in at 10:45pm I’ve got 10 other tickets on pick and I’ve gotta keep them all under 7 minutes to the window. It just can’t compare.

    And while he might take a failure somewhat personally, I don’t think that he beats himself up the same way a cook (or athlete does).

    “why is getting abused by your boss (especially to the point of a physical assault that would cross the line of breaking the law) such a badge of honor?”

    Why? Would you put up with it to make a living? Of course not. You’d sue, and I know that, because you don’t see it as a badge of honor. You’d be a young Bourdain asking for burn cream and a band aid during the rush, only to be confronted by some lifer who has lost so much feeling in the hands that he can grab a searing hot pan barehanded, and it’s in a moment like that where are cook either grows a pair or packs up and goes home to pursue in a career in basket weaving.

    It’s a special person who can take that abuse, and better still come back for more. It takes a special person to put up with the constant burns, cuts, verbal abuse, sexual harassment (tell me how long most people would last in a job where 10 Mexicans keep trying to finger your culo (and I’m a straight man).

    And yes there are other high stress jobs. I don’t think that anyone would dispute that, but most professions are not still operating on rules from the early 1900’s or even the 1800’s. Labor laws? Sexual harassment laws? Respect? Racial equity? None of these exist in a kitchen — not matter how high end — until you, personally, earn them. Can’t take the abuse? There’s the door.

    But there I and my comrades are. Night after night. Cooking food for you, who sits at the table and saying, “I don’t see why cooking is so hard?”

    You wanna go ten rounds in my world? Grab and apron and let’s go.

  • MichaelG

    I’ve been reading Shuna’s blog for some time now. I believe she writes from the heart and that she hopes the best for everybody. Giving advice can sometimes bother those with sensitive skin. My take on what Shuna had to say is that folks should do everything they can to prepare so as to avoid the weeds but when facing problems should look for help. Working in a busy kitchen is a fast moving and immediate environment. Failure is quickly perceived. There are other professions, too numerous to mention with similar circumstances. I like the air traffic controller one. In my sixty plus years I’ve been in a few positions where the consequences of failure are immense. Shuna’s lessons are broader than the kitchen. This shouldn’t be a my “dick is bigger than yours” issue. We all read Michael’s and Shuna’s blogs because we like the writing and the content and the lessons but there are other things out there besides cooking. I’m trying to think of one.

    Reading the comments, my first reaction was surprise at Michael’s strong reaction to Carol’s comment and the fact that it was in bold type. I had the impulse to jump in to defend Carol with whose opinion I agree but on following the thread down a bit I found that she was able to take care of herself just fine. If I could afford to hire a lobbyist, you would be my first choice, Carol. I think you are wonderful.

    There is no us vs. them issue here, guys. Shuna’s lessons apply to everybody regardless of profession. We’re here because we love food and cooking and I hope, each other.

  • Aaron

    “…but how many chefs have to literally stay up all night for days in a row just to cook?”

    I was the interim pastry chef at a high end restaurant that does between 200 and 600 people a night, plus banquets before and during service. Did that for 4 months between December and March (Christmas, clean-up for Christmas, and Valentine’s Day).

    I’d come in at 9am and leave at 1am or 2am. Drive 30 minutes home. Finally get a chance to eat. Shower, and sleep for 4 hours and get up and do it all again, and I worked 6 days a week, unless we were close to a holiday and then it was 7.

    And this little tidbit? “…just to cook?” I think most line cooks would call it just cooking. It’s putting food on the table for our wives and children. It’s finding a place where for whatever reason we fit in.

    And to the person talking about working to make kitchens more civilized? Why? Because you want some Emo Kid to be able to work in your place, so he can feel good about himself when it takes him 10 minutes make a salad? Please. We don’t want this business civilized, because we care too much.

  • Danny

    Chef Pardus,
    I had no idea you and Youko are friends until today! Next time you drop by, be sure to say hello. I’m the blond guy with the thick black glasses. I’d love to chat, I’m transferring to the CIA next semester, and there is another CIA grad working there.

  • mike pardus

    Aaron, although I asked the cooks to “drop it”, I’m glad you came in. I’m Mike Pardus…nice to meet you.

