Speez comes in for dinner with John, another manager from Nopalito.  They sit at the bar and have some food and drinks.  I go over to say hello, and knowing my love of graphs, they've drawn me a few.  Mostly they're silly, but there's one that catches my attention.  It's simple:  x/y, with a line that starts at zero and goes up, then flat, then up, then flat.  John explains it to me:

"It's an employee.  They get better, then they plateau.  You kick them in the ass, then they get better again.  Then they plateau."

It stuck with me...mostly because it was so true.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought about what my own graph would look like, or kitchens I had worked in.  What were those moments where we moved up?

Cooking well takes time.  Practice.  Repetition.  Focus.  There are times where you feel like you're absolutely killing yourself.  You tell yourself "there is no fucking way I could push harder than I am now."  Then your chef throws two more dishes on your station.  Graph goes up.

But what about the plateauing?  Why does that happen?  Sometimes it's because the kitchen hits a good groove.  Why fuck with a good thing?  Things start to click, service is smooth, the food looks and tastes great.  And in a progressive kitchen, the team knows when they've played it safe.  Time for new recipes.  Move some cooks around.  Push everyone out of their comfort zone.  Graph moves up, food gets better, guests get a new experience.  Or you stay on the plateau.  Everyone stays in the comfort zone.  Things are good, and the standard is maintained.  Then it starts to get stale.  The cooks get to a point where they can work their stations with eyes closed...and sometimes they do.  Some restaurants spend their entire existance on this plateau.

So here's an idea.  Imagine your own graph.  Where are you on it?  Where is your kitchen as a whole?  Are you making progress upward?  Does your complacency outweigh your progress?  Are you playing it too safe?

  • nervousaboutmonday.com
  • alejandro is the sous chef
  • referencing blade runner and 2001 in the same conversation = big dorks
  • bottle rockets are just as fun as i remember them
  • killzone 2 is like an abusive spouse.  i hate it, but keep going back
  • that's a big stack of Spanish cookbooks
  • everyone's apartment should smell like bacon
  • sometimes writing is hard
  • happy 3rd birthday nopa
  • i'm bad at interviews
  • porn stars look surprisingly average in real life
  • does technorati even work anymore?

quotes and conversations.

"Which one was it?  I was a little drunk when I read it."
-Merrell, who missed her own quotes last week.

"Al doesn't know what's funny!"

"I like that.  I like the trail in to that song.  Vogue, vogue, vogue..."
-Ponder.  Likes Madonna.

"Any food thing that has the word 'awesome' in it is awesome."

Me:  Oh Merrell, what would you do without me?
Merrell:  Have a little self esteem?

"You wanna feel this lump in my back?"
-Merrell.  The answer is no.

"I love hot dogs!"

"I thought that was the morning after pill."
-Amy, on the restaurant RN74

Me:  You been smokin' weed?
Amy:  I don't need to.  It's all natural.

"You know, i'd be disapointed if any daughter of Hulk Hogan didn't have a pito."

Me:  Make her a Hogwart's dessert.
Maritess:  I could make her booger beans.
Me:  Huh?

Me:  So J-Lo says you've done 200 burgers in a day before?
Camaal:  Yeah, but in a microwave.

from top:  sous meeting, JoEllen's gibraltar, the pixies, fish sticks, tools, fava's, dinner, london broil, beef jus, cherry blossoms, house made butter, good handle vs bad handle, 45$?, ferry plaza blue bottle, whiskey smash, fiddleheads


Joseph Bayot said...

I have been listening to your podcasts all week on my commute. The weather has been getting nicer and nicer. That means my windows are open. That means I scare the bejeezus out of random pedestrians with my hysterical laughing. Good times.

That graph is part of any career, no? Or at least, for someone who wants to do well in their career?

Do you think cooking in a quality restaurant (or cooking professionally in general?) has more of that element of constantly raising one's level?

My guess is that cooking professionally at a high level attracts the few people that love to raise the bar every single day. It takes a special kind of person to revel in the seemingly minuscule, daily successes of life in a professional kitchen...like finishing your daily prep 4 minutes faster than usual or getting through a service at grill without a refire.

Obviously with a few exceptions, quality professional cooking is the ultimate meritocracy (as Tony Bourdain said, I think.) If you don't have that drive, that love of the seemingly mundane tasks, your graph will never go up.

unclehunty said...

