Chef profile number 2
“I’m gonna f^#kin bi*ch slap you!”
It was the last class before my first practical exam, and I was nervous to begin with. And the chef did not help. Or did he? He by all means should not have been helpful in any way to the development of anyone’s placid demeanor. I mean, that quote above is something he said to me as I was moving to remove a piece of gristle off of a fresh cooked roast of beef. And he wasn’t kidding. Geez, I guess my instinct to remove inedible gristle before serving it was wrong.
One major goal of this class was to prepare us for our practical. Funny thing is, this monstrous little man, who at once was engaging and funny outside of class, and an evil warlock in the kitchen, was to be the key to my success during the practical and in future classes.
He yelled at me from across the kitchen one day, “I’m going to punch you in the f&*#ing face!” It was the beginning of class, and I was trapped in this weird, over anxious, far too over caffeinated zone of despair, trying to organize a reach in cooler.
Let me back up a little bit. I had some issues with nervousness and anxiety when I first got to cooking school. I was so excited to be there, and I felt like each class was super intense. I was trying to up my game so hard. I was trying too hard. I took it all way too seriously. Sometimes I would have this frantic energy, and it drove some people nuts. It drove this chef nuts.
So I was freaking out, holding this reach-in door open far too long for chef’s liking. So he yelled, “I’m gonna punch you in the fucking face class leader!” Suddenly he was there, right in my face. “What are you doing?!! Close the f*^%*in door!” I stopped. I looked him dead in the eye. I sensed a flash of trepidation in him. He was wondering if he overreacted, pushed a button in me, and now was about to get his ass kicked. But that vanished from his glare quickly, and transformed to a veiled compassion unseen by anyone else in the class but me(he had a rep to protect after all). What he saw in my eyes was not anger at all. He saw that all my excitement for school, my zeal, my enthusiasm, and my willingness to push myself had mashed and morphed with exhaustion and crappy cafeteria robusta, and I was trapped. In that instant, he knew exactly what was going on with me. He saw that I needed help. He said, “calm the f^#} k down. You’re fine.” So I did. And I was.
This chef was tough. Again I say, this chef was tough. His standards were the highest I had ever worked under. No mistakes were in any way acceptable, and each one beckoned a harsher and seething critique than the previous one. So my class, as a whole, was on edge. I would have us meet for at least an hour every day before and after class. The general tone after a few days in that class was one of nervousness and fear. And as flattering as I’m sure that was for chef, it was not actually the type of tone he preferred.”I just want everyone to shut the f#%^ up, and work efficiently and peacefully,” he blurted out at the beginning of class one day.
I worked really hard under that chef. I eventually got to a point where I was prepared enough for class, and calm enough during class, that I cooked quite well. I was also available to bail others out of the jams they got themselves into–sometimes I got there before chef did. Other times I didn’t, and the torrent of swears and sarcasm rained down upon their heads, the reverberations of his rage echoing through their daily performance grades.
I didn’t hear much from chef during the last week and a half or so of class. He would just pass over me while I was searing my meat, or making an emulsion for Bernaise, or trussing my chicken, or shallow poaching my cod. I was no longer one to make him “emotionally drained” (“oh my god, I’m just completely emotionally drained after dealing with you guys today”). Of course, he would never compliment anything I did. So I took the silence as a good sign. Team leader was off the hook. Phew. I got 90s or 95’s for daily performance every day for the last 6 days or so. And I was prepared for the practical.
I bow deeply to this chef for his guidance, even though he was such a prick.