Please explain me. What am I? Am I a Chef or a cook?

Joined Apr 25, 2016
I have a somewhat unique experience falling into the food industry. I have always cooked, my grandmother taught me and it's just always something that came natural since before i could read. That is my only training per se, but the longer i work with various chefs the more i learn that i know the techniques i just have no idea they have names.(im sure everyone says that) That said, When a natural disaster hit my home state I showed up to volunteer with a grassroots relief group and ended up co-coordinating the whole shebang (as part of a core team of roughly 8-12 folks taking it upon themselves to be responsible for specific areas of function and meeting together daily to discuss and coordinate) by a few weeks in. It was specifically an off-grid kitchen cooking hundreds of meals from scratch (sometimes thousands.. and not BS food, food like grandma would have made, say comparable at least to good pub food... ) a day to serve affected residents and emergency personnel. OK so i put in what was at points clocked as 92 hours a week for 6 months no days off coordinating AND physically cooking this food usually as a 2 person 'chef' team (we called ourselves 'bottom-liners' ... 'i'm bottomlinging the kitchen today' basically translated to executive chef/chef de cuisine responsibilities and then some) with one other major team member, sometimes by ourselves or with some help from our other team members who had time to prep between their actual tasks some days any where from 2 to 2 dozen random day volunteers to direct. I directed volunteers, planned menus,prepped, did inventory, dishes, physically cooked around 1/3rd to half of the actual food for each serving and sometimes the went out in the back of a box truck with all the food in cambros and physically delivered it plate by plate.... sometimes i cooked food for 200-300 catering style completely by myself and then delivered and served it etc etc etc ... unpaid for 90 something hours a week for a few months....

then after that effort ended i started working in restaurants... first as a dishwasher

then dish/prep/ then garde manger for a high end multi-star french/american. Then I went off grid for a few years and found myself cooking for entire farms full of people regularly... so i've also had the experience of literally choosing, planting and tending crops, harvesting them and preparing them for months/years on end AND the experience of coordinating off-grid volunteer kitchens we'll call it 'recreationally' for festivals and various volunteer efforts..also the practiced ability to recognize wild edibles and harvest/prepare them etc etc etc...traveled the country learning casually about different styles of cuisine (ie. newmexican green chili VS nyc red sauce) learned how to build mud and stone ovens in the national forest and cook amazing food in them then break the whole site down and make it as if humans had never been there.....for what is basically 5 or so years now. so all included plus previous experience in front of house and as a bartender totals to nearly 8 years experience in the restaurant/food/farm to table industry.

I currently work for a teeny tiny little 'mom and pop' high-endish dinner service restaurant specializing in 'eclectic fine Italian' whatever the  that is.

they hired me to be a 'prep cook' but my actual job responsibilities are:

work the same hours as the chef, sometimes an hour or so more.

constantly be vigilant over the entire inventory even what is not on my station and write down everything getting low counts on certain meats/shellfish sometimes both before and after service daily.

ensure that there is virtually zero food waste and keep track of exactly what ratio of what to what is being stashed away in that cambro labled 'scraps for veg stock' and how long it's been in there and other such tasks when they exist

make sure enough of everything is out for service and if there isnt enough of something magically make it exist somehow, which in an easy scenario means taking cash from FOH and literally running down a completely dark unlit alley through a dangerous construction site over a trash pile and through and now recently through a shoddily constructed makeshift fence and across street to the little market to hope they have something that works.

prep many major menu items that are not on my station (there are 3 stations, chef's station, my station and a pasta machine that really only i ever use, there are no other cooks. just the chef and myself... every single plate chef makes has multiple items i made on it... actually i make almost everything except the sauces and physical butchering and temp cooking of most meat)I also plate many of her dishes especially for large tables.

