Bad to the bone
Are chefs just a bad-tempered breed — as demonstrated by so many celebrity chefs — or is a good rant sometimes justified?
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
No, I am not Bruce Banner — more like the Incredible Bulk — but chefs do have a reputation for being foul-mouthed, bad-tempered ogres who dictate the lives of their minions like a SAS military boot camp.
Bad reputations have been reinforced by certain UK celebrity chefs, however we’re not all like this; not every day, at least.
OK, sometimes we are. But why does it happen?
Many things contribute to bad-tempered chefs: the hot and steamy work environment, long hours, bad diets due to long hours, excess of testosterone, lack of sleep — it sounds like a cocktail for disaster, doesn’t it? But some people are just grumpy naturally.
I have, as a junior chef, been on the receiving end of some magnificent tantrums.
I have had a main course dish which the sous chef deemed below standard flung full force at my head, missing me and smashing into the wall — making a mess which I then had to clean up.
One rather unpleasant ticking off that has been etched into my memory forever was when I was an apprentice assisting a chef de partie in the main kitchen’s sauce section.
I was left to watch a 200l steamer full of demi glace sauce while the sauce chef had an extended lunch break.
Surprise surprise, I burnt it; so when the CDP returned, I was called a lot of choice names in such a loud voice it attracted the attention of a rather nasty main kitchen sous chef, who came to see what the problem was.
On being told that I had burnt the sauce, the sous chef went on the attack against the chef de partie; how could he blame a first-year apprentice? Why did he leave me in charge of such an important sauce?
This sous chef methodically torn strips off the chef de partie, eventually working himself into such a state that he actually suffered a heart attack right in front of us.
As a senior chef, I have only lost my temper a few times, (all for worthy reasons I assure you!) In London as junior sous chef, I was the kitchen “enforcer”.
One afternoon I noticed the CDP on sauce playing with a carrot, carving flowers, while behind him a commis chef on the vegetable section was quickly going under from the sheer volume of work.
When I asked the CDP if he had noticed his colleague struggling, his reply was: “it’s his problem”. This made me angry. A senior chef blaming or not helping a far junior chef is not on!
I went to the rude chef’s service fridge, removed his garnish tray and threw it in the bin. I then told the CDP if he wasn’t ready for service at 6pm it was his problem.
Then myself and three other sous chefs helped out the veg-preparing commis, so by 5:30pm he had time to go for a break while the CDP was sweating, trying to get ready for service.
Once in Sydney, during the Olympics, I was chatting to a guest near the buffet when I heard shouting coming from the kitchen.
Not a big problem — until I heard a specific rude word shouted, which was audible not only to myself nut also the 40 other people in the room. I stormed into the kitchen, grabbed the offending chef and dragged him into the standup chiller, where I screamed at him with my face two inches from his until he was grey and shaking.
I have worked in kitchens where the staff are so scared of the chef, they can’t do their job properly.
I don’t use my size or position to intimidate people: I have their respect and trust, so I don’t need to shout. That way you get far more productive work from your staff.
It takes a lot to get me angry — but don’t abuse fellow colleagues, don’t tamper with a guests food and never use that specific rude word in front of me — because “you wouldn’t like me when I‘m angry”!