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Kitchen Labor

[ 103 ] November 13, 2013 |

Arun Gupta’s memorial of the recently deceased Chicago chef Charlie Trotter gets at some key issues about restaurant labor and worker abuse in kitchens, especially at the higher end.

But rather than pore over flaws that paled next to Trotter’s virtuosity, it’s time to admit that the real culprit is a restaurant culture that dishes out abuse. Michelin-starred chefs are often known for their prowess in screaming as much as for their cuisine. Few underlings will openly admit it, lest crossing a celebrity chef consign them to also-ran kitchens, but get a few seasoned cooks together and they’ll swap accounts of star chefs who hurl insults, torment weaklings, throw pots, or perhaps even a punch. As Donald Trump is to real estate, Gordon Ramsay is to the kitchen, building his public persona on being a flaming asshole.

During my brief forays into professional kitchens, I was challenged to a fistfight, worked with a line cook who broke someone’s jaw, and was told about a famed chef who would throw spice into the eyes of hung-over waiters during brunch service. While the stories are entertaining, they also suggest that many chefs believe that high pressure and hard work excuse bad behavior.

Charlie Trotter’s tragedy is that his life was both a testament to and indictment of the restaurant industry. He has an outsized legacy in the chefs he mentored, the Chicago dining scene that he made world-class, and the cuisine he crafted, which defied convention while delighting the senses. But tributes to his work would be elevated by acknowledging that great food shouldn’t be accompanied by abusive working conditions.

Last summer, I saw Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert do a sort of performance/conversation in Providence. Overall, it was exactly what you’d expect and so was entertaining if not particularly challenging. But one highlight was Ripert and Bourdain talking about how utterly awful Gordon Ramsay is and how behavior like his is terrible for the entire food industry since it makes working in a kitchen seem like the worst job in the world. Ripert admitted that he used to be like Ramsay. He had grown up in the French kitchens run by a tyrannical chef and brought that to America. Then he realized he was a loathsome human being who everyone hated. So he reformed his behavior and became one of the most successful French chefs in the United States.

Tolerating and laughing about bad kitchen behavior is no different than tolerating and laughing about the boys’ club in NFL locker rooms that leads to Richie Incognito bullying Jonathan Martin to the point of mental illness. It’s about creating cultures of work where people have rights to basic decency. That’s far too rare in the restaurant industry, as it is in the NFL.

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  1. TribalistMeathead says:

    That’s weird. Bourdain touched on it in Kitchen Confidential, but, IIRC, didn’t exactly condemn that sort of behavior.

    And I’d be surprised if Ramsay was like that when the cameras weren’t on him. Early-Kitchen-Nightmares-UK-edition Ramsay and Fox-reality-show Ramsay are practically two different people.

    • Cracked (because they have a contrarian take on everything) argued that Ramsay only acts that way over here because it’s what sells in the US. I have to imagine that’s only partly true, but I’d be happy to be wrong, even if it is an indictment of what makes good TV on this side of the pond.

      • Karen says:

        Honestly I think that’s worse of Ramsay. He isn’t really a bully but he’ll act like one, implicitly endorsing bullying as management, because it sells.

        • It is – and come to think of it, there’s another reason it’s worse: he had to actually make that choice, to come over here and sell the persona.

          • Karen says:

            Exactly. At some point he debated with himself whether to adopt the tyrant persona and consciously chose it. Someone who had never behaved otherwise at least has rh excuse that he didn’t know any better. (No, not really, but at least there wasn’t a point where said person thought “hmm, even though decency has worked until now I think I’ll try asshole and make a lot more money.”)

            • I almost do wonder if people like that don’t know any better. I mean, they surely do intellectually – you can’t escape the consequences of your behavior for too long – but I wonder if there’s something that keeps them behaving that way despite that. Kind of like an addiction cycle, but for assholery.

              • Karen says:

                I’m inclined to agree with the addiction theory. The biggest AH-types I know are also adrenaline junkies, engaging in dangerous thrill hobbies. I suppose screaming at people for little provocation might feed the adrenaline rush?

