Asking a chef why he/she decided to pursue their (un?)enviable career, you’re due to get a more creative answer than asking an accountant for example, or a banker, why they do what they do. Because no, I don’t get to play with numbers on a PC the whole day and look intelligent for it, and I sure as hell don’t get paid a lot for slogging away an unfathomable amount of hours. My job is physically hard, working conditions are hot and uncomfortable, and ask any chef – there’s always a shortage of staff. Mostly you just need to keep up – and work harder, to do jobs better suited for two. From the second you light the ovens in the morning, you start sweating. Then you do service and work up a real good sweat – the kind where rivulets stream down your arms from your armpits to your forearms, down your back to your butt, and inbetween your breasts. Nice. The comforting thought of the day is that you can at least change your jacket (if you have time) before you work up a good sweat again during evening service. By the end of it you feel like a Babylonian street girl doing brisk trade in the summertime.
Not counting all the auxillary little things that can go wrong in your day – the fish delivery being stolen out of the delivery truck an hour before service, the oven/dishwasher/salamander/blender/your willpower breaking down again… All in all you know no day will be the same or boring in any way.
In most kitchens people of different nationalities work together, with different grasps of English, and anyone with a special talent for Charades will never have the wrong part of a strained stock, unknown vegetables (anything other than a tomato) or precious foie gras fat binned. There’s also the issue with front of house. The pressure and rush of service can often turn small issues and miscommunications into large and often spectacular blow-ups. Its quite terrifying to see a screaming head chef’s nose literally explode with blood in anger (and obviously the heat). Its not funny being thrown with a cucumber/leek/your prep/your plated dish mid-service either. A sure indication that someone is now unhappy with you.
So after all that complaining – why do I do it? Because it’s me. Its what makes my day complete. The science of cooking, the history, the trivia, its neverending lessons and secrets. My dad once told me whilst I swung wildly at golf balls – ‘Golf is probably one of the most humbling games, once you think you’ve mastered it, something goes awry with your swing/stance/posture, and you have to re-approach your game.’ I approach my cooking in the same way…