Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Pact

Observing and working within the kitchen brigades of Michelin-starred restaurants can be eye-opening experiences.  My expectations of each of them have been titanic.  They reside in the glorified pantheon of great restaurants in history.  From La Pyramid to elBulli each house has similarities and differences.  The great restaurants of today, in the 21st C., have more in common, than not.  Especially in America.  Thirty-five years ago there were some good restaurants in America but the world gave us a dismissive nod.  That is not true today.  The world now looks up to American Chefs and Restauranteurs.  There are more fantastic journeys in American restaurants than anywhere else in the culinary world. 

With that new expectation comes 'A New Pact'.  I've worked firsthand within the rigors of great cuisine.  I've seen respect and indignation.  I've heard and felt rage and thanks.  There are some things that we need to get straight.  There will always be hard work.  Always long hours.  There will be decisions made.  Especially the decision to be determined and to fulfill your personal destinty.  This will be your choice - to work hard and long hours and feel good about what you do, to the best of your ability, and to never deviate from those goals...  Now, The Pact.

The Pact is all about working together, not seperately.  On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln spoke to the Republican delegates of Illinois and delivered his 'A house divided among itself cannot stand' speech.  Prophetic and visionary words that I am borrowing for this reasoning...  The chef, restaurant and individuals in the kitchen and front of the house must set standards.  Aim high in your decisions!  Those standards need to be set down, like laws, for all to see, know and understand.  All parties must buy in.  That is a key to unlocking the simple mystery of a great brigade.  If you are a rouge warrior, a divider of attitudes, you will be taken down.  You'll need to be taken down for the good of the establishment, the house.  Adapt or die.  Conform before you can reform...  Check those egos at the door.  There will be no place for them on your cutting board.

Once standards have been set, it will be time for the staff to begin policing each other.  This is the crux of 'The Pact'.  Policing each other.  In restaurants and in culinary, pay attention ye rouge student chefs.  Start by treating each other with respect and dignity.  I had two recent and seperate conversations outside of the restaurants I was staging in: one with a server (her name was Leyla) in a French bistro on St. Martin's in NYC and the other was with a Punjabi taxi driver (a very well-dressed, educated and well-spoken man, incidently) on my way to JFK airport on Long Island.  Both spoke of being treated well in their current positions.  Both seemed happy.  Both worked hard, long hours.  Neither was going to make a lot of money.  Both seemed to like what they did.  Isn't that what we are supposed to feel? 

As a Chef/Instructor it is my job to tell a student when they are doing something right or wrong.  Often this can be a firm critique.  Sometimes it is a soft comment.  There have been times when voices rise and empahsis is made...  Regardless of the delivery, it is not personal - it's business.  The Pact states that if there is something being done that is not up to standard it is our job, all of us, to make the correction.  'That's is not up to our standard,  I will help you correct it.'  That's all.  Nothing punative.  No redemption.  Nothing derogatory.  It is for the good of the restaurant.  It is the central point of 'The Need to Feed'.  Not personal glory but service to our guests.  If you cannot serve others, this business should, and will, eat you up (no pun intended). 

Here's the caveat - if you are not comfortable in a kitchen, get out.  The work opportunity is a two-way street, so to speak...  It has to be good for both parties.  I've been there, on both side of the management/employee dynamic, and have even witnessed it as a stagiaire - some places I would work at forever and others I would never feel comfortable in ever again.
So - I'm taking names for those who want to sign The Pact.  My signature is Hancockian - large enough for everyone to see that I'm serious about this aspect of The Need to Feed.  Who is with me...?  Peace.


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