Advice from a Sous Chef

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I can tell that this is going to be a long entry, so I’ll spare you the details of prep. I didn’t have a whole lot to do other than roast, smoke, and dehydrate peppers in order to make our house-made green paprika.

As a result, I (along with Mophead and Pizza Guy K) had to make family meal. The only request was that it not be chicken and rice, and who could blame ’em? I’m sick of it too! I was in the mood for pasta, and when thinking of our non-chicken protein options, jokingly threw out the idea of making filipino spaghetti – pasta with a sweet tomato sauce and cut up hotdogs in it. The guys seemed enthusiastic so that’s what I made. Chef went out to get some and commented that it looked “a bit dodgy.” BUT I saw him eat not only that helping but a second! So it can’t be that bad, right?

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Anyway, service came and went and before I knew it, we were on Late Night and it was just me and Sous Chef J. I took that rare moment of semi-privacy to ask him a question that had been burning at the back of my head. We ended up having a great talk and I am thankful that he took the time to give me advice and to open up to me as well. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to relay the dialogue (as I can best remember it) in the form of a script rather than telling it like a story.

Me: [Sous Chef J], do you know if there’s any particular reason why Chef still hasn’t scheduled me for a shift on Hot-Apps?

SCJ: Well, right now it’s just a matter of bodies, there’s not enough people. Next week we have Reality Show Guy starting on Pantry so we can shift people around. Plus, you have talked to Chef about your interest, right?

SCJ went on to give me advice about how to approach Chef with confidence and complete honesty. He added that I should not be nervous because I “have the support of a lot of people in this kitchen.” He also confirmed what I had already suspected – aside from pastry girls, Chef has never hired female cooks on the line. Aside from the occasional stage, I may be the only girl he’s hired to work in the main kitchen, and “that’s pretty cool,” said Sous Chef J.

The conversation shifted from successfully talking to Chef to succeeding in the kitchen as a whole. I’ll try to recount some of his words of wisdom.

SCJ: Anyone can learn the techniques  (how to temp meat, how to sear fish, how to make a reduction) and the recipes (gnocchi, lamb sugo, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, sunchoke puree). That part is easy. What will make you successful is understanding why things are the way they are. What happens if you pull something too early or cook it too long? Why do you need x amount of flour? Why did your sauce break and (most importantly) how do you fix it? You need to want to learn that kind of thing.

SCJ: I like your approach to this job. You take it very seriously and you are excited about trying out new dishes. I am like that too, and I’m often a “nerd” about new techniques or ideas I want to try.

He went on to demonstrate just how important it is to have the passion to learn and grow. Pizza Guy J has been working here for over four years. FOUR! Yet even though he’s been here since a few months before Sous Chef J started, he has been in the exact same place. He either lacks the ambition, is content to toss pizzas year after year, or simply doesn’t care. Or some of all three. Meanwhile, Sous Chef J started at the “bottom” on Pantry and worked his way through all of the stations, ultimately earning his current title.

SCJ: …did Chef ask you to go to the new restaurant?
Me: Yes…
SCJ: And? What did you tell him?
Me: I said that the concept sounds really cool but that I’d need the monetary compensation to justify the longer commute.
SCJ: That’s fair. Well, I just want you to know that I would really like it if you came to work at the new restaurant with me.
Me: Really? Why?
SCJ: I will be more in charge there, and it would be great to start fresh with a good team that includes you. The attitude around here has been changing and I don’t like it.

He went on to describe the toxic behavior of no-show druggies like Station-mate and lazy corner-cutters like Mophead, and how they seem to have (negatively) influenced some of the other guys. Then he dropped a bomb on me…

SCJ: I was going to quit.
Me: WHAT?!?
SCJ: Well I’ve been here for four years already. Plus, I just don’t feel like we’re growing here [creatively; like we’re in a creative rut.] But I talked to Chef and I agreed that the new restaurant sounds cool. I want to be a part of that. For now, I’m going to step back from this place, work only 4 days a week and on the fifth day, I’ll stage at another restaurant or research ideas for the new restaurant’s menu or something like that.
SCJ: Anyway, no pressure, but I think it would be good for you to go to the new project.

He gave me a lot to think about and also some much-needed encouragement and support. And his kind words are making me reconsider the new restaurant. It’s just a good feeling to know that he recognizes my passion while at the same time digging up old (bitter) memories of always being picked last for teams in PE. (Except for dodgeball… being a smaller target meant that I would usually be the last person standing and secure a win for our team. But I digress…)

I may never be good at softball, but at least I can hold my own on the Line among the boys!

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