Working as a chef in the hot and fast environment of a kitchen can be both physically and mentally draining, but one of the most exhaustive experiences as a sous chef is working tirelessly on perfecting a dish only for the head chef to take the credit.
A top dish is days in the making, and considering an average working week in a top end restaurant for a chef is 65 hours, we spend hours on end creating a dish, perfecting the flavours and textures only for the head chef – who usually works in the kitchen three days out of seven, two of which consist of Friday and Saturday night – to show up and claim the dish as his own after all it was his name above the door so anything made on the premises became company property.
This is common practice in most restaurants I’ve worked in over the years. The sous chef will do all the creative work and will be running the kitchen day-to-day, keeping track of stock levels, placing orders, making sure all health and safety legislation is followed (the list goes on) and the “head chef” will rock up for service smile at the guests and take all the credit for the blood, sweat and tears that his team has put in to get the kitchen ready in time.
The sous chef will often get overlooked by the public due to the glamorous lifestyle now associated with a head chef all thanks to TV chefs like Jamie Oliver, so how is a sous chef supposed to get any kind of recognition in an industry where the head chef gets it all?
The truth is there is no sure fire way for a sous chef to do this, but there is one thing sous chefs can do; We can be creative, we can find our inspiration, find out what makes our heart race and passions flare and in this moment of clarity, you’ll find ideas flowing out of you. It is when you are in this zen like moment that your true personality will come out in your dishes and you’ll be creating some of the best food you’ve ever made, even if people don’t recognise you for it.
I suppose many of you will be asking why I would carry on at a job that I was getting no recognition from? The answer is simple; It’s what happens behind the scenes in a restaurant that makes them truly special. Working in a restaurant environment there is a very strong sense of family (usually because you spend more time with the people you work with due to the unsociable hours than you do with your actual family) and it is in this bond that restaurants really shine.
To have a truly flawless service in a restaurant everyone needs to be communicating all the time. When I’m running a service I will be calling out tickets or checking with my chefs for times on tables every three to five seconds so over a five hour service. That’s a lot of communication!
But if you have no communication between the front of house and back of house this is when the shit hits the fan and everything will start to go wrong. I’m sure everyone’s been in a restaurant and had an experience of poor service or cold food etc, this can all be traced back to poor communication.
However it is in these moments that the true brotherhood of the kitchen will come to life and chefs will band together to try and restart the rhythm and get back into the flow of a good service and it is this singular moment that I like the most about working in a kitchen, the feeling that deep down this rag tag crew of misfits have each other’s backs.
But there is also a darker side to working in kitchens where drug and alcohol abuse run rampant. There was a brilliant post a few years back by Marco Pierre White about “100 things to expect when becoming a chef” and one of the entries is hauntingly true. It said “you will get an addiction as a chef whether it is caffeine, cigarettes, drugs etc” and this is true every chef I’ve worked with over the years, they have always had some kind of addiction.
A couple of years back I had a pastry chef addicted to fizzy haribo he would eat 7-8 bags a day while at the same time my head chef was racking up lines of cocaine in the office. It’s a crazy, wonderful, exciting but also terrifying experience all at the same time, and as the saying goes if you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen.