The push.

Everything hurts. Your hands creak. Your knee has a nasty kink in it, and when your boss asks you why you've been taking so much advil, you don't know how to respond. Your days off are spent under a fog of fatigue and trying to re-coop some sort of energy to push into the coming week. Things aren't breaking...yet. But after doing this for a while, you can see how things might end up shaking down.

You know the deal. Cooking professionally means to sacrifice. Everything. Your free time. Personal relationships. Daily habits. And at times, your sanity. But what about your health?

The rules say to work as much as you can. Hurt yourself. Push until you can't see straight. Take all the overtime you can get. Never, ever say no. And for the most part I agree with this ethos. But the truth is that cooks are for shit when it comes to taking care of themselves. Stand on your feet, running around for 12 hours a day, sweating through your shirt. Tear your body down...then reward it by filling it with beers, whiskey, burgers, and cigarettes. When was the last time you saw your grill guy eating a salad at the end of the shift? How many cokes does your fry guy suck down on a Friday? When was the last time you actually ate 3 normal meals in a day? Shit, when was the last time you exercised?

The whole "never trust a skinny chef" cliche is well known; what's not well known is the amount of energy and level of fitness needed to work on the hot line. Cooking professionally means being drive yourself to excess...the job demands it. Day after day, you will be surrounded by addicts and fiends...even if their only craving is a duck liver pate. There is little balance in the life of a cook, which makes no sense. Cooking is all about balance. It's about finding that place between punishing and rewarding yourself. Most cooks take the reward portion too far.

I don't want to preach about health, and taking care of yourself like i'm an expert on the matter--i'm not. But I think it's an important thing to consider. If you fatigue halfway through your shift, have you ever asked yourself why? Did you eat enough? Did you sleep at all? Are you on your third hangover this week? How many ways are you shooting yourself in the foot?

I like the cooking game. I want to stay in it...for a long time. Beyond that, I want to be there for my family....and moreover, I dont want to die before my time. I'm going to push, no matter what...but not without at least attempting to take care of myself. I'm a cook for life...but I refuse to become a sterotype of one. Fuck that. This is far too important.


quotes and conversations.

"I was never a fat kid. A fat teenager maybe."

"My personality's not dull. My knife might be."
-Maritess. Bubbly.

"Al can be El Guapo."
-Ponder. Likes the Three Amigos.

(There is a guest wearing a t-shirt that has an outline of the Great Lakes on it.)
Me: Tell me what's on that guys shirt, and i'll stop making fun of you.
Merrell: The Michigan rivers.
Me: What did...
Merrell: The Lake Michigans! I got it right!

Me: Ponder told me he loves me tonight. And I think he really meant it.
Speez: Yeah dude, he probably did. He says it all the time. I say "I love you" and he says "I love Richie."

"I heard slurping. I rolled over, and she was drinking coffee in bed. Drinking. Coffee. In. Bed. I almost strangled her."

"I hate ribs."

Me: Paulie, get some duck fat. I want you to rub Mer-Mer down.
Paulie. Alight.

Me: Looks like a pigs foot.
Eddie: (Nods)
Merrell. What? Did you say it looks like a penis?

Eddie: I went to prom four times in high school. Because I had a tuxedo. I was in orchestra.
Me: And you boned down zero times.
Eddie. Yeah.

"After we boned down, i'd be like "Where's my BLT at bitch?"

"I hate peaches."

Me: Eddie, if I had to pick anyone in the kitchen to lose my virginity to, it would be you.
Eddie: Really!?

