The 11 things that stress out chefs the most
Any profession that involves making hundreds of people with high expectations happy from the confines of a sweaty, cramped box teaming with open flames and treacherous knives is bound to have some anxiety associated with it. We hit up chefs from New York, to Alaska, to “The Internet” (his name is The Angry Chef and nobody knows where he works) to anonymously dish on what causes them the most hand-wringing. Here’s what they came back with.
“They’re a legal mob, except I don’t get a bat to the knees.”
What could possibly be stressful about a city employee whose entire existence revolves around finding the most miniscule possible violations showing up when your restaurant is packed and announcing his presence to your entire dining room? What’s more heart-palpitating is that most violations are out of the chef’s control -- the final assessment reflects the whole restaurant, from the front of the house to the manager’s office -- but regardless chef’ll be the one to take the heat, because when you hear “restaurant” and “health violation” you immediately think “my food is poisoned.”
Getting Cut, Burnt
"The blade bounced right off the calamari, and sunk right into my finger."
There are fires and hot metal and boiling liquids everywhere, and grease has a tendency to splash up, "blistering everything it touches". As for the knife thing: the three ways chefs get cut most often are pressing too hard with a dull knife; pulling a knife out of the case too fast; and turning around too quickly and getting stabbed by someone else, a natural occurrence when you’re in a tiny space and lots of people are carrying huge blades.
Patrons Who Are Jerks
"Nowhere else save possibly British football matches do people let manners and decorum fly out the window at the first little bump in the road."
Everybody knows someone who goes beyond expressing dissatisfaction and actually gets off demeaning and degrading servers -- the guy who instead of saying “This is a little overcooked, can I get another?” instantly goes with “I asked for medium rare, do you not know what medium rare is?”. What you don’t see is how pissed off the chef gets when a co-worker retreats back into the kitchen on the verge of tears. Chefs and servers can have contentious relationships, “but in the end they’re our brothers and sisters.” The chef won’t spit in anyone’s food, but complaints from overheated/contemptuous/100% pure concentrated evil patrons won’t be handled with any urgency either.
"The ****ing heat..."
Studies have shown that if the temperature rises 10 degrees above comfort level, productivity can drop by as much as 30%. Temps in front of a hot grill can reach 105 or 110, which is only “comfort level” if you’re a lizard. The Four Crappy Things That Heat Can Cause (rashes, cramps, exhaustion, and stroke) are always looming.
Refrigerators, Stoves & Other Appliances Going Down
"I've got a floor fan blowing on a compressor right now because the fridge fan shorted out."
A chef without functioning equipment is like a grizzly bear fighter who’s missing an arm. Yeah, he can still kick that grizzly bear’s ass because he’s so good at grizzly bear fighting, but it’s a hell of a lot harder. Plus, even if you get through rush hour with busted stuff, you’re still screwed, because “if a refrigerator goes down, guess who magically shows up -- that’s right, the freaking health department.”
"You hired a chef for a reason. Let me do my job."
Imagine if a pro football owner bought a restaurant and, over the objections of his chef, traded away the rights to two future 1st-round menu selections in exchange for Chicken Lollipops, which had massively underperformed since their much-hyped rookie season. Then he cuts beloved veteran Pork Belly, who goes on to be a valuable contributor for some other franchise. Adding insult to injury, those future 1st-rounders end up being Ramen and Charcuterie.
Sometimes it's more basic than that, like when an absurdly controlling owner, in a tone filled with knowledge and authority, says "Make sure the coffee is hot", because apparently proper coffee temperature isn't something they teach at culinary school.
Keeping Everything in its Proper Place
"Being an Executive Chef is less about cooking and more about organization."
If you work in a big restaurant, you’re dealing with hundreds of cases of foodstuffs coming in every week, all of which must be stashed properly (labels & dates facing out, oldest in front, newest in back, etc) despite the very human tendency of everyone on staff to just put things back wherever it’s most convenient. It’s like when people in the grocery store and decide they don’t really want snap peas so they just leave them in the middle of a row of cottage cheese containers, times a thousand.
"I live in Alaska, where 'hippies' have guns and kill their own food. That isn't to say that all vegans/veggies are hippies..."
There’s nothing wrong with expecting reasonable accommodation, but there is something wrong with growing incensed because a disproportionate percentage of the menu doesn’t cater to your distaste for any meal that once mooed, clucked, or made any other noise more animated than “rustling in the wind”. “I love cooking special things for patrons who for any reason choose to abstain from meat and fish,” says our man in Alaska, “but I only have so many menu spots and can't invest the prep time, labor or storage space for multiple vegetarian options that ultimately will not sell as well as their omnivorous counterparts.”
"Nothing is more annoying than not having the proper amount of staff when we are slammed."
Dependable employees are more valuable than musgravite, a precious stone that's infinitely rarer than diamonds. Undependable employees, however, can cause ulcers, and it can take a long time to build up a staff that doesn’t leave your stomach lining looking like an old pair of underwear you spent years washing with that cheap detergent.
"I guess some people don't realize Lyme disease isn't caused by limes."
Serious allergies are bad enough, given that, you know, your food MIGHT KILL SOMEONE. The new wave of allergies has made things even hairier, necessitating a heightened system of kitchen safeguards that must be upheld amidst an onslaught of already complicated orders. Yes it’s possible that some of these allergies are just part of the lamest fad since Bop It, but when you’re handed responsibility for the safety of someone’s internal organs, what choice do you have but to remain vigilant?
Patrons Expecting Miracles Because They’re in a Rush
“It is nearly impossible for any restaurant that is not McDonald’s or Taco Bell to seat and serve a table in 15-20 minutes."
That reality won't change just because somebody forgot they had tickets to the 7:50 showing of that new movie about that guy and girl who risk their friendship by hooking up and then hate each other but then realize they love each other. If you’re in a legitimate, unavoidable hurry, give your harried chef a hand: make a reservation (“They’re not just to secure your spot at Per Se; they’re crucial in helping the restaurant prepare for a guest’s arrival.”), and listen to your server's advice: “A well done steak or burger is going to take 10x longer to make than a Caesar salad or bowl of soup."