                • I remember reading ages ago that how you act when you’re angry does feed a type of rush, which is why you really shouldn’t punch shit when you’re mad – it’ll just make you do it next time.

                  (Certainly true in my life – ever since I stopped allowing myself to do anything when I’m angry I find myself way mellower in general.)

      • Mike G says:

        I don’t get why anyone would find it entertaining to watch an asshole yell at his underlings.
        Maybe it appeals to Republicans with a bully mentality who long to see other people humiliated. They certainly seem to enjoy the professional assholishness of Rush and Fox News.

      • kate says:

        He behaves the same way on Australian t.v..

    • sharculese says:

      It’s hard to say where persona ends and person begins at this point. Remember, Ramsay’s first foray into American tv was Hell’s Kitchen a couple years before they imported Kitchen Nightmares. That was right after the first season of The Apprentice shocked people with it’s success, and all the networks wanted their own “successful asshole winnows down a field of hopefuls” show, so I don’t doubt it’s part invented character.

      And Ramsay can show a lot of heart in the individual moments with contestants/failing owners but at the same time in the group setting I’d say there’s a lot of behavior in the group scenes that is definitely just bullying, and not the kind he’s playing up for the cameras.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      That’s weird. Bourdain touched on it in Kitchen Confidential, but, IIRC, didn’t exactly condemn that sort of behavior.

      I enjoyed the book overall, but I’d say he not only failed to condemn but pretty much explicitly condoned it. The attempts to deal with the obvious sexism of kitchen bullying were particularly bad, granting that he seemed to recognize how feeble they were.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        Especially since Bourdain is a restaurant owner and, apparently, doesn’t have the power to tell his staff to knock it off.

      • Decrease Mather says:

        Many years ago, Slate had a conversation about Bourdain’s book where the two Jeffrey Steingarten and Amanda Hesser basically called him full of it.

        http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_book_club/features/2000/kitchen_confidential/a_cooked_book.html

        There are several other pages as well.

        • Origami Isopod says:

          From that link:

          Overall, it is an interesting account of his life (he and Anne Lamott would get along),

          Oh, LOL. A nicely subtle jab at both of them.

        • Paula says:

          That set of articles actually isn’t any kind of jab, unless you think Hesser/Steingarten saying they preferred another kind of book is some kind of jab.

          How dare Anthony Bourdain not have worked in the restaurants I liked and have such a shitty time with addiction and have the gall to make it entertaining nonetheless.

      • The Black Thing says:

        Yeah, true. Bourdain has mellowed with family and fame. Also being removed from the source (actual restaurant kitchens) has helped. He acknowledges that he was an asshole and his industry is chock full. As most have mentioned it isn’t unique to that walk of life. It can be easy and not unsatisfying to be an asshole. The larger point of dignity in the workplace is often undercut by the default mode of operational behaviors. Lowest common denominator expectations and enforcement don’t guarantee decency. Although, workplace rules and safeguards can sometimes be nearly as stultifying and demeaning.

        • He acknowledges that he was an asshole and his industry is chock full.

          I was going to say something along these lines but I wasn’t sure how on-base I would be in doing so. Couldn’t cite to save my life but I remember him saying things some years ago about how terrible the industry is.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      I thought he was pretty bullying on the UK episodes of Kitchen Nightmares.

      The more interesting thing about the BBC v. Fox version is that on the BBC, Ramsey worked with what he got and made it work or not. I only saw a few episodes of the Fox series but there was always a montage where the restaurant got shiny new equipment. This never happened on the BBC version IIRC.

    • runasone says:

      He’s on Masterchef Junior right now (which is a strangely fascinating show), and he has a completely different demeanor. He’s actually really good with dealing with the kid contestants. He pumps them up when they need a boost of confidence, his reviews of their cooking are usually positive, and when he does have a criticism he’s constructive about it. Usually something along the lines of “If I would do one thing differently…”.

