There is a complex, intense, and deeply committed connection between a chef and an apprentice. I let the chef guide me. I learn. I do what the chef wants me to do without much question. Chef gets angry. A chef humbles me. We laugh together. We spend way too much time together. Chef is the boss, mentor, the one I always know I can count on for support with almost anything. The chef is always right–well, almost always. A chef whom I deeply respect is like my food guru–telling me to quiet my ego, control my emotions, and speak my mind when given the opportunity.
I give nothing but respect and admiration for the chefs in my past, if not a little gripe here and there. For I often take the brunt of my chefs’ emotional state, my chef’s mistakes, and my chef’s bad decisions. If chef storms into the kitchen with a red face(from anger, too much drink the night before, or embarrasment) and a handful of tasting spoons, doesn’t say hello to me or anyone else, and wants way more salt and seasoning added to all the sauces after we just finished laboring over finalizing recipes the day before, I basically have to obey. Fun times.
There are, obviously, many many chefs at school. There are about 150 faculty members, many of whom are accomplished chefs or Certified Master Chefs(more on that later. Read the Soul of a Chef by Mark Ruhlman). I have one chef this term, and will have more, sometimes three or four at once, depending upon how many cooking classes I have at the same time. Actually, right now, our chef is sick, so we have had two new chefs in the past two days, each with their own style of teaching, their own personalities(“Your station looks like someone puked all over it! Stop and clean before you continue,” is what I heard a chef spout to a classmate of mine), their own ways of running a kitchen, their own preferences for salt, seasoning, texture of purees, cream soups, or properly cooked vegetables, and appearance(of food and of us-cleanliness, hair cropped properly, side towel ironed, toque straight, socks black, shaved well enough, it goes on and on). And I have to listen to the critique of one chef’s palate compared to the chef’s palate the day before. A consomme that’s way too nutmeggy for one chef is just right for the next. “Yes Chef!” I say, and hope they have the awareness to realize we are working with multiple palates right now. And they do for the most part. The chefs here are stern, but fair, kind, and understanding. They want us to succeeed.
But they also want us to shut up and do exactly as they say, listen to everything they say, and give them the respect of an ultimate authority. That’s allright with me, because the quieter I am now, the more I listen now, the more subservient I am now, the better I will be down the road. And I will be able to make awesome food like the octopus salad with citrus reisling reduction, pistachios, kumquats, and fennel like I did last weekend with my girl and some great friends(photo credit goes to my awesome girlfriend). So I say “YES CHEF!!”