Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gastronomic Concepts #4 - A Field Guide to Cooks

back in 2003, i picked up a great book called The Hipster Handbook . it's a humorous, tongue-in-cheek reference guide to identifying common, everyday pop culture and sub-pop culture personas, namely hipsters. for example, hipsters are always wearing some combination of american apparel, aviator sunglasses, corduroy, cowboy boots, and some sort of ironic thrift store t-shirt (that is always skin tight). they also live off their parents as they don't have jobs and sit at sidewalk cafes all day smoking cigarettes.

i thought it would be a great idea to write a field guide to cooks. the following descriptions are EXAGGERATED stereotypes, but if you're a cook, you'll either find yourself or co-workers as a mixture or as dead-on depictions.

1. Culinary Student/Extern (aka Fresh Meat) - you'll know them by their smile, super-white school uniforms, new pens/thermometers stuffed in their coat pockets like 80's nerds with their packed pocket protectors. they have full sets of brand new shun knives (that they don't know how to sharpen) and you could publish their enthusiasm as it is a desperate re-hash of what they've learned in school and are trying to prove themselves. they are like lambs to the slaughter, deers caught in headlights; unknowing polly-annas ripe with inspiration and soft hands and fingers ready to be nicked, burned and cut off. they call themselves "chefs" yet despite their training, don't know how to cook, and quickly learn this after the first day at REAL school.

2. Veteranos (aka Grumpy Old Men with Knives) - these guys don't mess around. they aren't there for show, but to work and make money. a lot is riding on them for families back in the homeland (mexico, guatemala, southeast asia) and most have worked in their same jobs and restaurants for at least 15 years. their work is perfection, as they've been doing the same thing over and over to the point that doing it blindfolded wouldn't be a problem. they are full of machismo, are mad prep machines, gripe about the whipper-snappers that work at night and how they don't prep anything, and usually leave once the lunch rush is over.

3. Crack Pots - no station is safe from these cooks, as every service is complete meltdown with dirty towels littering the floors, product in half cater-wrapped nine pans spilled on cutting boards, while they literally swing pans and curse as they cook. they also have a habit of making a lot of noise by smashing their pans on the burners and grunting as a way to pump themselves up and help work off the coke (with red bull/rockstar chaser) they did in the bathroom or car before starting the shift. they run around like chickens with their heads cut off, and are sometimes capable of great work, but it is never consistent.

4. Food Monks - if Bruce Lee was a cook, he'd be a food monk. much like veteranos, they aren't in the kitchen to socialize, but to work. however, it's how they work, quietly, deftly, dynamic and efficient in their movements almost like a dance. and you don't need to tell them what to do. they are already gliding over "crouching tiger, hidden dragon" style to the station that's in the weeds to help out. they never complain, and usually take up bigger responsibilities as they can be counted on. you don't know when they've arrived or when they've left as the work is always done and the station is left immaculately clean. calm and serene, their work is always consistent.

5. Pastry Princessas - patisserie. even the name sounds prettier than hot line. and so are the pastry cooks. immaculate uniforms, perfect makeup, they even smell good from all the baking, vanilla and sugar they are covered in. mostly women, these goddesses grace us with their presence and make short work of the bumbling runners and busboys that try to engage in conversation. it's not that they're rude, they're pastry (cue angels singing in the background). they provide a stark contrast to the rest of the kitchen that is sweaty and oil-stained. they also provide some interesting gossip as they are constantly having girl talk.

6. Class Clowns - just like all class clowns, all they do is disrupt the environment with their concern for funny stories, making animal noises during prep time (i've heard monkeys, donkeys, whale song, you name it) and outright dancing and singing on the line. there's a time and place for such things and sometimes we all need a little breather, but for class clowns, it's ALL the time. less disruptive class clowns tell their whole life stories during service to everyone and they don't shut up. even though they may be disciplined, it never lasts long and the "shenaniganz" quickly ensue.

7. Kitchion Biotch - women who have been working in kitchens long enough that they have good cred and reputation. they also have an attitude that would make most mothers hide their sons at home to keep them safe. often intimidating, straightforward and crass, they have no problem cutting down Fresh Meat with a mere look. they are ball busters as they've had to work harder to prove themselves, yet they can also get away with more by using their feminine wiles, whether they be the "Don't make me come over there and beat you like yo' Mamma did" or the "wouldn't you like to see what i look like, out of uniform? NOW PEEL THOSE POTATOES!" approaches. never get into an argument with these women as, like all women, they are always right. these women would also do well as a dominatrix. the less civilized and sophisticated version resorts to screaming at any given moment to get whatever they need done and done fast. needless to say, all Chefs (regardless of gender) fall into this category.

8. Rock Stars/Poseurs - these cooks never wear hats, as they interfere with their hairstyles (usually mohawks or some elaborate dye job), always have the top buttons of their chef coats undone, have numerous tattoos (sometimes food or pirate related) wear sunglasses (for that added bit of mystique) and sport some sort of bling (one pierced ear, leather wrist cuffs with studs, pinky rings). it's not important that they know how to cook (but it's THE BEST when they do as then they are true rock stars and not poseurs); they're just so bloody gorgeous and charming that you'll want to either sleep with them or give them money to start their own restaurant. in fact, they do a lot more talking than actual cooking, kissing ass in the dining room while the rest of the kitchen is working. young sous chefs, especially when not in the presence of the exec chef (never steal the boss' thunder) fall into this category, as they have the bump in pay, title, and pussy notches to prove it.

9. Hacks/Shoemakers - for a complete description, see this previous post. it is important to note that hacks can fall into any of these categories (especially the culinary student/extern), making them the most insidious kind of cook. there are also two kinds of hacks: the ones that don't know what they're doing (aka Fresh Meat) and the ones that know what to do but cut corners anyway (Shoemakers). i find the latter far worse than the former. don't be mistaken. no matter how much veterano cred, crack pot intensity, food monk zen, pastry princessa perfection, class clown humor, kitchion biotch attitude or rockstar finesse, hacks are ALWAYS found out.

popular combinations are:

Fresh Meat + Hack
Veterano + Food Monk
Kitchion Biotch + Rock Star
Crack Pot + Class Clown

i happen to be a good combination of food monk/fresh meat (especially now with concentrating on learning the new station) + class clown (in moderation, although i do a mean roger rabbit) + hack (even though i have experience, i'm still learning) + kitchion biotch (when i've lost patience for the runner that comes and eats my mise, i let the whole kitchen know that i'm not happy with a nice loud "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY STATION!"

i currently work with a rock star and kitchion biotch, both of whom can back it up, a new sous chef which makes him fresh meat (HAHAHAHA), two food monks that i used to see only on the weekends, a crack pot desperately trying to be a rock star, a food monk who can't stop talking on the line, a pure hack, and some good fresh meats that are learning really fast. i miss the veteranos, and morning food monk, but i still see them.

if i've left anything out, let me know and i'd be happy to add to the field guide.


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