"I'd rather have sweaty boobs than sweaty balls."

from top: chervil flowers, godzilla dog, death metal, meth deatal, halibut, rabbit, ladybug, line up, nardello peppers, hi!, cake, start of service


The Clash.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.
-Kahlil Gibran

This week's
question: What was/is the worst clash you've ever had with another
person in the kitchen? How did you resolve it? Who was it?

zellicious@linecook2late for ??? once a kinda violent grill cook threw a trashcan at me,i secretly cut hairs off his "fancy" pastry brush everyday
afwalsh@linecook I was a 17 y/o punkass with some lip, he was a chef with a bad temper. Got a black eye and now I only ever say 'oui chef'.
adoxograph@linecook road the bipolar express for a while. Jumped off that car.
fiend394@linecookanother cook was having a bad day. He decided to open hand slap me for putting 2 grains of salt on his food. Fistfight after work.
wolvesmouth@linecookbouchon in vegas, this culinary grad came in and thought she owned the place, we had a screaming match, she minced 20# shallots.
shunafish@linecook worst run-in. CDC. got physical. he: 300#, me: 100#. calmly told him to get his hands off me. chef fired him next day.
beerandnosh@linecookmy first day ever working in a kitchen - I was a busboy - a cook held a knife to my throat. He was later fired for being an addict
randomplacement@linecookanother cook, angry I was made sous, he had more experience. tried to sabatoage me, daily, I kept catching him. pulled him of line
abohemian@linecook Idiot chef trying to tell FOH how to do their jobs, when said chef was totally clueless about how to run FOH
fromhils@linecook,Strangely twas about cookies, w/ head chef @ Puck Cafe SCP, notice givn. Obvsly a camel-straw sit. Really abt creative freedom.

It's my last year at VDV, and everything is unraveling. 
For a long time, things had been good.  My brigade was almost bulletproof.  The food was beautiful.  Our guests were loyal, and it seemed like the restaurant was getting busier every night.  My chef trusted me, and when talk of the new San Francisco restaurant came up he even mentioned the words "chef de cusine" to me.  I was soaring.
To this day i'm still not sure what brought me out of contention for the spot--and the truth is that im glad I didnt get it.  I wasn't prepared.  But at the time, when my boss started receiving resumes from CDC candidates, I was seeing red.  I felt humiliated.  Betrayed.  I knew the food, the ordering.  The brigade trusted me.  They stood behind me.  Whoever was going to come in was facing an intense uphill battle.  They would have to be a hard-core badass.  They would have to be able to throw down, and work harder, faster, and cleaner than the entire brigade combined.

This would not end up being the case.  My first warning came when I was handed a prep list for one of the chefs tastings.  It was full of nightmare items;  Chilean sea bass, every manner of out of season vegatable, and all of it written in barely legible, horribly spelled chicken scratch.  I wasn't shy about passing the list around to stir shit up...and my chef knew this.  When the tasting happened I wasn't just off, I was in Hawaii.  Chilean sea bass guy was hired and working in the kitchen when I returned home.

He was a nightmare.  There was some compassionate side of me that wanted to give him a shot, but his demeanor...the terribly homophobic and/or misogynistic things he would say...and a complete lack of skills on the line were tough to overlook.  He was insulting, lazy, and mean.  When I asked him about the chefs he had worked with, he called them all assholes.  When I inquired about what he put in a dish he was making, his de-facto response was "good shit."  When he trained on the expo, our kitchen would go down in flames.  The only way we could survive a service was by reading all of our own tickets....orders whispered to each other, food magically appearing on the pass...only to get cold while he tried to figure out where he was sending it.  It was just the beginning of a very dark period for the boys and I.

My life slowly became dominated by all of the negative shit that I felt about him.  It was all I talked about.  I was boiling inside.  There were a few really big blow ups between us...one time in front of the entire staff.  I pleaded with my chef.  How could he not see that I could outclass this guy in every aspect of the job?  What difference did his experience make if the guy was completely burned out?  Didn't it matter that the kitchen was standing behind me?  Days were filled with trying to clean up his messes; over ordering, allergy menus that were completely mis-marked, insulting everyone around him.  I decided to quit.  It was like someone I loved had cast me aside for a nazi/zombie/rapist.  So I did what I always do when im freaking out.  I called my Mom.

