Work the line. Or not.

  1. Cooks aren’t heroes. A chef is no celebrity. The crew of a kitchen is a gaggle of socially awkward miscreants and hooligans. The only revelry is in our own heads and from the sideways glance of other cooks with culinary envy. We are in the spotlight of our own minds. To be perfectly clear, when you walk down the street wearing chefs’ whites, you are not being mistaken for wearing a bright blue cape and the paparazzi will not stalk you. Get over it. I cook for sustenance and to provide a bright moment in somebody’s day, if that. The food we prepare is to fulfill an essential need, right up there with the need for clothes and shelter. We are not special, unique or otherwise national treasures. We strive to feed only our insatiable egomaniacal desire to be the best or, more accurately, to be thought the best. There is skill, talent or even gifted. There are also skilled, talented and gifted mechanics. Stock brokers. Poker dealers. The difference of us is that FoodTV exists. And Bon Appetit. And Iron Chef. So we appear demigods. But, no. We concoct this fictional majesty to buffer the wretched hours, pittance of pay, and tax on our physical condition. Alas, the toll on our mental stability is undeniable; substance abuse, destructive lifestyle, wrecked interpersonal skills.

    Cooking is a way to live. It pays a wage and just about anybody can get in the show. With time and a little tenacity, it is reasonable to move up the pay scale and rank order of the kitchen. But that is it. If you are a manager, then you are still part of that pan-juggling, pepper-spitting circus. If you are an owner - gasp! - you are merely the director of the sh*t-show, behind the camera rather than in front of it.The hours are the same, the pay might be better, but the broken cooler, dropped bottle of Jack and the server that just got sliced cutting lemons are your problems. You’re welcome.

    Cook. Don’t cook. Work the line. Or not. Trash your feet, cower from your weekend, say good-bye to your ability to carry on a conversation without swearing like a sailor. Or not. Cooking can feel good. It can wrangle creativity into an edible form. It can be the only canvas for starving ‘artists’ in need of a way to pay the rent. Rid that orbiting thought that celebrity chefdom is just around the corner. Forget about having the hottest place in town. Bright lights tend to burn out, too. Instead, practice the trade. Make good food. Earn a decent wage and maybe give a young kid trying to get into the business a realist’s perspective as to what is expected for making wholesome, safe food that looks pretty good and tastes pretty good. Elevate the image of the industry if you want that struggle. Preparing food for consumption has been around as long as, well, people. So the mission of changing this field, a field that everybody feels they are expert, is a fool’s errand.

    So shut up. Cook some food. Make some friends in the kitchen. Hell, make some good connections with your vendors and delivery guys. Then go home, or to the bar, or to the bookstore, knowing that you just got very personal with a bunch of people on the other side of the kitchen door. They put something you made inside their bodies. That is some pretty intimate stuff. Like the other type of intimacy, do it well and they will come back for more. They may even brag to their friends how good it was. You hang your hat at the end of the day knowing that what you did is grounded in tradition, skill and, hopefully, a little pride.

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  1. iridium12
    Absolutely loved reading this - so sad yet so true :)
    Belonging to the "old irons" in the kitchen I remember the time before most of this TV stardom focused on the kitchens.
    Gone are the days when Mr. Ramsay stood in some London kitchen doing prep. Gone are the days where people went on TV to present the vast audience with things our moms used to cook in their humble kitchens.
    The true reward of being a cook is ultimately the guest that comes back to eat your food a second time.
    And it never hurts to get a nice compliment from a satisfied customer
  2. jim berman
    @freddy12712 Sorry you feel that way. Perhaps you should re-read it. I think you make have misinterpreted the message.
  3. freddy12712
    this is a little too pessimistic for my taste
  4. jim berman
    @Varnel I often refer to myself as a kitchen hooligan. I think it is a respectable (and accurate!) moniker. Thanks for commenting!
  5. varnel
    "The crew of a kitchen is a gaggle of socially awkward miscreants and hooligans." That is too true.
  6. jim berman
    Thank you, @lao0. I appreciate you saying so. Been almost a year that I posted this piece and it still gets attention. Thanks, again! 
  7. lao0
    On point great read.
  8. jim berman
    Welcome back, @karonadams! Thank you-sincerely-for your comment. I am glad this particular piece grabbed you; It remains near and dear to me. You have captured  a very important notion that we live at this break-neck, impersonal pace that lacks the subtle nuance of, say, enjoying a meal or the preparation of it. 
    Again, thank you for sharing.
  9. karonadams
    I haven't been back here in a while and the one that grabs me is this one. I could NOT do what the guy in the Whites does. I don't really like cooking the same thing over and over. my only restaurant is my dining room, my only customers my family and friends (and the occasional neighbor who I ding dong ditch when I cook WAY too much!) I LOVE to cook and the guys in the whites inspire me but I could NEVER do your job. the part of this that really grabbed me was Intimacy. there are very few ways in this world that we are intimate, anymore. we get our news from national sources (Can't even TELL you the name of my local weatherman, anymore), our kids move cross country, our books are electronic and our music is digital. there is SO little intimate in the world, today. but providing nourishment to the body, and occasionally inspiration to us lowly kitchen cooks, that is marvelous. if I am ever lucky enough to eat at your table, I am certain it will be an intimate experience. Food is life. Food is love. Food is everything. and Cooking is a Sacred Endeavour.
  10. jim berman
    @TwoSwishers - I really appreciate you saying so. I am in the process of trying to get this lithographed/poster-printed. Thank you for taking the time to comment!