  • ruhlman

    what i meant to convey was that there is a physical aspect to the stress of cooking that I don’t think any other profession shares. Chico was right to mention Walk on Water. Indeed, I was attracted to the work of the surgeon because the world of the OR mimicked in so many ways the professional kitchen. (And yes surgeons can be arrogant assholes for the same reasons chefs can be; only surgeons can be worse because while chef assholes simply think they’re better than you, surgeon assholes think they’re both better and smarter than you.) Of course every profession has stress. And you can get behind in your work, no matter what you do. The thing about cooking is the 8 hour days of physical labor, followed but 6 to 8 more hours of sprinting labor in heat that (according to me instant read) could get as high as 150 degrees. That’s a well done temp, and surgeons and air traffic controller and lawyers don’t come anywhere near to working in those conditions. This is not a judgment call on one work being better or more noble than another. Again, I just find the physicality of the work combined with the stress of service combined with the interior personal mental battle combined with the lughead next to you who’s always taking your slotted spoon and putting it in his bain, fascinating.

    Faustianbargain, you are wrong on so many levels it’s not even worth addressing. It’s a wonder you even come here.

    Thanks, again, shuna for the inspiring post and to carol for starting this engaging shit storm.

  • milo

    “It’s a special person who can take that abuse…”

    But you didn’t answer, why is that abuse necessary? Or even seems to be seen as a good thing by some?

    I’m not talking about the cuts and burns, or especially a boss being verbally abusive, there’s nothing unique about that. I didn’t ask about cuts and burns, I asked about abuse at the hands of a boss or coworker. What’s with the attitude that things like getting physically attacked and sexually assaulted is something that should be tolerated? Why don’t you stand up for yourself instead of just taking it?

    Or is it just a frat type attitude like “I suffered through it, so everyone else should suffer through it too”?

  • latenac

    I started out in journalism school at a time when it was believed that you couldn’t learn journalism through school you had to learn by doing. Only on deadline with recalcitrant sources could you truly understand what it was to be a journalist. And you could only get to that point from working your way up from the bottom.

    I’m now in a profession that’s very detailed oriented even 20 year veterans can still make a mistake at the last minute and how you deal with those mistakes are what defines you in my profession. It’s what bonds us and helps us learn and grow. What can go wrong constantly amazes us but it’s not something we brag about it’s not something we look forward to. And while it doesn’t involve being yelled at or having things thrown at me it can involve loss of business just like not feeding a hungry dining room does.

    I took Shuna’s post to be about how you deal with your job and your mistakes that you can make and how those mistakes or being in the weeds makes you better at your job or it can make you worse. If you go through life never making mistakes or dealing with adversity how much have you actually lived life?

    If it was mean as a “cooks go through stress that no one else could possibly understand and thus we are more special than you” rant which seems to be implied in some of the comments here, then all I have to paraphrase something my husband, a teacher, says after having to deal with the occasional overbearing parents and their “amazing” children, “yes, you cooks are special and unique, just like everyone else.”

  • craig

    Wasn’t it just last week that we were all sharing a bit of our host’s grief about being in the weeds with his deadlines and life in general? There is an S/M element to moaning about the stress of our chosen lives. Ruhlman’s pain last week seemed to be from his deadlines regarding his wordcraft not his knife skills. The weeds are everywhere.
    If working in abusive atmospheres is so desirable, why does Bourdain write so beautifully about the kitchen and atmosphere at Veritas? Excellence is often going to bring out the best and worst in all of us. We have all lost sleep thinking about our jobs. Cooking seems sexy, because the results are so sensual. I think that Shuna’s observations can be applied to a lot of the professions that make our world go around. Yes, it feels great when I quit hitting myself in the head with a hammer. Why did I ever start? Why would I be proud to tell the world that I accept abuse as a part of the thing I do to put food on my family’s table? With forty years in retail, I quickly learned to see the world from the other guy’s perspective. Now get your whiny ass back in the kitchen and bring me my meal.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Michael, clarification accepted. Laundry I don’t feel you misinterpreted anything in your original post; it plays out the way it was written originally.

    But I do need to point out for all you cooks, because I am not a cook, I just love the inside outs of world of cooking…none of you have any personality when it comes to your field – every word is taken literally and at times angrily. There is never a laugh or a lightheartedness attitude… Bob is the only one who posts here who has a sense of humor which brings me to another point.

    Cooks seem to ‘be what they do’ and there doesn’t seem to be separation between the job and the person, and I suppose that is why no one cracks a joke or has a smile on their face.