    • SEK says:

      Ramsay’s actually a great teacher, even when he’s being an ass. I actually used an episode of Kitchen Nightmares in a pedagogy class a few years ago, because the way he directed anger at the person he knew could take it in order to motivate the rest of the brigade was, well, exactly what I did in class. Once you have a ringer, it’s far easier to motivate everyone else.

      “Look at what he can do, and he’s a fucking idiot. What’s wrong with you lot? NOTHING. You’re more experienced, and yet he’s running circles around you.”

      When my wife — who completely disagrees with this particular pedagogical move I make — saw that episode, she glowered at me because that’s the kind of thing profane male teachers can do that female teachers never can without being called “bitches.”

      But it’s effective, nonetheless.

      Also, if you haven’t read Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen — the English title was White Slave — and hate Ramsay, you’re in for a treat. Unfortunately, though, you’ll also have to realize that Ramsay’s response to his hazing was to make it about the food, not personal, and that that’s actually a good thing.

      • Karen says:

        Stop this. Right now, like, yesterday, STOP THIS.

        • SEK says:

          Well, clearly, I have. I don’t teach anymore after all.

          • SEK says:

            And now that I’m seeing your later comments, I should add that I wasn’t bullying the student I knew could take it. I’d sit him/her down and say, “Clearly, you’ve got a clue what’s going on, mind if I pick on you to help your classmates. You’ll be my unofficial T.A.” I motivate that student to work harder, because s/he feels special, and get the rest of the class to believe that they’re capable of what they clearly are.

            • Karen says:

              That does make a difference. As you can tell from my other comments, this kind of thing is rather too personal for me to effectively discuss. Thanks for being understanding.

              • SEK says:

                You were right to react as you did. I should’ve noted from the first that if you watch the Kitchen Nightmares: Revisited, it’s obvious that that’s what Ramsay does too. He finds scapegoats, sits them down, and tells them it’d be a personal favor if they take a punishing to save the restaurant. And also, that if the restaurants do fail, he hires said person.

                (The particular episode I had in mind, but can’t seem to find online, is the one with the sous chef at a Paris vegetarian restaurant that he later hired and ended up running one of his London fronts. I’ll see if I can’t find a link to it.)

                • The Pale Scot says:

                  That was a great episode. The proprietor had a situation in Paris that I and many others would/have (I’m a bit long in the tooth) kill/ed for, Gordon set her up with a competent, young, hungry culinary grad and she just said fuck it instead of changing the program.

                  The grad came back from a quick trip to England to get her clothes and found the restaurant closed.

      • Chet Manly says:

        But it’s effective, nonetheless.

        It can be super effective, but you have to have smarts and self-awareness to pull it off correctly. It’s a really common management technique in the military, but unfortunately the number of officers who learned to manage that way is much higher than the number that learn to do it effectively. One of the best officers I ever worked for was a Marine Colonel who was fantastic at it. Genuinely great guy, but God help you if you didn’t cover your responsibilities or gave him a shabby briefing.

        My first month in my current job I watched him drag some Army Captain’s two-minute briefing out for nearly 20 minutes, which is a damned eternity to just stand there repeatedly showing everyone you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. It was a monumentally crappy thing to do to a guy, but that poor bastard’s example sure as hell taught me to never show up for a briefing unprepared.

        • SEK says:

          It can be super effective, but you have to have smarts and self-awareness to pull it off correctly.

          Have you ever known me to be humble about my skills as a teacher?

        • Karen says:

          After some thought on the subject, I think it also makes a difference of the scolding is actually related to the subject. I can take “you gave a crap presentation and cited the wrong statute,” because really, that shouldn’t happen. I ought to know my stuff. The problem with Bitch Boss was that she picked on us for typos and “attitude” and was almost always wrong about legal matters. There’s being a smart bastard and just being a bastard.

      • The Pale Scot says:

        Quite right.

