About 6 months ago I left a job that I loved, cooking at the 3 Michelin-starred Manresa Restaurant, to start a podcast.
In the last couple years, TV shows like Mind of a Chef, Chef’s Table, and Ugly Delicious, have been featuring the creative geniuses of the food world. Chefs are celebrities. Everyone wants to go to their restaurants. Everyone wants a picture of their food tagged on Instagram. The men (and women — but mostly men), the myths, the legends.
When I tell people where I worked, they bombard me with questions. What’s it like? What do you do everyday? What’s it like to work with chefs? Is the food just incredible?
The job of a chef has become increasingly glamorized in popular culture.
But what about the cooks?
I started the podcast Copper & Heat to give cooks a voice. To have a platform to speak about the unspoken rules and traditions of the kitchen. A place where those of us who work or have worked in restaurants can share our experiences.
Be A Girl — Season 1 Trailer
Welcome to Copper & Heat, a podcast exploring the unspoken rules and traditions of the kitchen. Our first season…
I’ve been cooking for 6 years, but have been working in fine dining for 3, a much shorter time than most of my coworkers. A lot of cooks I know have been working in the industry since they were 16, and sometimes even younger.
We’re at this critical point in the culinary industry. There are the people who have been born and bred in the food industry. And then there are the people who “want to be a chef,” who see it on TV, in all its glamour. People in the former category always dismiss the latter group by saying that “they don’t know what being a chef really means.”
Because being a cook, even in the highest levels of fine dining, isn’t glamorous. At all. You may work twelve to fourteen hour shifts for five, six, or even seven days a week. You usually get paid next to nothing. Usually, the only way you can make a semi-living wage is because you work lots of overtime. You’re expected to be there all the time. Vacation time? Hard to come by. Sick? Get out of bed and get to work. It’s incredibly stressful. Almost all of us have some form of anxiety, depression, or other form of mental health issues. But we keep doing what we do.
Because we love it. Food is our passion. We’re driven to improve our craft everyday. We love our team and our coworkers. We create incredible experiences for guests.
But at what cost?
This is why I say we’re at a tipping point. The food industry, as has become increasingly apparent in the last 6 months, is rife with all sorts of abuse. Sexism, homophobia, racism, rampant economic disparity, the list goes on. Fortunately, there are all sorts of chefs that are using their new celebrity status to talk about it, which is definitely needed.
But what about the cooks?
Nobody ever talks to the cooks. We’re in the back, silently slogging our way through the day, working long hours, hoping that someday we can work our way up the hierarchy to the coveted title of Chef. Maybe then people will value what we do.
There’s this thing that cooks do that I’ve heard is similar to what old veterans do. War stories. Cooks love to talk about the hardships we’ve gone through. The first time I cut myself. The worst burn I ever got. This angry chef who threw a plate off the pass and yelled at everyone in sight. Some would call us masochistic. But do we ever talk about the real issues? Alcoholism? Sexism? Wage gaps in the industry? Not really.
But that’s gotta change. Diners should know who’s actually making their food. Cooks need to have a voice. We need to come together and start conversations on the difficult and problematic challenges of the industry.
The mission of Copper & Heat is to be a platform for those conversations. Inspired by audio-rich narrative storytelling podcasts (the kind with that NPR sound) and chef-driven publications (like Toothache), we want this to be an outlet for for cooks to share our experiences and perspectives on the big topics facing the industry.
The first season, Be A Girl, is all about my personal experience working as a woman in fine dining kitchens in the SF Bay Area. I have conversations with line cooks, prep cooks, and other kitchen employees about why it is that women only represent 19% of chefs, and 7% of head chefs, across the culinary world.
Take a listen. If you’re a cook, we’d love to hear your story. If you’ve never worked in the industry, I hope this will serve as a small window into our world and into the kitchen.