    Bob is a lucky guy – he is serious about what he does, loves it, and can crack a joke at his own expense at times. That’s a happy man.

    And one last personal thought about Shuna. Without knowing her, her blog is her therapy. There she gets to speak about the Shuna within and does it brilliantly. We get to read not only of her days in the kitchen, but her personal life, her losses, her family – to me Shuna is human and a cook.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I do have another point to make albeit a small one…ignorance is never an excuse so I will tell you all just for reference and knowledge that a day in the courtroom for any litigating lawyer is like having gone 8 rounds in a boxing ring; it is that physically and mentally exhausting. On that I would bet my children. (I could put a joke here, but…)

  • Mike Pardus

    “Faustianbargain, you are wrong on so many levels it’s not even worth addressing. It’s a wonder you even come here”

    Michael – Just before going to bed last night I decided to take the responsibility to say something like this myself – I figured that you might be too civil…and it’s mutually agreed that I am not.

    Nice surprise to wake up to. Thanks for calling a troll a troll.

  • NYCooK

    The weeds is a tight rope walk between really being in the shit and having that adreneline rush that we as cooks live for. When the dupes are flooding in, and you are just turning and burning, head down, the only moves you make turning to your left or right, or down to reach in your low boy. The difference between being in the shits and banging it out is your preperation before the battle/Service.

    Chef Pardus as to your above post I couldn’t agree more That dude has no idea what he’s talking about

  • jscirish27

    I think there is a little misconception here by some about the “abusive” nature of cooking. There are moments when the job is absolutely no fun (as in any profession); but when you are working clean and fast, plating your pick-ups perfectly, and in total synch with your line, it is an incredibly exhilarating experience. I can honestly say that even the worst chefs I have worked for in terms of abuse have always thanked me for my effort and professionalism at the end of each shift. The kitchen is our functionally dysfunctional family. BTW, we do smile sometimes, and even have a good time on the line I work on . . . but it is an open kitchen so we can’t bring down the crowd.

  • Salty

    This is an interesting discussion. Kitchens are tough places to work. Always have been always will be. I’ve never given it much more thought than that. It’s a fact of life. Unless of course you work in one of those sterile “fancy” kitchens where people stand around and gaze at their beautiful creations.

  • faustianbargain

    ruhlman, why do you have a public blog which can be seen and read by everyone..yet you expect me to take the responsibility of telling you what you’d like to hear?

    where am i ‘wrong on so many levels’..the comment that was made before i was called ‘coarse and sharp’ or after?

    you dont pick a minimum wage paycheck. you are not a willing participant in this system. what is your excuse join this orgy of abuse? on one side, there are people(genuine and imagining) who celebrate less than optimal conditions at work and on the other hand, there is you..who has no skin off his bum, glorifying and cheering it. baffling!

    but…cooks celebrating the cycle of abuse is sad. especially because efforts are being made by employers and employees for the environment to be civil. i cant even bring myself to lash out at aaron like i did with shuna…i think i see where he comes from…

    you have my IP. my email address is visible to you even if it isnt displayed with comment. block it. call typepad..i am sure they’ll tell you how to it.

  • faustianbargain

    i am not saying that the weeds dont exist. i am just saying stop glorifying it and stop celebrating the abuse…

    read what shuna said:

    “[…]Some cooks like their lessons served up military-style.

    Kick cooks out of their stations, off their lines, and show them up. Break their egos with yelling, psychological violence and oneupmanship. Show them who’s boss. Remind the line you’re alpha and will fight to the death for that position, like a cock, or dogs. Constantly remind them they’re nothing without you. It’s Boot-camp. War. It’s the emergency room and you have to push on through, no matter what.

    There are cooks who call this abuse. And chefs who will tell you without this treatment they would have stayed mere civilians. There are cooks who only better themselves under this pressure, even when the other side of their mouth is telling you something else.”[..]

    i dont care how beautifully it is written….you dont need to be ‘broken’ to perform. even the french dont behave that way anymore. completely and totally unnecessary.

  • Teri

    “Again, I just find the physicality of the work combined with the stress of service…”

    and that leads to the best part of the night, when we all get to sit down and have a beer and a shot and go over the WHOLE night. Teasing the heck out of who ever was in the weeds that night. Dude you were so FAR behind!

