Slap It Out Bang It Out And Call It A Day: "Cooks" That Aren't Cooks
I recently worked as a stagiaire at a catering kitchen set up for the jet flyers crowding into Austin for the Formula One event. I was considering utilizing the space as a commissary for the next round of Scrumptious Chef pop ups and wanted to get the lay of the land before shelling out the dough on a rental.
My goal was to figure out what appliances worked, what didn't and see if the space was functional for some high level cooking that's the hallmark of our operation.
It was like a sad country song.
The space was decent; rugged but clean with a full range of appliances that had seen better days but were still "working."
That was the good part. The bad part was depressing to the point of agony inducing. I set up my station and began washing some vegetables. "No time for that!" The kitchen manager ran over and asked what I was doing. "I'm cleaning these vegetables so I can process them" "We don't clean 'em, we just chop 'em!"
I looked over at a stack of Sysco boxes and grimaced, trying to imagine eating eating produce that hadn't had at least a cursory bath. I finished washing the peppers and carrots and started meticulously cutting them. "What are you doing?!" "Prepping" my response. The man grabbed a pepper and started bludgeoning it like a Kodiak bear that had managed to nab a slower than average rabbit. "This is how we do it!" he hollered, flipping the tattered remains of the poor vegetable onto a pile of pasta.
I could feel my soul starting to dissolve. I've worked with hacks in plenty kitchens. Guys who might as well be chopping weeds in a tobacco patch. They typically eat microwave burritos, don't taste their food as they go and even if they do, don't know how to critique their own work so they'll improve.
I gathered up my things. "Good luck man" I offered as I walked toward the door.
My grandmother used to say "water seeks its own level" and I totally believe it. If you work with hacks it won't be long before you'll start working like a hack. Even if it's a few hours out of one day. As a cook you develop a philosophy for your food. If you aren't willing to wash a chile before you eat it, then take the time to meticulously slice it for your dish you might as well be changing tires in a Jiffy Lube.
If I'm going to serve chili for a crowd on a Sunday then I'll start getting ready on Wednesday. Good food takes time, energy, effort and love. If you're not putting all those things in your food then why bother being in the food industry?