Mom wasn't happy that I was leaving my job, but she supported me either way.  Then she said this:
"You know, if he's as bad as you say he is, he's going to end up weeding himself out.  Just be patient, stick to yourself, keep doing your job, and see what happens."
So that's exactly what I did.  I buckled down, and focused on the job.  I stopped making about me and the CDC, and instead turned my attention the guest, and the wellness of the kitchen.  I pushed forward, and only a couple of short weeks after the SF spot opened, CDC was gone.  He had indeed weeded himself out with a toxic mix of sleeping in meetings, laziness, and temper.  Damage had been done, but we were at least able to move forward for the first time in months.

Kitchen clashes happen.  Cooking is too intense, and difficult, and adrenaline driven for them not to.  Sometimes these clashes are valid.  Most of the time though, they're over some petty shit that has little or no bearing on anything of actual value.  And the truth is that life is too short to get upset over some bullshit.  The truth is that you're probably too fucking smart, and talented, and mature to let yourself be drawn into the drama.  The truth is that if someone is so ignorant, you're probably better off leaving them be and just focusing on what's really important.  Life goes on.  It has to.  Don't let it creep in.  You've got guests to cook for tonight.

  • Speez got this email at Nopalito: 

    Learn How Make Your Recent Press Last & Last & Last ........

    Make your press in Northside SF on  5/1/2009 about "Rickie Nakano - the new-wave Bourdain" bring you real benefit. Easily and Inexpensively. Guaranteed!

  • What's up with folks that come in the restaurant and try to tell you how to cook your ingredients?
  • A Gordon Ramsey show is guaranteed to have three things:  dumb people, yelling, and Ramsey taking his shirt off at some point
  • September 5th.  Don't make plans.
  • This city has no good fish n chips

quotes and conversations:

"You know what she looks like?  In that movie Bone Collecter...she looks like Snoop Dogg."

"I watch a lot of Sponge Bob."

"I bet her vajeen looks like sleeve of wizard."

"I kissed a goat yesterday.  That didn't help either."

"You can never drink too much beer!"

Me:  You guys know about the history of Bastille Day, right?
Paul:  Oh, it is Bastille Day...
Merrell:  Isn't it French New Year?
I pull out my notebook to write down her French New Year line...
Merrell:  Please don't put that in the blog!
She grabs my pen and runs away...

"They look like they're bad boobs but with a good bra."

Me:  Hey Justin?  He's serious.
Justin:  What?
Me:  He shaves his balls.
Justin:  I've done it before.
Goose:  I just don't like havin' a rats nest down there....so that means you haven't been a hipster your whole life.
Justin:  Yeah.............................wait, what'd you say?

from top:  bloodhound with Ryan, Eddie, Jesse, and Corey; Maritess; Beers from Paulie; Mom and Baby; A crowded grill; Corey forgets shit all the time



"She's doing it again." 

I'm not even sure what my grill cook is talking about until I look up from my prep list.  And there it is;  Mandy, most hated server is sitting in front of the line, counting her absurdly large stack of tips.  All work in the kitchen has halted.  My sautee cook menacingly flicks his chefs knife across his fingertips while the grill guy tries to figure out which ticket has Mandy's staff meal on it.  The extern on pantry does his best to count how many twenties are in her stack of cash, and later, over beers, the conversation is dominated by talk of the inequality between FOH and BOH, how soulless waiting tables is, and what an utter bitch Mandy is.  And after a few drinks, i'm inclinced to agree with them.

The next day i'll go into work, and go to the GM.  I'll tell him about Mandy, and how pissed my cooks are, and how she can't ever, under any circumstances count her tips in front of them.  I'll tell him how rude it is.  How unfair this behavior is.  And he'll tell me this:

"Your cooks?  And you?  You chose this.  You chose to work in the kitchen.  No one is forcing you to slave over those stoves.  So if you want "equality" why don't you all become servers?"

And I realize that he's right.

For the next few weeks, what he said dominates my thoughts.  I did choose this.  There is no greater power guiding my hand.  No one has handcuffed us to our stations.  As we trudge through service, I start to notice things.  Shortcuts being taken.  Corners being cut.  Cooks running low on mise, and trying to scrape by on the remnants of a filthy nine pan.  And why?  Was our choice to be mediocre?  Wasn't there some modicum of integrity guiding us at some point?  What happened to all that shit we talked about being the best? 