  • rockandroller

    ruhlman says: “there simply is nothing like the stress, the humiliation of the weeds when you’re a cook. it’s personally devastating. There’s also an extraordinary physical expression of responsibility and accountability in the professional kitchen which doesn’t apply to most white collar jobs which i find elegant.”

    I think saying that “there’s nothing else like this” is different than “glorifying abuse.” By the same token, I can tell you from having waited tables in over a dozen restaurants, there is nothing like being in the weeds as a server as well. In addition to behind behind and confused to the point of deer-in-the-headlights, you have to continue to smile and be polite and service your customers even when they are screaming at you, walking out, complaining to the manager about you, stiffing you completely on both the food and tip, which you have to make up out of your pocket, throwing things at you, knocking crap off the table for you to clean up and other fun things like grabbing your ass. Truly, there’s nothing else like it. I would say there’s nothing like “the weeds” in every profession but I don’t think anyone should try to say “my job is tougher than anyone else’s.” I certainly can’t understand what it’s like to be a cook on the line in the weeds any more than I can imagine what it’s like to be an officer approaching the pulled-over car of a suspect who has a weapons permit, or being a firefighter trying to find children in a burning building, or being a crab fisherman trying not to get my hands cut off working on a crab boat, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be fascinated about it, realize we all have challenges and that no job is “easy.”

    I can tell you there is nothing “elegant” about working in most offices unless you are the boss of all bosses. I have had things thrown at me, had the most vile insults hurled my way, been told there is no good time to go on vacation because someone needs to be here all the time to answer the phones, asked if I thought the office was Club Med because I was gone for 2 minutes in the bathroom and the boss had to answer the phone, etc. Having to buy paper out of your pocket because your office is out and you must make copies for something that has to be filed or fed-ex’d that day, and you’ve been threatened that these things need to get filed or sent or you are FIRED is very stressful. Driving 90mph to get to the fed ex drop off at the airport before the last shipment of the day goes out or else you are FIRED is pretty stressful. Having people complain about you because you were tired when you came in, or were dealing with some kind of personal problem and didn’t say a proper “good morning” to someone above you and now you’re getting pulled into the boss’s office and chastised for your attitude is not elegant. Taking the blame for everything that someone else does wrong while getting none of the credit for what goes right is not elegant.

    All jobs have weeds, and I would imagine everyone thinks their own weeds are the worst, or one of the worst situations. Let’s not get into a dick measuring contest to see who has the toughest job, there’s no way to prove a winner anyway.

  • Aaron

    “although I asked the cooks to “drop it”, I’m glad you came in. I’m Mike Pardus…nice to meet you.”

    Nice to meet you to. Consider it dropped.

  • JBL

    It seems as though you either get it or you don’t. We have all suffered some degree of “abuse”. Some of us have dealt with it out of necessity (food for our kids, roof over head, bills for sick family members, etc..) or for the sake of our career. The prestige of the chef/kitchen is directly proportional to eventual salary; in the long-term financial sense it can make or break you.

    Even with the benefit of a degree one may still need to bite the tongue, feign pleasantries or suffer fools if you even want to keep your job, much less advance your career. I think what those of us which have not lived the life can never really understand those of us who’ve had or do!

    Academia is a rosy little microcosm of an idealized society; everything is fair, just and orderly. The roles of master (professor) and apprentice (grad students) exist by virtue of paid fees. The very nature of the transaction is intrinsically different than “paying for it” by other means (e.g.: showing dedication); thus the nature of the roles vastly differ.

    So we go through academia then wonder why the rest of world can’t get along without being so nasty and barbaric to each other. “Can’t we all just get along?”

    So whose really being naive?

    Having been on both sides of the equation and having undergone one of the more intensive curriculums I can assure you that professional cooking is orders, of upon orders, of magnitudes more intense than MOST degreed persons can ever conceive.

    That’s the whole point of going to college: to minimize so much shit!!

  • Bob

    I have to disavow my last comments… mea culpa… mea culpa…

    Ruhlman reminded me about that searing heat thing… I would surely turn into a total dick in those situations. My job is stressful, but its always a nice 74 degrees in here. Visited my brother in a kitchen once in NYC where the AC went out in the summer in a basement kitchen during sunday brunch. It was like hell. I quickly gave up being a good little helper for the day and
    spent some quality time in the walk-in…. until I got booted out to go wander around park avenue…

  • Jennie Cesario is Jennie Tikka

    I had a “weeds” situation happen to me last year. It kind of scars you.

