Most cooks have worked for a screaming d-bag chef. But after I was asked rather loudly “why I make everything look like dog shit” by a chef in Paris, I found that I had had enough and decided I wouldn't run my kitchen like that.
Photo by Diane Yoon.
Yelling. It happens quite a bit in my line of work. It's not exactly Gordon Ramsay getting his raging, angry boner on in Hell's Kitchen all the time, but it's no Hare Krishna picnic either.
Most cooks have worked for a screaming d-bag chef.
If they haven't, then they have worked for a nice chef who turned into a screaming d-bag chef when he/she got pissed off. Either way, they've been yelled at. A lot. I sure was.
Depending on the person that screams at you, it can be a jolting, scary, humiliating, bowel-loosening experience. You'll never meet a cook who likes being yelled at. If you do, they're probably insane and you should back away slowly.
You will, however, meet plenty of people who accept the status quo of uncontrolled emotions and casual verbal abuse found in so many restaurants. They do so because they're told things like "that's just how it is in the kitchen" or "losing your shit sometimes is an inevitability in a line of work where the pressure is immense and the stakes are high."
For every restaurant that's producing amazing food with a team of assholes, there's another restaurant producing excellent food with a team of respectful professionals.
I was never one of those people. Sure, when I was a line cook, I put up with the bullockings when they came. But I never once felt that getting disciplined in that way was justified or particularly useful. As I passed through more and more kitchens where yelling was the norm, those feelings intensified. And then finally, about two and a half years ago, as I was being asked rather loudly "why I make everything look like dog shit" by a chef in Paris, I found that I had had enough.
It generally comes from two sources: bullies and the people who simply can't control their emotions under stress. I'm not a supporter of either group.
Bullies make things personal. When they yell at you, they look for ways to break or hurt you that go beyond simply critiquing your work. They are small, little people who confuse being a piece of shit with being a professional. People told me that I had to put up with them if I wanted to work at the best restaurants. Fortunately, they were wrong. Here's a little secret that I learned after five or so years in the kitchen: For every restaurant that's producing amazing food with a team of assholes, there's another restaurant producing excellent food with a team of respectful professionals. I support the latter.
Then there's a second group of screamers. Unless they are trying to communicate with a person across a large room or a canyon, they are yelling because they don't have the self-control to deal with intense emotions in a dignified, respectful, and constructive way.
People who work in the kitchen, especially chefs, don't have an excuse to not control their emotions at work.
Yelling does nothing but inject more stress and emotions into an extremely stressful and emotional environment.
It's not like we don't know what's going to happen every time we put on our aprons. As a chef, I understand that my cooks will make mistakes everyday. I know that some of them are going to be better than others. I know that all of them are going to have off-days. Eventually, one of them is going to come to work late, send out a badly cooked piece of fish, not clean their fridge properly, or do something else that is going to piss me off or disappoint me. I know I'm going to have to deal with those things on top of trying to understand and improve upon my own failings and weaknesses as a chef.
I know all of this. And every person who has ever been in a kitchen knows all of this, too.
To freak out and address these problems by losing your shit (as if you were surprised) is a tad silly. I can't understand what it accomplishes other than injecting more stress and emotions into an extremely stressful and emotional environment.
When I was in high school and had long hair and wore Hawaiian shirts and thought I could pick up girls by telling them I was reading Winston Churchill's history of WWII, I came across a quote that has stuck with me until now: "On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme"—"One can reign over hearts only by keeping one's composure."
The chefs I worked for who embodied that maxim are the ones that I respected and looked up to. And it is them whom I try to emulate—in my own imperfect way—when I walk into my kitchen and interact with my staff every day.