A cook makes hundreds of choices a day.  These choices are tied to the well being of the restaurant, their co-workers, and themselves.  As the days go on, some cooks lose sight of what's right, and instead turn to what might be convenient, or popular, or even vindictive.  They begin to feel a sense of entitlement.  Every day becomes less about whats right, and more about whats easy.  Suddenly everyone starts to feel like the kitchen might collapse in their absence.  Things start to get ugly. 

It's a hard talk to have, but helping a cook realize that the culinary world goes on without them sometimes has to happen.  That gentle reminder that there's always a job at the local Macy's is sometimes what it takes to get them to re-focus.  Cooking is a choice.  It's making a decision to give of ones self.  It's a decision to try to do something well.  Cooking is a sacrifice.  Being in the kitchen should light some fire in you that fills you with dignity...even if you spend hours talking about dick and ass.

I've made my choices.  Sometimes they've been stupid.  But I don't get mad about inequality, or what's not working in my favor anymore.  It's important to remember that fate and circumstance had nothing to do with how you ended up here.  If you can't deal with your situation, you get to make a choice to remove yourself from it.  If you're not moving up, you get to make a choice to re-focus and try harder.  And if you're doing well, you get to make a choice to settle in where you're comfortable, or to contribute something of substance to your craft.  It's all up to you.


  • Gee, I wonder what restaurant he could be talking about.  
  • Our meal at Flour & Water was the best of the year after Coi.  Amazing pasta, inspiring lambs tongue, tasty pizza, friendly people.  Don't be surprised when Tom McNaughton gets a rising star from the Chronicle.
  • The difference between tech support guys and kitchen equipment repairmen is that tech support guys are actually into tech. 
  • Listening to Andrew Zimmerman chew makes me want to throw up.
  • Speaking of Chew, you gotta check out this comic.  It has a serial killer sous chef in issue 1.  (Which is now going for $50 on eBay)
  • Cory Cartwright (who writes Saignee) is a cool motherfucker.  Fun hanging out with him at Terroir.
  • Surprisingly, a whole weekend of no 3g connectivity didn't kill me.  The 6 hour drive to Tahoe almost did though.
  • I understand the envy, but why can't folks just mind their own business?  I've been on both ends;  seeing others get sweet treatment (TFL) and getting it (Coi)
  • Ginger Pierce is one of my favorite humans on the whole planet.
  • Blu-Ray.  There is no other way now.
  • That Giants no-hitter was so fucking fun to watch.

quotes and conversations:

Amy:  Will we ever hang out again?
Me:  I hope so.  Corey's on lock down though.
Corey:  Whatta ya mean i'm on lock down?  You can't cage a tiger, bro.

"I'm also from fuckin' Wisconsin, so I don't have to explain why I drink PBR."

Me:  Hey Mer-mer.  How's the fries?
Merrell:  They're good.
Me:  They're good?  Are you enjoying them?
Merrell:  I enjoy them more when they're on my ass.

"Well actually, white chocolate's not chocolate."

"This way i'm more aerodynamic and free-flowing."
-Mongoose.  Got a haircut.

Me:  She was really crazy.
Goose:  Really really?
Me:  Really really.
Goose:  Did you have to put her in a headlock?

"I lost my boyfriend, got hit by a bike, and lost my job."
-Ponder.  Had a nightmare.

"This kilograms.  It's a measurement on the scale?"
-Gerardo.  Not up to speed on the metric system.

Me:  How's this dude gonna eat a flatbread every night?
Goose:  (shrug)
Me:  Gerardo, you're gonna get worms or something.
Gerardo:  They got pills for that.
Paulie: ..........

Me:  What if your balls were made out of aluminum?
Ponder:  They'd be worth about 9 bucks at the recycling center.

from top:  dusk, mirror, no service on the 4th, my wife will blow your head off, USA!, burger, the bus stop, Ponder, grilled watermelon, Corey, spices, what does 3 stars mean anyways?, worst tip ever, ronde de nice, carbonara, maritess, ponderfish, day off, gibraltars, katana-ya