    I was cooking in a homeless shelter for 200. I was the chef – the responsible party, leading the other cooks. The main course was a dish served over rice and we had 25 pounds of it to get ready. I had an absolute drop-dead time that food had to be on the table and the rice was not moving at all. On top of all that, I had cut my left index finger earlier in the shift and was hiding it from everyone (when it goes wrong – it all goes wrong). We had about 40 people working the kitchen and dining room that night and all 40 of them were looking at me to solve the rice issue, and I had run out of time – we had to serve. The rice was still crunchy. That was definitely both stressful AND painful AND humiliating.

    It seemed somehow fitting that I went quietly from there to an E.R. to get my finger stitched up.

    When you screw up like that and still have homeless people thanking you for a great meal, it humbles you. It was nothing short of heartbreaking, honestly.

  • MessyONE

    I get it.

    It’s not about abuse, at least not in the sense that some people seem to be taking it. It’s all about the adrenaline. Everything is spillover from that, and only another adrenaline junkie can really understand it.

    Some of us not only enjoy the high that happens when everything goes perfectly, we NEED it. The more difficult a thing is, the better we like it. When things are going correctly, you feel like the king or queen of the world. There’s no substitute for it. We are constantly hunting for the ultimate headspace where time stops, and we’re hyperfocused on nothing but what we’re doing, and doing it perfectly. Nothing else matters.

    The yelling happens when someone screws up, even in something tiny. It puts us off our rhythm, and the frustration is bloody unbearable. Nothing is ever “good enough” or “competent” it has to be perfect. It throws us off, causes nasty cognitive dissonance and messes with our heads. Everyone else understands this, because we’ve all been there.

    By the way, I’m not a cook. I thought I would be and actually signed up for cooking school to start in the spring, but it seems that old injuries to my hands are going to make it impossible. It sucks. I hate it. Good thing I didn’t sell my car before I found out.

    However, I do get it, because during the Feral Years, I made a living driving cars very, very fast. I have to say that “the weeds” for me and my friends wasn’t just frustrating, it could be fatal. A lot of people would find it terrifying, including faustianbargain no doubt, but there’s no room to be afraid and no thought of fear when I’m driving. It was the ultimate no-bullsh** zone and the most fun I’ve ever had.

  • Bob delGrosso

    I like the weeds as much as any chef. But this

    “every cook in his kitchen respected the chef because they knew that that chef at any moment could walk onto their station and cook better and faster than they could;”

    made me grin.

    In my experience when “chef” jumped in and cooked better and faster it usually meant that my clean-up work got doubled.

  • bob mcgee

    Bob- I have soooooooo worked for that chef, He/she sees something to nitpick, and stops the line (putting you in the weeds), then slowly and perfectly assembles the plate,(the same way that you just did it), meanwhile laying your mis, and station to waste.
    I vowed not to be that guy, and I hope someone lets me know when/if it happens.

  • FoodPuta

    Well, I’ll give you all this, you’re certainly a passionate bunch!

    What I don’t understand, is why the hell are you always in the weeds? What causes that? Screwups in the kitchen? Screwups with the wait staff? Screwup customers?

    Is “Screwup” and actual word?

  • luis

    I get shuna’s post. I process it and I understand that cooking is a one dimensional passion. Culinary school is not out to turn out well rounded folks. They want to turn out great chefs. It’s trial by fire. It’s hang on or be left behind. I get it. High end Cuisine is like performing a circus act without a net.
    If the weeds begin to invade your kitchen and you don’t call for help…you could have a disaster…. in the making. It’s not hard to understand.
    I love my tennis analogy. First serve is meant to put your oponent in the weeds… If he is receiving five feet behind the back line you have in/her in the weeds…. YOu control the point from there. Nobody can hurt you from that far behind the line.
    On the other hand the second serve is meant to keep YOU out of the weeds. And if your opponent is two feet inside the service line…he has good tennis chops and you are about to be placed in the weeds…. there is much to the dance of tennis I won’t bore you cooks with.. but I get it. Shuna’s point is that it’s not personal so much but about people and what motivates them. Still that leaves room for abuse from folks that are wired that way…. For the life of me I don’t understand why Ramsey gets away with the abuse On “HELL’S KITCHEN”. Sign up with him and it’s like signing up to crew some 18 century captain Bligh type vessel……
    I mean is there anything this guy rants and bullies about that can not be civily or politelly discussed without humiliating his unfortunate charges……

  • Ed

    “I dont care how beautifully it is written….you dont need to be ‘broken’ to perform. even the french dont behave that way anymore. completely and totally unnecessary.”

