Friday, March 25, 2011
allow me to introduce your kitchen staff...
If anyone has read Kitchen Confidential you will know that Anthony Bourdain paints a very frightening picture of most of the kitchens he has worked in. Descriptions of cooks passing out on the line and having to be dragged to safety until they recuperate, plenty of drugs - from marijuana to heroin - and far more sex on the flour bags in dry storage than one would like to consider! Can this really be true? Surely not!
Now, to be fair, I haven't worked in every kitchen in this town but the ones I have been in certainly are not this extreme. Stratford has a reputation for being serious about food, and it really does extend into most of the kitchens around the city. Though to a degree Mr. Bourdain is not that far off, the difference being that the drugs don't extend so far into the hard stuff, most kitchen staff stick to weed/alcohol and the sex happens after work, though often with the co-workers who would otherwise be taking it on the flour sacks.
In the midst of battle, on a hot day in August, a kitchen can reach temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius. And its not just about the heat, there is the humidity to deal with - sometimes the ceilings drip, mingling with the sweat on the brows of those hardworking men and women who slave away to provide delicious meals for hasty demanding guests.
The relationship between the front and back of house is an odd thing. There is no shortage of physical contact between the two but somehow there is a huge gaping chasm that is nigh un-crossable at times. Chefs, cooks and commis alike have a certain smugness about them when they are behind the line, they are king of their castle, captain of their ship and in the midst of service they really do control the flow of the restaurant. For better or worse the front of house staff depend desperately on their kitchen and the kitchen staff know this.
Somehow, during the shift towards equality, and better workplace standards, the world of kitchens got left in the dark ages. Breaks are few and far between and your boss is more likely to 'discipline' you through yelling and throwing things or calling you names and forcing you to endure hard manual labour than speak sensibly. It's often a thankless job, where the servers take all the glory for great food and rake in all the money that comes from a job well done. But hey, minimum wage makes it all worth while!