Am I Awesome, or an Asshole?

A few times a year a young cook will approach me and say something like, “Chef, you won’t remember me but a few years ago I helped you cook a charity dinner……”  (They’re right, I don’t remember but that’s the result of either advanced years or, um, I forgot the other thing.)  To which I reply, “Was I awesome or a total dick”?  A typical answer: “I thought you were awesome.  But a couple of my friends thought you were a dick.”  Fair enough.

Generally speaking, here’s how it plays out:  I arrive at the venue at the same time as 20 other chefs with their staff or, in some cases, entourage.  The organizers offer me a couple of helpers, usually from a local cooking school.  I pull them aside and lay down the rules: button your chef coats to the top, fold your cuffs one turn only, no cigarette breaks and no alcohol until everything is cleaned up and put away at the end of the night.  You’re here to work and not prance around like some kind of prima donna.  Listen to what I tell you; I’ll give you clear instructions as to what you need to do.  Do not ask me to repeat myself.  I hate repeating myself.  I hate repeating myself.  I hate repeating myself.

Example: John, core the tomato like this, make an X on the bottom with the point of your knife, drop it into boiling water for 15 seconds then immediately into ice water.  Peel the skin off, trim the flesh from the seeds and cut into strips, then dices exactly this size (see specimen on cutting board).  I need two quarts of diced tomatoes.  Debbie, take these baguettes and give me 600 slices exactly this thick, use long strokes when you slice, let the weight of the knife do the cutting, don’t push down.  Like this.

So for six hours we slice, dice, sauté, toast, portion, serve, clean up and do it again.  Meanwhile, their buddies are walking around (remember these are culinary students) with their champagne glasses, Ray Bans, open collars and ‘cock of the walk’ attitude checking out all the auction items, and the other chefs.

While my guys are working I walk up to them and say, “Some of your diced tomatoes look like sugar cubes and others look like you stepped on them.  Where’s the example I left you?  I want every dice to look exactly like the next.”

At the end of the night these kids have learned soooo much.  They’ve learned to follow instructions, work clean, symmetry, knife skills, humility and pride.  Holy shit.  No wonder they [love/hate] me.

* * * * * *

Richmond story: I was interviewing a local cook for a position at The Frog and the Redneck 15 years ago.  I asked him where he worked.

I’m the chef at ——- he said.

Who owns it? I asked.

—– —–, he responded, and boy does he hate your guts.

—– —–?  I don’t remember meeting him before.

Oh, said Mathew.  He’s never met you.




One Response to “Am I Awesome, or an Asshole?”

  1. Robin writes:

    The answer is yes. You are an awesome asshole!

    Loving your concept & menu – its got heart Glad you made it home and are working along side the fam – guess that’s why.

    April 2, 2011 at 7:13 am