One of the scariest moments in my career was walking into a professional kitchen for the first time. Armed with five culinary classes and chef pants that were three sizes too big, I walked right into the furnace.
Kitchen culture is something that you can only learn from being in a real kitchen. From the product to the people, it is all about respect. But as pop culture has revealed, there’s a very twisted way of showing respect here. Honestly, if you’re the guy not getting picked on, you should worry.
For the new kids, every day is a constant trial. The kitchen doesn’t just take anyone in. This is their love and livelihood that you are stepping into and naturally they will do what they have to to protect that. Culinary degrees and previous “fast-paced kitchen” experience do not matter here. And if you have none of the above… you’ve got your work cut out for you.
You won’t only have to stand the heat physically but emotionally too. You will fizzle, flounder and flop multiple times and no one will be there to help you up.
Remember, everyone goes through this time. Once you can rebound on your own with style and grace, the crew will have your back. In hindsight, these will be the fun weeks. You will long for the weeks you could get away with messing up or avoid a chef tantrum for risk of scaring you away. The real work will have just begun.
But again, the challenge is getting through those first couple weeks. Take my advice.
Laugh at yourself
Because you are going to make mistakes and they are going to laugh at you. Make the best jokes at your own expense and maybe they’ll remember you as hilarious instead of messing up.
Dish it back
Because offense is your best defense. If you don’t harass someone else from time to time, you will feel like a target. What family doesn’t tease each other?
Ask for help when you need it
Because, in a kitchen, when one person goes down, the whole team goes down. If you can save the team from a screaming chef fit by admitting that you need a hand, you will be regarded as the smartest person that ever lived.
Be hyper-aware of your surroundings
Because burnt food is a life or death situation. You would be surprised how easily you can become someone’s hero in a kitchen. In a chef’s eyes, saving someone else’s caramelized onions from becoming charred onions goes further than finishing your own task. But don’t forget to shame the guy that walked away from the onions.
Take on the bitch work with pleasure
Because it’s going to be assigned to you anyway. For a long time. You will get serious brownie points for not complaining and jumping on the job that no one else wants to do. Even more, if you come up with some faster way to do the task. Don’t worry, eventually you will have someone to pass them on to.
Come early, stay late
Because everyone else is. Follow the guys that take this advice; they’re on the fast track to a promotion. And if you want to understand #cheflife, start by working the hours.
Getting through the first few weeks might be tough but the reward is well worth it. There is no family like a kitchen family. The motley crew that gets hired eventually blends together because of their mutual joy in life. Nothing brings people closer than sharing blood, sweat and tears while doing what you love.