are you one of us?

bus stop @ divisadero & hayes. 2:25am.

server: you guys had a stage tonight?
cook: yeah.
server: how was he?
cook: he was ok.
server: ok? so not so good?
cook: i dont know. he was just ok.
server: soooooo....not fast enough? talked too much? spit on your shoes? what?
cook: i dont know dude. he just didnt have...it.
server: it?
cook: it.
server: ...
cook: i cant explain it...it's just....it.

So everyone's wondering, do you have it? Are you one of us?

Do you stand enjoy the blast of heat in your face when you open the oven door? Do you run your fingers across a knifes edge because it makes your heart race a little? Do you let out a laugh instead of a yelp when you burn yourself? Do you feel a little sad when your plates hit the pass...like you're saying goodbye to an old friend?

Are you one of us?

A brigade is a force of nature...the collected experiences of a group of people, operating independently but relying so completely on one another. Different personalities, cultures, faiths...giving and taking...eventually becoming a single family. Loving and hating each other...usually in the same ten minute span. Teaching, learning, competing, and congratulating each other. How can one crack into a group so closely knit?

The short answer is no--you are not one of us. You probably dont have it. Strangely, a good cook can sense it in a person the first time they meet them. A cook with it is enigmatic...walking with swagger thats been dipped in humility. They have a bounce in their step...a lightness in their touch. They ask all the right questions, and dont hesitate to jump right in. A cook that doesn't have it might not do anything wrong in particular--they just always seem to be in the way.

I've seen many a stage come through the kitchens ive worked in. Things ive had to say to them:

"I dont really give a fuck if thats the way they do at your old job, this is the way we do it here."
"Did you just wipe your spoon off on my side towel?
"That's great that your last job had carpet in the kitchen. Can you sweep now?"
"Starting wage is eleven dollars an hour. No, I dont think Chef will pay you fifteen."
"Um, when youre done sitting down/talking on the phone can you help out on apps?"

and every cooks favorite:

"Can you just shut up and stand over there by the ice machine?"

You see, its not that we're the best cooks out there--we're just the best in our own kitchen. We used to have a saying at VDV: "I dont care if you're Thomas Keller--you're going to learn to do it our way." Someone new is given all the trust a substitute teacher gets. They have to balance their humility and confidence. They have to adapt not to our technique and style, as much as they have to adapt to us.

  • 8 months at nopa has gone by really, really quickly
  • in response to reactions ive gotten from the tavern write up last week: expect the very least when you go out to eat--that way you're never disappointed.
  • we sent chicken and broccoli to beck at the independent last week. why do i get the feeling his roadies ate it?
  • summer is here in san francisco...and its a beautiful thing
  • to everyone who reads this blog--sometimes im shocked that people react so well to it. writing this blog comes together in scrawled notes i collect in my pockets all week...so its surprising that it all comes together in a semi-coherent way. in short, thanks for all your comments.
  • bill burge--come say hi next time youre in town
  • slow food nation. nah, enoughs been said about it.


Vincent said...

thanks for this post dude... you have written what we live finally.

it has been years that people think chefs and cooks are arrogant. confidence and humility in anyone is intimidating because it breeds PRESENCE in a person.

you have presence and i appreciate the post

Colin said...

You write extremely well and I am always anxiously awaiting your next post. Keep it up.

Robert said...

Another great post.

I have lived this for the past few weeks as we try to find a new line cook where I work. And so many people have no clue what "it" is.

I saw a mention of nopa and a picture in a recent National Geographic, congrats!

Matt said...

great post..i'm about to start my first line job...garde manger and i am nervous as hell but also really quite excited...the thing that has been pounded into my head by friends and old chefs is that i should ask ask ask questions and never assume they did it like i did in school or at other places i worked at...keep up the great posts!

Julia said...

A cook with it is enigmatic...walking with swagger thats been dipped in humility.

That's the best shit I've ever heard, dude.
Great writing. Keep up the work.

Matty Conway said...

As far as having "it", I feel you. I think its the same behind a busy bar. The ability to just bang it out - consistently make good drinks, answer questions, juggle multiple conversations, flow with your coworkers, track floating guests and, of course, keep smiling - all while you're getting your ass handed to you in your 6th or 7th hour of work. The dance.

Some people can do the dance, some can't.

Keep up the good writing. See you at the bus stop.

Unknown said...

Just found your blog. I love it. If you were a fly on the wall of a newspaper newsroom or at the press, you'd probably recognize most of the characters, interaction and even the dialogue, even though the jargon is different.

Your blog made me look back fondly on a few years of lousy jobs in lousy restaurants -- even the time I sprayed one of the line cooks in the face with my dishwashing sprayer (he threw a 4-oz ladle at my head first), and the time I got fired for coming to work hung over and throwing up in the ice machine.


Ash said...

i know this post is super old, but i'm just now coming across your blog and basically can't stop reading it! it's a real, um.. page turner. anyway, i find it interesting that you have such a closed minded(ish) attitude about stages when you had only been at Nopa for 8 months at this point. what was your stage like there? did you even have to stage?
i could definitely see having that possessive attitude about your kitchen and your brigade after you finally get incorporated into one. but it seems discouraging to someone like me. i'm brand new to restaurant kitchens - i just got my first back of the house job about 2 weeks ago (probably has a lot to do with why i've been devouring your blog).