A funny, insightful book: “Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

23 May

I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the book because I can manage to read only a few pages each night before I fall asleep. It’s not the contents of the book or the writing that’s causing me to fall asleep, to be sure.  I love the book. It’s raw, it’s unbelievable in its believability at points, and it makes me laugh.

Monday night I read a few lines that made me smile and that are so true of those (me, including, at first) who flirt with the idea of becoming a chef, but who don’t really understand that it can be and often is grueling work:

“Everyone thinks cooking is ‘fun.’ Everyone who doesn’t do it professionally thinks it’s fun. And it is fun, but not for the same reasons they think it will be. They think it’s the same as trying out a new recipe for brownies like you do at home, with the radio on.”

Then, later the author says, “Two swear words in one sentence had become as effortless a part of me as my own saliva” when she’s working hard in a commercial kitchen.

There are many days I wish working in a restaurant kitchen was like trying out a new recipe in my home kitchen with iTunes blaring, the Hawaii winds blowing through my kitchen windows, and me smiling because I’m being creative.  There is no need to swear because I’m chill in’ and having fun.  Unfortunately, I don’t think restaurant kitchens are ever going to be like that.  But, I do believe they can be “fun” places in which everyone tries their hand at being creative and in which most of the cooks and other staff aren’t miserable to come to work.

My challenge if I “do this thing”, which means opening an eatery of some sort, is to have my other cocineros (cooks) actually want to come to work and like what they do, love it maybe nearly as much as I do.  I want them to know it will be hard AND fun at points, and that the object is to make people happy with what they produce.  In order to do that, I think the cooks have to be happy, as well.  I know that sounds trite, but that belief will influence who I hire, how I hire, what hours people work, and how we all interact.

How do I expect they will be happy?  I think one of the keys is to give everyone some sort of “ownership” in the restaurant. I like Eleven Madison Park’s philosophy. Although I haven’t been there, I heard both the business manager and the chef speak at a great bookstore in SF. They talked about the concept of ownership, but in a different sort of way.   Does one of the servers love beer?  Great, would s/he like to lead the charge to find beer pairings and then explain them to the customers?  Does the dishwasher/prep cook have ideas on how to make things more efficient?  Great, what are they?  Can they brainstorm to come up with some economical solutions?  Who has design in their background? Do they want to be in charge of designing menus?   It’s not just about slugging away day after day at your station and not understanding the multiple facets involved in making a great eatery.

I think you have to put people in positions of their strengths and also give them challenges so they can grow. I know this is business 101, but I don’t know if it always happens in traditional restaurant kitchens.  Usually, it’s about the bottom line: who is the best worker (many times unskilled) for the lowest amount of money I can pay?  I understand that’s the way most for-profit businesses run, but there’s so much turnover and unhappiness in the restaurant world, that I know it affects the bottom line in a negative way.

I also want to give other chefs/staff economic ownership in the restaurant.  If the client base is happy and we get our numbers correct, then everyone should profit – everyone.  I think this is the way to garner loyalty and foster happiness. Everyone wins. I don’t know if it can be done, but I have to believe it can be and that’s my challenge.

Okay, enough ramblings. I have to wash the dye out of my hair before I run off to work.  I hope I still have hair left.  I mixed solutions from this beauty shop in which the owner explained how to do it in Catalan.  Me: uhhhh, okay. I think I understood.  We’ll see if I have any hair left!

2 Responses to “A funny, insightful book: “Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef”

  1. Pete Maguire May 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    It can happen – si se puede! Keep up the good work, not all days are easy come easy go there are definite highs and lows. We strive for excellence and with the perseverance, some refined skills and the love for creating memorable feasts for friends /customers who eat at your table/restaurant -thats why we do what we do, make them enjoy each and every bite! Its supposed to be that good everywhere everytime! So proud you are making it through this gig, what a great fighter you are!

    • rachel May 23, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      Thanks, Chef! Today was a great day, partly because it was the shortest one yet – only 10 hours straight! I am learning a ton and that’s why I’m on this part of the journey. I appreciate your comments, your support, and your wisdom. I know you’re making people happy with your food 🙂

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