    While the tree hugging hippie in me really wants to agree with you (and I am being serious when I say that.) The simple fact of the matter is that there ARE people who need to be broken…

    Perhaps there are approaches I have not considered, but I have worked with numerous cooks who responded to nothing I tried (coaching, walk-in conversations, peer pressure, write-ups etc) until I brought the hammer down.

    At the risk of being trite, I have long said that there are two animals I am certain respond to negative reinforcement: dogs and line cooks. I am certainly not advocating physical violence (maybe a dramatic dumping of mis en place that is sub par)and I do use the approach under debate as a last resort, but there is a certain type of individual that NEEDS his/(very rarely) her nose rubbed in it before they can get past what is holding them back and (for whatever reason) these individuals are attracted to this life.

  • Ed

    “What I don’t understand, is why the hell are you always in the weeds? What causes that? Screwups in the kitchen? Screwups with the wait staff? Screwup customers?”

    Yes, Yes, Yes and a thousand other things. The walk-in goes down an hour before service, your purveyors send your stuff to another restaurant, the bones you roasted for the veal stock got a little to dark, the dining room gets seated too fast, Johnny waitron can’t manage to ring in a dupe correctly today… In short, human error.

    All these errors are compounded upon each other with the forces of random chaos. As hard as we try to make our stations balanced…there are just services where the grill gets crushed (for example) or the dining room is full of food modifiers, or a 6 top becomes a 15.

    When one considers all the variables, what is really surprising is that there are lots of times we are not in the weeds. Ever try cooking for 10 to 15 people by yourself, with no pre-made anything and people are expecting dinner at 7? Even if it is not a professional environment, it is a good analogy…now imagine that the 10 becomes 20 a few minutes before you are ready to serve…the weeds at home. Try it, you will understand a little better.

  • Tags

    “As per the ISO certification and Disaster Recovery analogies, imagine that 10+ hours a day 6 days a week! It’s not quite the same ballpark.”

    I didn’t need to imagine it – I lived well beyond it. Many were the days when dayshift didn’t take a turnover and I had to work with clients into the afternoon after coming in early for the midnight shift.

  • jscirish27

    Chef’s Del Grosso and McGee, I too worked for that chef . . . LOL. My favorite was when he would walk away with my mis en place to do something else after plating the one dish perfectly to help out (ie. stop me dead in my tracks). Sometimes I think ego and showmanship gets in the way of better judgement . . . I don’t want to be that guy either.

  • redredsteve

    Was it Churchill who said that cooking is the greatest of all the arts because it’s the only one that relies on all five of the senses (six if your Brillat-Savarin)? I’m currently working a desk-day job while going to culinary school at night. There have been times when I’ve been in “the weeds” at work but I’ve never once needed my sense of taste or smell to do my job effectively and accurately… And with the stress I’ve felt at a few of my practical exams I can only imagine the pressures of a real working kitchen. Honestly, I can’t wait. 🙂

  • Kate in the NW

    Though I really don’t want to step into the arena with “faustiangargain”, I do wonder if perhaps the military/bootcamp analogy isn’t perhaps the closest one. Intense heat, physical labor, abuse/motivation, endless hours…

    …and – perhaps most importantly – the unique relationship with your comrades that only develops when you’re all in that sort of situation together. The certain knowledge that the only people who REALLY know what it’s like are your fellow soldiers/cooks. THAT’s family. Only weeds can buy you that sort of solidarity, even if it’s expressed through insults, profanity, and drunkenness. (Maybe ESPECIALLY then…).

    I say this, by the way, as a sociologist – not a veteran (of the military, anyway). I have a bit more experience in kitchens – not as a line cook, but in other positions around and about them. My husband worked as a pasta cook and sautee dude (or whatever you call it) at an EXTREMELY busy kitchen for several years and has the scars (physical and emotional!) to prove it. We both hated/loved those years we each spent in and around professional kitchens.