        Every plate is destined to a customer who has set aside time and money to sit and have a good meal/experience. There’s no backseys allowed. The people Gordon is yelling at are losing thousands of dollars a month running dysfunctional, unsafe kitchens. They have had many months, if not years to figure this out on their own. Really, you know Gordon’s going to show up but your not going to bother to clean out your fridges, that’s the epitome of stupidity. Or the partner in Cranbury NJ who was the pastry chef but didn’t want to work weekends or after 5PM?

        I absolutely hate what corporate chains have done to the business, but using bleach and dating food are basics.

      • Obviously I teach at a different level than I think you did, and a population (upper-middle-class all-boys) that has egos about as resilient as a wet square of hotel toilet paper, despite all the inflation most of them have had, but I use a softer version of this move.

        When I started teaching, my mother sent me a book from a French author who had been hired to teach a continuing education course, having never before taught in his life, and in this book he discussed various pedagogical methods employed by various famous instructors. The only one that stayed with me was Henri Bergson’s method for grading essays. My memory’s a little fuzzy but it went something like this:

        Apparently Bergson would call on students to discuss their essays, starting with the lowest grade first. With that guy he was unfailingly positive and constructive – “this was good,” “you want to strengthen your point,” “I think I’d do this differently,” and so on – and then sent him back. He’d call the next lowest grade up, and with him be a little less positive. And so on, until when the highest grade got there, Bergson would tear into him, telling him all the little things he did wrong.

        The idea was that, at the end, the highest grade was still the highest grade and he could be happy with that, but the guy with the lowest grade was now ready for the next go-around, surer of his strengths.

        When my wife — who completely disagrees with this particular pedagogical move I make — saw that episode, she glowered at me because that’s the kind of thing profane male teachers can do that female teachers never can without being called “bitches.”

        But it’s effective, nonetheless.

        I see your wife’s point. Some female teachers at my institution do it (again, not quite that bad) and don’t get off easily for it. Others don’t precisely because of that. And (through no fault of your own) it can end up reinforcing the idea that that kind of correction is part of male culture, which is something I really try to fight against in my classroom.

        I do use it, and I would still use it in a coed or all-female environment, but my version is more like Reginald Foster’s old “Every bum in Rome could speak Latin! Why can’t you?”

      • Halloween Jack says:

        “Look at what he can do, and he’s a fucking idiot. What’s wrong with you lot? NOTHING. You’re more experienced, and yet he’s running circles around you.”

        This was pretty much the Red Skull’s origin, with Hitler paraphrasing the above.

    • Tom Servo says:

      I completely agree. He really hams it up in the US kitchen nightmares. In the original? He comes off as firm but fair. He generally only yells at people who deserve it, i.e. the owners or particularly inept or incompetent or apathetic employees. I don’t think he crosses into abusive there. I genuinely don’t have a problem with Ramsay as portrayed in the original Kitchen Nightmares.

      • Tom Servo says:

        The US version also deprives you of his voiceover. Without it you don’t get to see how much he actually seems to care about the people he’s helping. He’s also quite charming. He doesn’t spend the entire hour yelling. He comes off as a supremely competent, charming guy who only loses his shit when it’s appropriate. And when he excoriates management, they always deserve it.

        • Tom Servo says:

          And as someone mentioned above in relation to kids, he’s also like that with adults. He gives credit where credit is due, and knows how to pump people up and give constructive criticism. It’s a shame that his entire US persona has become calling people donkeys.

  2. shah8 says:

    Being able to abuse, is one of the psychic rewards offered to people who own labor, from the structural standpoint of Capitalism.

  3. rea says:

    My work experience has been in fast food kitchens and in law firms, and it sure looks to me like the “being an unspeakable tempermental asshole” management style is not confined to celebrity chefs. See also orchestra conductors,stock brokers, doctors, university professors etc., etc.–it is pretty much all pervasive

  4. (the other) Davis says:

    He had grown up in the French kitchens run by a tyrannical chef and brought that to America.

