Am I the monkey? Advice for handling Head Chef

Joined Jul 25, 2010
I am more than willing to admit that, in this instance, I am probably the monkey. I have to say, to begin, that I am very grateful for the head chef I work for. When I interviewed with him, I explained how I had actually attended culinary school, but had to leave due to running out of money and having uncooperative parents. He understood, took me on, and began mentoring me in the ways of the kitchen. I work my butt off, try to keep both him and the owners happy, and have a positive attitude.

But lately things have started to get a little out of control. He's unhappy with the owners of the restaurant, so he takes it out on the kitchen staff. He even pulled me outside one time, saying that I had an "attitude" when in reality, I was just trying to get my station set up and stay out of his way. I had come into work an hour early to do pastry work, but he was frazzled and disorganized and had me do his prep work instead- which set me majorly behind as orders started coming in and the puff pastries that I had to make had to be squeezed in between pizzas, appetizers, and clean up.

When the owners asked why the pastries weren't made, he just stood there and stared at me blankly.

He's started having meltdowns in the kitchen. You can feel the tension in the room, like he's about to explode- to the point where he completely flubbed a dinner service where he was on garde manger and we weren't that busy.

When I get in the weeds from 7-8 pizzas, 5 apps, and 3 pastries coming in at the same time, I just hunker down- listen for directions, and keep on pushing to get everything out. He'll get 4 pasta orders in back to back and almost lose his mind.

I guess I'm wondering if this is normal? This is my first kitchen job so I don't know if HC's are supposed to be calm and collected, which is what I imagine they should be. But maybe my expectations are a little too grandiose and I'm living in a fantasy world.

I'm probably being the monkey.

I love this job, love the other cooks I work with, and enjoy the challenge and the rush- but I guess I'm asking for opinions as to whether I should just chalk this up to how chefs can be and think nothing more of it.

The odd thing is that we have another cook who's the owners cousin. He's not trying to take over the HC's job, but he helps out and is amazing at delegation, staying calm, and when you get in the shit he's just like me- work work work, crack a joke, work work work, have a sip of water, work work work, send out last ticket, clean up, have a cigarette.

I don't know...this whole post probably doesn't make any sense. I'm just trying to make heads or tails out of my boss' behavior I guess.
Joined Sep 2, 2009
Sometimes just being a cook you have no idea what the chef has to deal with. Budgets, employees, schedueling, vendors, customers, owners ect. ect. That being said some handle it better than others. And when the pressure is on is when you can see the good ones rise to the challenge. Myself I work better the busier it is......Oh, and if your in Oregon and need a job, look me up ....I like your attitude
Joined Mar 9, 2010
Sometimes you have to give your Chef a break as fryguy are new on the scene remember.... it's not all about the cooking...Chefs have a lot on their mind...the assistant you speak of sounds like he has a pretty casual attitude which cannot always be a good thing.  Sous Chefs can buffer things for the Chef as they are the ones in the trenches doing more teaching most of the time. Anyhow keep your nose to the grindstone ...don't talk to much unless you are going to ask a question of some importance and respect your Chef ..and he will respect you right back

Joined Aug 5, 2010
it 's ironic to me how you don't know what you don't know... the best advice would be to keep an open eye out for where the chef's stress is coming from and how he chooses to handle it. Odds are it's the same as every other chef's so take this as a golden opportunity to learn first hand what to do when it's your turn.


Joined Mar 2, 2006
Well if anything let this be a learning experience, learn how not to deal with your staff. Good chefs can teach you alot but so can bad chefs. Keep in mind chefs have lots on their minds besides the food. Perhaps the owners are clamping down to reduce costs etc. and he is stressing out about that one. The best thing you can do is ignore it or stay out of the way and do not let yourself become the target. If indeed he is on the way out then there is nothing you can do about it. Then see if the owners relative changes his attitude too with the additional stress.

My last 3 chefs were like that, the last hated pastry for some reason and they were always the brunt of his aggression all day long. The other hated his wife and took it out on the kitchen all day, it killed everyones desire to work and the place really suffered as a result.

Yes, a good chef should be calm and collected as they are the one who sets the pace and the attitude for the kitchen. My ideal chef would be the one from the movie "a cook, the theif his wife and her lover" watch it sometime, it also has some good food "porn" in it.
Joined Jul 25, 2010
@Fryguy- Thanks for the good words and the offer. Unfortunately, as much as I'd love to live on the west coast, my fiancee is dead set on us living on the east coast, more than likely, in Philadelphia. Believe me when I say I am trying to change his mind. LOL!

@Gypsy2727- Thank you for putting things into perspective. I was being selfish in assuming that my blues were anything like his.  I do know that the owners are VERY demanding and for those reasons he's probably stressed the fuck out. I should and will, make myself available to him to make his job easier and keep the kitchen running smoothly. I was supposed to go in at 1 pm tomorrow but will probably go in early, off clock, just to get prepped for the weekend, help out, and share some of the beignet dough I made at home. I'm sure he'd appreciate a sweet and some coffee.

@Kansas- I know I sound like the monkey. You guys have definitely helped get me out of this rut. I love the kitchen and the kitchen is hard work. In the words of my father "Suck it up buttercup and move your ass." I'll take your words to heart.

@Rat- I'd hate to think he's on his way out, but there have been rumblings around the restaurant that that might happen. I hope it doesn't, as much as his wild mood swings make me feel uneasy, the man really has been a kitchen- father figure to me. And today, even being as stressed as he was, he gave me a smile and a squeeze on the shoulder as he walked by. There's a difference between the idealized and reality, and my reality is right here- best to make the most of it, pitch in where I fit in, and keep moving.

Thanks everyone. I'll be back in the head space I need to be in for the weekend.
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