    The bottom line is: every profession is unique. All I know is that I could not, after the age of 25, stand the heat, so I got out out of the kitchen, as did my husband, after watching one of the head chefs (who was amazing) throw a 10″ knife across the room at a server’s head because he had the temerity to return a badly-cooked lambchop from the dining room.

    I don’t know how you folks do it day in and day out. But thank you. And thank you to all the doctors, lawyers (well, most of you), air traffic controllers, and parents (amen to that one) who are “in the weeds”. I guess we’re all badly needed and probably underappreciated, each in our own way.

    But yeah – LET’S EAT!

  • faustianbargain

    please dont thank them. the cooks have nothing to thank for when they turn 40 or 45 or 50. its a rotten system..just because it works doesnt mean its right.

    meanwhile, after reading the comments since yesterday, i give up.

  • faustianbargain

    p.s. and i am really really sorry that those who have made a change and a difference in their own kitchens dont have the time to chirp in…but its not all hell(and highs) out there. i have seen exciting and beautiful kitchens humming..literally throbbing with excitment and moving as if it were a ballet.

    if only the old system is allowed to die a swift death, change is possible.

    but like i said..i give up..because its not my job. not my concern really…

  • dan s.

    Natalie Sztern says: “But I do need to point out for all you cooks, because I am not a cook, I just love the inside outs of world of cooking…none of you have any personality when it comes to your field – every word is taken literally and at times angrily. There is never a laugh or a lightheartedness attitude… Bob is the only one who posts here who has a sense of humor which brings me to another point.”

    You find Chef Pardus, as well as some of the other chesfs that post, to have no personality? I think you may need glasses.

  • NYCook

    If it’s not your job why don’t you leave us to run our kitchens the way we see fit.

    Don’t worry about what we do “Back There” and we will make sure to cook your Sauce on Side, no salt, no dairy, Well Done Steak… With love. After all we are profesionals

  • Natalie Sztern

    Dan, I already have reading glasses and I use them each time I read this column, and yes I often crack a smile when I read Bob del Grosso’s answers and never crack a smile when I read the other responses – even Michael can’t be lighthearted to ignore the insane – albeit this is a site that encourages current cooks to take the time to read, which apparently is hard to come by in a day, but they manage anyway if just to have a voice.

    I find most posts interesting like Jenny who cooks for the homeless, and Mike for the content of his knowledge and michael for when he gets angry….but through all of these posts, and I chalk it up to my sense of humor, Bob seems to be the only one who doesn’t show the insecurity of the arrogant cook.

  • Jennie Cesario is Jennie Tikka

    Clearing the bar when it’s low isn’t much of an accomplishment. For it to really mean something it has to be high.

    Cooks are people who thrive on difficult circumstances and like challenges. We like competition. I think its fair to say we’re easily bored.

    What some would call abuse – we call challenge. And we like challenge. At least, I do.

    I like and make a point of making friendships in fields I feel are similar, so I get along well with cops and firefighters, and I cook for them whenever they give me permission to. Their jobs are also stressful and they are in obvious danger (unlike me). They like that and don’t consider it “abuse” – its just part of the job.

    Some people are just naturally geared to handle stress better. Period.

    Jobs (and days) with no stress in them bore the holy hell outta me. I’m grateful for stress.

    Abuse – by my definition – is when somebody cuts me a break and lowers the bar, believing they’re being kind to me. I don’t want the bar lowered.

    And Natalie – thanks 🙂

  • Jennie Cesario is Jennie Tikka

    They don’t drop the physical requirements when women take the firefighter physical. Just like the men, they start their test with 75 pounds on and have to do 3 minutes on a stair machine to simulate being fully geared and having to carry a hose line up multiple flights of stairs (or a hillside). Imagine if they lowered the bar for firefighters.

    Once turnout coats get wet (either from water or sweat) they weigh more. Sometimes over a 100 pounds. Fires can burn at 700 to 1500 degrees. Imagine if firefighters backed out of those conditions because of that and cried “abuse.”

    Now, as I see it – if they can do all that and risk death with a wife & small kids at home….I’m not going to whine about a 95 degree kitchen on a busy day or a cut on my hand. I’m going to be grateful for it.

    I see firefighters spend 36+ hours on a brushfire line in 100+ degree weather – with little to no food, water, or rest. No bathroom facilities. That’s the standard I’m going for. They don’t complain or ask to have it easier. They don’t quit unless they collapse and are taken away in an ambulance. I respect the hell outta that. And I respect it in cooks, too.