    This is something I’ve never understood about what is essentially hazing behavior, in pretty much every field of endeavor. People realize just how awful it is when they’re the low-status ones subject to it. But as soon as they’re on top, suddenly they’re ready to defend those behaviors as character-building or team-strengthening. It’s like they need to repeat the brutality to justify the suffering they went through.

    Good on Ripert for breaking that cycle.

    • It’s like they need to repeat the brutality to justify the suffering they went through.

      Nailed it. The hazing becomes a form of psychological conditioning: “if I suffered for it, then everyone else has to suffer for it.” Then it becomes dressed up as some kind of shared social experience.

    • Cheap Wino says:

      And then he brought that reformed attitude in a nicely written role on Treme where he was understanding and compassionate with the chef character.

      • witless chum says:

        Bourdain presumably had something to do with the writing there, too. I tended to find the New York arc with Janette a little bit too nice, but her arc as a whole has been done well. She’s not perfect by any means and she’s gotten herself into a somewhat intolerable situation she ought to have know better than to walk into, but I really like the character. Great, underrated show.

        • Cheap Wino says:

          Agreed on the show. Season two was awesome.

          My ex and I would watch True Blood and Treme. True Blood would fly by quickly then it would seem to take hours for an episode of Treme to go by. And I mean that in the most positive way — the show had become so rich and layered.

    • DrS says:

      Mrs. S’s bosses have brought up to her just how much they grew from being fired when they were ‘young and just starting out’. Usually accompanied by some ticky-tacky bs or other abusive remark, the threat is clear.

      I won’t argue that this is some sort of uncommon behavior. It’s something I think we’ve all seen in our lives, but have been able to usually find a different situation. The weakness in the economy has certainly raised the bar on what people seem to be willing to put up with as workplace behavior. Unfortunately, we too often take “common” to equal “ok” or “normal”.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      I concur.

      What I think hazing does is create a culture/family. It is very cult like. Break down the old personality and build up a new one. It makes one a member of a select tribe.

      It also discourages the half-hearted from joining and gives you true believers and the truly desiring.

    • Major Kong says:

      Sounds like the “fear, sarcasm and ridicule” method of instruction I went through in Air Force Pilot training.

  5. It’s a wider problem than restaurant or sports culture, I think — I hear the excuse of “s/he’s talented, so s/he can be an asshole”* offered for not just chefs or athletes/coaches but for people in general. For me the most salient example is anyone involved in dramatic arts (actors, directors) but there’s got to be others lying around.

    * With the proviso that a vast majority of the time that phrase is uttered about a man, and within that, a vast majority of the time, about a white man.

    • Karen says:

      Yep. I have heard variants of “he’s brilliant so of course he’s an asshole” my whole life. This needs to be stamped out THOROUGHLY.

      • I heard that shit all through high school. Thoroughly convinced me I preferred being untalented but a good person to being a nice asshole.

        • Karen says:

          The flip side – he was an asshole so his art sucks – actually supports the “brillian but obnoxious” excuse. It is entirely possible to be brilliant at one thing and fail at basic humanity. Talented people need to be reminded every single day that their brilliance is not, in itself, going to make life a picnic for them and, as a friend said to me once “be careful of the toes you stomp on the way up; they may be attached to the ass you have to kiss on the way down.”

          • (Obviously I meant a “non-nice asshole. Jaysus Kee-reist, what is wrong with me lately?)

            Anyway, I agree with you there. Both of those tropes are way too common.

            • Karen says:

              I got it. I am the best editor of other people’s stuff and the single most incompetent proofreader of my own typing on the planet. I actually attribute much of this to First Boss Bitch, who made me so paranoid about typos that I actually freeze when presented with things to proofread before sending.

              Thinking about it, I could take her criticism of things when I knew I had half-assed something. I’ve had harsh bosses since who managed to scold in a way that actually informed me what I should have done differently, and who set up an office system that itself prevented a lot of problems. (Extra proofreaders for big briefs being one of them.) The thing about BB was that she yelled for everything and never actually gave me anything that would help stop the problems from repeating themselves. Also, dammit, 30-page briefs have typos. Live with it.