That graph shows that the amount of insult increases with time. Is that what you meant? Stupid non-mathematical geniuses, I think you meant to say that the insult effect diminishes with time.

I like the graph idea, I can honestly say that my ability to make information move from one part of the shitty bank I work for to another part increases over time, I always strive to learn something new about my profession, once I have finished reading about food, science and religion.

One day I will win the lottery and have a million to drop on a restaurant. Six week aged steak and kick arse(ass) fries. It will most likely fail but I would still like to have a go. Then if I still have some money left, spend the rest of my life studying physics.

I love your site, but your podcast sucks. But it sucks in the way I hate raw tomatoes. Not sucks in the way Paris Hilton lives her life, hopefully this makes sense.

By the way, if you are looking for an amusing blog about food, Dos Hermanos is my current favourite.

Lisa said...

Those fiddleheads are amazing. Like little edible crop circles.

MetaGrrrl said...

Yes, the podcast sucks the way raw tomatoes suck. The way raw, heirloom tomatoes you just picked off the vine after smelling them and feeling that kind of dusty feel on the skin and feeling the sun on you that grew them as you take some in to cook with and they just smell so goddamn good you have to take a big bite out of one right there suck.

That's the kind of sucking - which is to say not sucking at all - which the podcast sucks.

Mark said...

What's a pito?

sciencegirl said...

The graph is everywhere. It's in the kitchen. It's in the laboratory. I read that, and you could have been talking about any scientist I know, my techs, my students. Is it a coincidence that I always ask students applying to my lab if they can cook?

X Chef said...

The joys of Spring cleaning a shitload of favas and de-bugging morels. Then you eat them and you realize that Spring is worth waiting for every year.
unclehunty--Have you ever seen a naked african mole rat? It looks like a penis with teeth. I bet that's what happened to you after eatting 2.5 seasons of big box store tomatoes. Eat a real fucking sun-warmed ripe tomato. If you ever win the lottery never ever open a restaurant.

jc said...

mark, pito is spanish for, wait for it, penis!

and man I live your blog. I orginally started reading it after it was featured and because I am a Bay Area native living amidst the terrible cuisine that is Nashville TN.

the graph topic sure has got my mind working. thanks.

scallops said...

Tom Colicchio mentioned this topic in Chef's Story (eds. Hamilton & Kuh 2007, p. 82):

"But opening Craft wasn't just about the space. It had a lot to do with how I was developing as a chef. I think young cooks believe that you reach some kind of plateau as a chef where you say, 'Okay, I've got my style, I've got my restaurant, I can kick back now.' But it doesn't really work that way. A style is an on going process. It evolves as the person evolves. As you work, you grow, you self-edit, and as you become more confident and assured, you self-edit some more. For me, that process became about stripping down. I found that I was increasingly drawn to simplicity."

As a marine ecologist, my plateaus have mostly come from a loss of focus and inspiration. Sitting at a computer crunching stats and running simulation models all day, instead of knee-deep in marsh muck or SCUBA diving at my field sites. But maybe these stop-start plateau cycles are good for me in the long run--a way to reboot and rethink my previous work.

Keep up the great writing.

MetaGrrrl said...

scallops, that's a fantastic point about the cycles - peaks & troughs of creative activity - perhaps being vital to creativity itself.

You can't hold steady at one level, it's the undulation between the tides that keeps new things happening.

Mendo said...

There's a good description of how plateauing works in "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Catdaddy said...

Dude, Your voice is strongest when you write. Thank to you and your buds for all the podcasts but the best part of this blog has been the writing. Thanks.

Best, Ian

ontheline89 said...

ferdinand metz came in for dinner tonight. i felt very small.

Jennifer Field said...

The first real food blog I've ever read, and I have one of my own. Great stuff. I love the graph idea--makes sense. Some people can make that graph bump up on their own, some need to be kicked from Outside.

@mvldz on Twitter sent me here to find a podcast you did on cooking: art or craft since I had posted something similar today. Couldn't find it, but I'm very glad I wandered over anyway.

I'm signing in w/my Google id, but my blog is over at wordpress if you'd like to take a look. http://onlinepastrychef.wordpress.com/

Jillian & Marley said...

this is awesome! love your post.

ps- check out our blog :)