  • Natalie Sztern

    And Dan, I also know that Jennie has fought the fires in California and that she does a lot of volunteer work, that DocChuck or ‘Doc’ someone no longer posts here. I am waiting for Laundry to begin her new book which I understand to be some time soon, that some of the people who post here are actual friends with Michael in his personal life and that his mother lives in Florida.

    And if you are as astute as I am, you would know that I never have just one post in the comments; because as soon as I post it I remember something I have forgotten and I post a second time.

    Plus Dan, I am not a facetious person, but I do fancy myself to be intelligent with very little knowledge of the inner workings of a professional kitchen which is what brought me here. But much of one’s character is displayed in their writings – chef, cook, line cook, sous-chef or otherwise or CIA teacher…even Bourdain has become a tad transparent to me, in a good way.

  • Salty

    Fighting fires is a piece of cake next to a grueling weed full night on the line.

    I speak from experience.

  • Josh Neumann

    Work smarter, not faster is the key. You can do an unimportnat task as fast as you want, but it doesn’t make the task any more important.

  • Ulla

    When one thinks of a chef it is always a hyper vigorous sort. Skill and enthusiasm. Good teachers and bosses are a rare thing, but when they are gifted they can move mountains.

  • luis

    Bottom line folks… cooking is a great way to get into your own business. Cook in your own kitchen and this may mean you may need to scale down the menu considerably or not. But listen good, if you are having the types of issues that drive folks to fling knives around the kitchen then your process is deeply flawed your machines(cooks) and your end product is seriously non sympatico and your business plan is WRONG beyond repair.

  • luis

    redredsteve, steve the real fun of cooking is that you cook and cook and each time you cook something you perhaps cooked before you add this or that and improve it. Then one day you add that ingredient which may be as simple as adding a pad of butter to the rice..and the end result takes your breath away… you finally seasoned properly and added just the right ingredients to make it exceptionally great. And you know your rice will never be the same after that. This is what makes cooking so great.

  • mike pardus

    Hilary – try to get into Catarina de Medici or American Bounty.

    Ask anyone on campus where K1 is and just breeze on in – honest. If I’m in the middle of a lecture or a demo or chewing someone out (ya know, its that s+m/abuse thing we chef’s are all into), just hang and watch. When I look at you funny, just say – “it’s Hilary from Ruhlman’s blog”.
    I’ll be there from 7-2….maybe a 15 minute break around 11:45.

    Anyone from here is welcome to do the same if they’re in the area…except, well, you-know-who…(Voldemort)

  • Steven

    Sorry about being slow on the up take but…. why has no one mentioned that a common criticism of ones chef is that they spend too much time in their office! Being a chef isn’t just about finishing plates during dinner. Chefs are business people in addition to being cooks. Try sitting at your desk job all day and THEN go into the environment that has been so well defined above. Oh and then make it look simple, clean and ballet like cause god forbid some adults use adult language to describe a situation that deserves it. Last time I checked you desk jockeys are so beat up after your shift that you have to get out early to beat all the other over-worked, underpaid, air-conditioned office types drink frozen margaritas at applebee’s.

  • FoodPuta

    Just curious:
    Does Ripert yell?
    Does Keller yell?

    Not a loaded question. I just don’t see them running their kitchen like that.

  • Ray

    I figure the environment changes somewhat when you go from a turn and burn 300 seat brasserie to an 80 seat high end place. I’m sure the weeds are still there, they just manifest themselves differently. The pace probably is not as hectic simply because the volume of food being put out is nowhere as high but I would bet that you’d get chewed out just the same if every dish you put out wasn’t to chef’s exacting specifications. And perhaps that environment doesn’t foster the kind of colorful language that Bourdain evokes in his memoirs but I bet a quiet but negative comment from a culinary luminary like Ripert or Keller hurts just as much as a cluster bomb of obscenities hurled at you. High pressure still, because if if the remark doesn’t hurt and you don’t care? You’re probably branded a shoemaker and will be replaced by somebody who will settle for nothing less than perfection.

  • ruhlman

    I’ve heard stories of eric throwing plates in the kitchen but never seen it. keller was once a yeller, i heard. but they’ve been in the business long enough not to need to be yellers anymore. as keller told my years ago, “I realized that if I was yelling, it was already too late.”