    • heckblazer says:

      So what’s the excuse for Trump?

    • NewishLawyer says:

      I used to be involved with theatre or tried to be as a director but never got far professionally like most people. This has been discussed previously.

      From what I heard from friends the real assholes are mid-level actors and directors. People with a lot of talent and are working but never felt like they had the careers they deserved.

      People at the top of the game are some of the nicest according to friends and associates with higher levels of artistic success. There are tons of exceptions of course. There are also lots of work-a-day actors and directors who are supposed to be very nice.

      I’ve shouted at actors and regretted it immediately.

      • There are also lots of work-a-day actors and directors who are supposed to be very nice.

        Fair enough. All of the people I know who are in actual theater right now, none of whom are especially well-known, were and are quite nice about their craft and to other people. Top of the game I was mostly thinking about film & TV anyway, where it seems more acceptable to be an ass regardless of the level of your game.

        I think for a lot of artsy people this starts in high school. They get fawned over for being good at something that most people simply won’t look at – drama, painting, music – and then when they hit the big time, they’re competing with a lot of people at the same level. At some point you either accept that you aren’t going to make it (might not be because of talent – could be because other people are simply bigger, louder assholes) or you have to improve.

        In school I was never a good actor by talent; until very recently, I couldn’t just look at a character and say “okay, I know how to play this guy” without extensive help from my directors. So I kind of saw the value of practice, hard work, and responsibility. Some of my friends were convinced that if you had the talent, you didn’t have to learn lines or show up for practice.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          I made it through grad school. I knew assholes and rivalries in college and grad school. As a director, I was kind of immune to actor rivalry or asshole remarks because I was a casting-control unit. All the directors were.

          Some people got nicer once they hit the real world and competition hit them in the face and humbled them. Others remained assholes out of bitterness or just the luck of having a good career without hardcore effort.

          But I would say most of my classmates in undergrad and grad school were fairly to very nice.

  6. chbeh says:

    One of the things that’s so toxic about that culture is that, the bigger fish you are, the more you can get away with.

    I’ve met a few people over the years that worked for Charlie Trotter. Their stories were pretty much what you’d expect given his reputation. But what struck me more than once was how those stories were told — not as a brag, but with real recalled fear, since Trotter was by far the most famous chef in Chicago, and had real power.

  7. ajay says:

    If you join one CIA, you’ll probably end up as a borderline sociopath, supporting a grossly unequal system that tyrannises innocent Central Americans and condones mental and physical abuse.

    If you join the other one, you’ll end up as an intelligence officer…

  8. I was never a cook, or a waiter. But I was a bartender in both some high-end, and middle-end restaurants and pubs.

    And in those places, we’d get a lot CIA graduates – the culinary school, not the spy agency – as well as people from other culinary schools.
    They were passing through, we were assured by them, on their way to Chef stardom!

    And from what I saw, I think once they passed their initial basic classes and are deemed worthy of continuing in the school, they were required to take “ASSHOLE I” – and then the rest of the “ASSHOLE” series of classes.

    No matter how low the cook was in the pecking-order, s/he would pick on someone, ANYONE, the next level down – MERCILESSLY!!!

    The nicest chefs and cooks, were often the ones who didn’t go to culinary school, and instead, worked their way up through the ranks.

    But, as we all learn in life, there are bullies and assholes in all walks of life, and in all sorts of different work environments.
    Take corporate life – you can have it!

    • Adolphus says:

      No matter how low the cook was in the pecking-order, s/he would pick on someone, ANYONE, the next level down – MERCILESSLY!!!

      That’s certainly what happened to Daisy, as soon as she was promoted.

  9. BruceJ says:

    It’s also old, read “Down and Out in Paris and London”

  10. Matthew Stevens says:

    The usual justification for this kind of behavior, from any kind of boss, is that he or she “has high standards.” It’s the same reason we tend to assume a professor who gives more Fs than As is better than one who does the reverse, or that a “tough” parent is better than a “lenient” one.