I prep more of the deserts than chef does, and am responsible for plating most of them (chef will make and plate any specials except sometimes i do that too,( or sometimes if i'm totally weeded and doing 10 things at once with negative surface space and not enough arms she'll plate a desert) or of the chef's daughter is working FOH she'll just do it because that's what makes  sense like every other  restaurant. the servers should be competent enough to take a slice of pie from the  fridge and put it on a plate with a panel of whipped cream and some drizzle. it's not rocket science. they can scoop the home made gelato just as well as i can and are closer to both the fridge and hot water. there are three of them and one of me. there are only 42 fucking seats in the house.

my station includes garde manger/cold app, hot apps, saute,  all hand cut pastas, fry and items that go along with a few entrees chef makes. I also am responsible for getting all meats and shellfish from the fridge and setting up the portion and putting it on the chef's station often 'ala minute' ... even though that fridge is right next to chef's station and i have to leave mine nad go around the whole kitchen sliding between stacks of dishes and the slippery dish station just to get to and from the fridge nad give them to her... she would have to take two steps to the side of the line...

I am also responsible for the majority of the cleaning even when we have a dishwasher. Including the chef's entire station, my station the fridges and freezers, pasta machine... putting everything away, labeling everything, checking all the fridges and changing out all the cambros for the shellfish and meats sometimes twice daily.

if anything needs to be made or portioned ala minute during service i do it most of the time. even though there is only one plug and i need it for the damn fryer so i have to unplug it to use the mixer or processor, even though it's the SALAD STATION and tiny and now you want me to cut raw fish there and then make sure it's all sterilized while we're seating every seat in the house twice over and short handed. even though the food runner or dish washer could totally be doing this over on that empty shelf across the kitchen with the 2 miraculously free outlets right now but it might just take a little longer maybe and then maybe you wouldn't have to be so snarky and up my ass about how long these apps are taking, chef. right away , chef.

oh, and i regularly make little things that chef uses as special garnishes etc.... i sprout sprouts, fan strawberries, go through fresh herbs and pick off the best little flowering parts etc and crisp/frizzle fry onions and limes and random fun little things that i'm not really asked to do but it's just a nice little touch when i have a few seconds to spare

oh, and when we need that emergency extra person because someone's a no-show... I DO THAT TOO and call up friends and sometimes even am responsible for giving that extra help rides to and from whether i know them or not...

oh and i brainstorm and problem solve with the chef. they needed a way to ensure a supply of fresh zuccini blossoms? i both designed and proposed a wall mounted planter to grow them (something i have built before) in house behind the restaurant AND introduced her to a good friend who is a reputable local organic grower who has supplied other area restaurants and offered her a price cheaper than what she gets from Baldor.... no money in the budget for a dehydrator to make cool tuille and fun garnish? no problem, i explained to her how to make a solar dehydrator including how to source the materials for next to free AND where she ould optimally build one behind the restaurant (and yes i have made and cooked in one before successfully more than once) etc etc etc... i make recipe suggestions and alterations at times, help her come up with new shit....goes on and on

WHAT AM I? (other than totally being taken advantage of someone to profit their business while garnering zero respect for it)

and yes, i totally agree that 12 bucks an hour off the books for doing the job of prep cook is totally fair.

the way i see it, if someone thinks they can pay me 12 bucks an hour under the table with the title of 'prep cook' for what i am currently doing they are clearly delusional and narcissistic. OH and did i mention no breaks most days? OH and did i mention not feed me but feed themselves because, you know,  they literally own the place and i'm just the 'help'. the help who cannot call out because the restaurant cannot function without them. the help who has quit twice, much more politely than she maybe should have and been convinced to stay until they can find a replacement but no detectable effort has been made to replace for nearly a month...

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Joined Oct 10, 2005
What are you?

An owner, without actually owning the business.

Other than the hard labour, its not that bad--you can always walk away and no one will chase you down.
Joined Dec 18, 2010
I'm not sure what to think... I'm exhausted and have a headache.

