Confessions of a Line Cook
I can show you how to make mustard gas
Vulgar language ahead! You have been warned.
If I could go back to the sweet, innocent, 16 year old version of myself and give her one piece of advice it would be, “Toughen the fuck up.” I wish I had known what I was getting myself into when I joined that first kitchen. I wish someone had told me just how thick your skin needs to be, in a literal and a metaphorical sense. Literally because you will be burnt countless times and metaphorically because you will be insulted, a lot. You will be told you’re not good enough, that you need to do better, and that you are shit. And it’s kinda true, you do need to do better. You sold that bill in 12 minutes? Great, make the next one 10. Take it from someone who has worked their way from the very bottom, from pond scum to somewhere in the middle. From pond scum to sort of being respected, sometimes. If you have never worked in a kitchen before chances are your first position will be in the dish pit. Where not only are you shit but you have to take shit from every single person in that kitchen, even the dumb prep cook that comes in stoned every day and complains if he is there for more than 5 hours. You will also have to do whatever they ask you to, that’s why it’s not uncommon to see job postings for “Dishwasher/Kitchen Hand.” While all of the guys on line are getting fucked, hard and dry, up to their elbows in bills that haven’t even been added on yet, and someone runs out of burger patties they sure as hell don’t have the time to go to the cooler to get them. And don’t be offended if they haven’t learned your name yet, so many dishwashers have come and gone before you it’s easier to just blindly yell. There is a good reason to the mistreatment of dishwashers though, it’s like hazing, they have to make sure you can take the heat.
There really is something to that saying you know, “If you cant take the heat. get out of the kitchen.”
Not only do you have to be confident in yourself to the degree that you can take criticism, but you have to have a sense of humor. It is so important that you have a sense of humor. I don’t know what it is, it’s like the combination of testosterone, confidence, and a complete lack of concern for anybody else comes together to create this language you wont find anywhere else. Where compliments are underhanded, insults are compliments, and you’re never called by your real name. Personally, I have two names, it’s either “hey girl,” or “Charles,” sometimes they just snap their fingers.
I have put together a little questionnaire for anyone who might be considering entering the field but isn’t sure if they’ll fit in or not. It’s really easy, I’m going to tell you a joke and you just have to decide if you think it is funny or offensive.
What do anal sex and spinach have in common?
If you’re forced to have them as a kid you probably wont like them as an adult.
Funny or offensive? I think it’s somewhere in between, when I first heard that joke I laughed, but then I felt guilty for laughing. On a scale of one to ten, one being childrens knock knock jokes and ten being jokes you can be arrested for saying, this joke is probably a four, maybe a five. I could tell you some much worse ones including dead babies and hard dicks, but I thought this would be a good middle ground so you can gauge where you stand. If you are easily offended then this is not the career path for you. If you think racist jokes are horrible and should be banished from the English language then I urge you not to join this field. If you do not know what a “one eyed pirate” is, then move along. The things line cooks talk about will shock you, if you can’t handle hearing about the things a greasy guy did to some poor girl the night before, or all of the different things he stuck up his nose, you won’t last long here. I will never forget one of the first real conversations I had with my current chef, he told me that on average you will walk past 7 serial killers in your lifetime. Harmless right? Then he told me about all of the different ways he knew how to kill somebody. Okay, that’s a little alarming. He then said,
“I could do it right now to, I can show you how to make mustard gas in the dish pit.”
Obviously my chef has a few screws loose upstairs, but that’s okay we still love him, he just has a very interesting set of hobbies. To each their own I always say. The point of this story is, people are weird, and if you get a group of super weird people together and let them talk with no filters you’re going to be part of some really fucked up conversations. This kind of behavior and language wouldn’t fly somewhere like an office or on a sales floor, so where else do these people have to turn if not to kitchens. So it’s really no surprise that restaurant kitchens have turned into this no holds barred, testosterone fueled, battle royal cage match. That’s just the industry and don’t hold your breath because it isn’t changing any time soon.