    • Karen says:

      Ugh. Yeah. Because there is no possible way to insist on good quality work other than by screaming at terrified underlings, who will never be so frightened of making a mistake that they screw up from the constant trauma.

      My pen-throwing screaming bitch of a first boss was fired, sadly only after I quit, because her section was the least productive in the agency and she had constant turnover of employees.

      • Matthew Stevens says:

        I don’t think it works, either, but it’s a natural response to regression to the mean.

        We tend to praise people who do well, and criticize those who do badly, while RttM ensures that those who do above-average work will decline in relative terms, while those who do below-average work will improve relatively. So what we see is…

        Do well > be praised > do worse
        Do badly > be attacked > do better

        It’s easy to conclude, though wrong, that bosses should attack everyone all the time.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      It’s the same reason we tend to assume a professor who gives more Fs than As is better than one who does the reverse, or that a “tough” parent is better than a “lenient” one.

      Neither strict parenting nor strict grading standards are comparable to yelling at people and throwing things at them. You can hold people’s feet to the fire without being abusive.

  11. NewishLawyer says:

    There is also what I call the “open asshole” defense which people seem to accept.

    This is when a person admits openly and frequently that he or she is an asshole and/or nasty piece of work. They seem to think that this admission gives them free reign to indulge in their worst behaviors.

    Interestingly I’ve seen a lot of people accept this as true. I’ve been in situations where I commented about “I don’t understand why X gets away with being such an asshole” and it was merely answered with a shrug and “X admits it”

    • This seems particularly common in social media these days. “Maybe I’m just an asshole” seems to end a lot of status updates about, say, judging the person in front of you for what they’re wearing, or some food-snobby bullshit, or something along those lines.

      • NewishLawyer says:

        I noticed it long before social media. You can probably trace it back to Dennis Leary’s “asshole” song if not earlier as a defense. It also has more than being judgmental.

  12. Bruce Vail says:

    Granted that my own experience was limited and long-ago, but it was the owner of the restaurant who created the bad atmosphere in the kitchen, not the chef. The chefs that I worked with were pretty col actually, but the usually despised the waiters and would sometimes torment them.

    • Adolphus says:

      My experience in restaurants is that many owners and managers deliberately play the front of the house against the back in order to minimize collusion over workplace issues as well as to minimize “shrinkage.” It’s typically easy because, at least the places at which I worked, the back of the house (kitchen staff) were largely from poorer and blue collar backgrounds whereas the front were more middle-class or upper class and college educated or in the process of becoming college educated. In two places I worked, the owners also took measures to ensure that the front were almost exclusively white and the kitchen staff was black or Hispanic and managed in such a way as to ensure one group was always mad at the other.

      The only restaurant at which I worked that did not do it this way was a prestige place owned by a physician in a large college town. The owner had more interest in showing off his restaurant than making money. And boy did he NOT make money. Everyone but the general manager was a college student. There was much collusion that resulted in theft, lots of comped food and drink, and some dicey labor issues such as when the owner and manager tried to charge the wait staff for using the credit card machine to process their tips.

  13. Major Kong says:

    I love to cook and once toyed with becoming a chef – until I learned what an absolutely miserable job it is.

    • Turkle says:

      I cooked in restaurants for many years, with my last 5 or so at the executive chef level. I don’t miss it a bit.

      I used to fire people for sexual harassment and bullying. They largely couldn’t understand why, because harassment was pretty much the norm in kitchens in that city.

  14. Jim Pharo says:

    Has no one seen Ratatouille? Isn’t that about a mean abusive chef who has lost his way learning that Disney-esque cooperation is…tastier?

  15. Halloween Jack says:

    I got a taste of his anger when I asked him if he thought the flavor of wild salmon was superior to farmed. Smiling, he said there was no discernible difference. Surprised, I asked again, and his bonhomie evaporated. His eyes locked on me, his face scrunched slightly. “None,” he spat out.

    An odd anecdote to illustrate someone’s temper, especially as the writer is the one who comes off as the jerk here.

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