But if you really want to quit you should do so; give notice and stick to it. If they don't find a replacement that is their fault and not your problem.
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Joined Apr 25, 2011
I feel your pain, but agree with above. Get out. Writing is obviously on the wall. Kill it somewhere else, save money, buy them out when they finally fail for pennies on the dollar
Joined Jun 23, 2015
Her mother should wash it out with soap.  I do use the word sometimes but not in public or online!  Twelve dollars under the table is that honest?  She sounds angry and should chill.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
To be honest, I never read the whole thing. After the first few sentences I start to wander and look for a paragraph break. No paragraphs and too many run-on sentences, and
I just skim to the end.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
I think this may be typical for a Mom and Pop restaurant. The only thing they know is what they know. This isn't a corporate operation with job descriptions, and I bet there isn't a sign on the office door saying come in we value your opinion. You will never change whats going on in this kitchen. It also looks like your at the point that your complaining or bitching about everything. This happens when a person is frustrated and needs to move on to greener pastures. It looks like your proud of the accomplishments you have mede in the past. I think you have a lot to offer but you need to reel in the self pats on the back. When your a Chef you want people working with you to incorporate your vision. We have all had those employees that come in that start of with " In my last job we did it this way" Of course a Chefs answer is " here we do it this way". A Chef is a leader, He/she is in that position because of all the knowledge they accumulated  over the years working under other chefs. The problem  most Chefs have is they don't excel in every part of the kitchen. Some are does, some are good managers and some couldn't work a front line to save their lives. In my case I was strong with people skills and cooking. I was weak in Bookkeeping, or just about anything in paperwork and keeping records. The smart chef realizes their strengths and weaknesses so as to have whats to run a kitchen efficiently. You mentioned you making $12 under the table. There are Chefs that are probably making less than that being chef. 
Joined Apr 26, 2016
I am sorry to say you are a cook.  A Chef would not put up with all that hard work without recognition.  To be a chef you have to be the one in charge.  Maybe it time for you to stake your claim at a place who would appreciate your talents.  Good luck and if you need any help let me know.  Take care future Chef.
Joined Jul 28, 2001
I'm not sure a title exists for you. If i was to review your resume I would probably put it in my scattered/Liberal Arts pile. Your kind of like a Liberal Arts degree.

You dabble, know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot about one thing.

  The worst thing I see is working off the books. Just really bad for everyone involved. If you got bashed over the head running to the grocery store, you're on your own.

Sounds like you've been around long enough to know that it's nuts to work off the books without Workers comp or any benefits at all. If you hurt yourself it doesn't fall back on the owners.

Sure they'll investigate them, but with a few employees and probably don't have monies for fines. You'll hear the word contract labor a lot and there will be a 1099 in your mailbox

before you get home from the hospital. I hope you've been there over a year. Otherwise you might just get a 1099. if so, the Feds will probably want 6 grand ASAP.

  I really shouldn't say anything. It's not my place. But that stuff is a dumb move on behalf of the owners and a worse move on your part. I understand you're probably young and

not concerned with the future. I mention that because it sucks for some of my friends. It's not much, but a couple of grand a month in social security is certainly better than nothing.

just sayin

My, that was harsh. I know better to post in the evening when my meds start to wear off./img/vbsmilies/smilies/lookaround.gif
Joined Jul 23, 2015
It sounds like you have a bunch of sweet experience that lots of places would love Also dedication to your career. That means a lot. I agree with the others though on leaving though. Honestly it's their problem if they can't find anyone. Or maybe you could just, take a week off and see what they do? idk just sounds weird.

Guess what I would say is to go for a new place, keep on honing those skills, and most importantly don't lose your passion.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
I agree with Panini. It's not harsh though, just true. Never work off the books. Bad for everyone. I don't hire anyone who wants to work off the books and I would never work for anyone else off the books. 

You should find another job right away. 
Joined Apr 27, 2016
I would say your position is the kitchen manager and nothing less. If I were you I would research the pay scale for a Restaurant Manager and make a time to sit down and discuss the responsibilities of

a Restaurant Manager show some proof career sites list these and what other restaurants in the area pay and ask for a promotion since your already doing that position and don't accept a penny less If they can't  see how valuable you are to them they are a fool.Put in your two weeks and move on. I was in the same position  when I worked at the school district I even took a extra course to be a kitchen manager and positions were available.  They promote based on seniority and I stood aside and watched them promote people with years less than me and believe I applied to every single open position but the breaking point for me was when they had a open position for a kitchen manager at a High School and I was the only one that applied and I did not get the promotion. theTheir  reposting the job was a slap in the face . I quit and went to Albertsons and I was hired as the lead baker with top pay and from the very beginning I was loved  and respected and I have never been happier. You would be a valuable asset to any company please don't sell yourself short.
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