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The TiB Career Series: Ask A Chef.

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Volo, Jun 27, 2010.

  1. Volo

    Volo
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    Alright, so here's the score. I'm a professional chef of 12 years, with a good variety of restaurant experience. I've spent time as nearly every possible position in a restaurant in order to get a feel for the entire flow of a restaurant. One of the few positions I have not filled was that of a baker, or pastry chef.

    There is another chef on board, MisterMiracle, who has agreed to be part of this as well. However, he made mention that he won't have much time to dedicate to it so answers might be few and far between.

    So for the folks here on TiB who don't have friends that cook professionally to ask whatever questions they have about my field of expertise. And even if you think you've heard the score, there is infinite variety in the kitchen experience, which is much of the beauty in the culinary industry.

    Let's hear'em!
     
  2. Nettdata

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    What's your take on Kitchen Confidential?

    Who are your favorite celebrity chefs?
     
  3. gtg2k

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    What are the worst culinary crimes (slovenly habits, misrepresenting of items, etc.) you've ever seen?
     
  4. ROC711

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    Kitchen tools have such a large price and quality range. What do you feel is the most important thing to really spend the extra money to get a good one? Knifes, pots, pans, cutting boards…
     
  5. mad5427

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    I love cooking and am getting to the point where I can deviate from recipes based on experience and have been experimenting with various cooking techniques over the years.

    What I can't ever seem to get down is the quickness and efficiency of cutting. Do you know of any resources to help one become more proficient with the knife? Is it just experience that gets you there? Sharp knife(goes without saying, but..)?

    I know to keep my fingers curled down, but would really like to learn to cut better.

    Best yet, how did they teach you in either culinary school or in the trenches of the kitchen?
     
  6. Volo

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    That kind of shit does happen, but not nearly on the scale that the movie shows us. It also depends on the type of establishment and who's running the kitchen. If you have a chef you works for the food and not just for money and women, then your kitchen will probably steer clear of pubes in the mashed potatoes. Good kitchens are properly supervised and because of that you're less likely to have balls on and around your steak.

    I've "witnessed" my crew messing with someone's meal only once in my career. Some clown who used to work with us was eating there with his family and kept coming back into the kitchen with his meal and complaining about an undercooked steak. I told him to piss off and get his server to deal with it because he's passing by people in the dining room while doing this and making us look bad. He does this again ten minutes later and after physically removing him from my kitchen I told my line guys that I needed "to go check something in the office for a few minutes". I then made sure they heard the door slam good and loud while they did what they did. When I returned I never asked, because I didn't want to know. All I was told is that justice was served.

    If I had to choose a specialty, I'd lean towards appetizers. The appetizer sets the pace for a person's meal, and has three points to consider when crafting one:

    - The size must be just right to ensure your guest will be damn near drooling while waiting for his entree.
    - Nothing overly salty or powerfully flavored, unless served with something to refresh the palette.
    - Plating must be impressive, to get your guest's imagination going about what his entree will be like.

    While other parts of the meal are no less important, I really enjoy working with apps. That being said, my favorite meal to cook is risotto. A dish which takes quite some time to cook, and is almost zen-like since you're stirring it constantly, watching it grow into something divine. It's a beautiful dish because it's essentially a blank slate. Take two or three ingredients that go well together and you have a fine risotto.


    It was the first non-fictional book I'd ever read on the subject, and it still takes a regular place in my rotation of reading. Bourdain is a brilliant chef not particularly because of his talent, but because of his respect for food and the industry in general, and at no time while reading it did I feel like I was being bullshitted, even though my experiences have been much more tame.

    Guy Fieri is up on top, especially because of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, which really showcases my kind of food. Simple, and made from scratch. Hiroyuki Sakai also ranks up there with his 70/15/1 record on the original Iron Chef.


    This list could go on for days. I'll come back to this one later.


    Knives are the obvious answer, although you only really need one, maybe two, unless you're doing a lot of specialized shit. A standard chef's knife, if properly maintained and of good quality, will be able to handle just about every task in a kitchen. A good one will set you back about $160 CAD, and will last for years and years.

    Everything else is up for debate. It really boils down to what you're doing. Expensive stuff is wonderful, but if you're operating a restaurant, the price tags can add up in quite the hurry, which is why some shit has to be gotten on the cheap. Trouble is, for a restaurant you need things that can handle being used 75 times a night, every night for 15 years. In the end, I'd say just about everything can be the most important tool in a kitchen.

    If you want me to expand this to home kitchens I'd be happy to. Just let me know. Those are a different story than professional kitchens.


    I learned at the first place I worked at, school was just a follow up. I used to think that using your knuckles to guide and gauge the blade was stupid, but when I cut off a large part of the side of my thumb while slicing green onions I quickly changed my mind. Now, a lot of chefs will tell you that you can't learn knife skills from a book, and they are right. You can, however, use it to get some ideas on technique if you don't have someone around to train you. It all comes down to effort and practice, trial and error.

    I have one book that I used to learn a few things, called Knife Skills. I've recently lent it out, so I don't have the author's name, but you can find it at most book stores for about $30 CAD. It's hardcover, bright red and says "Knife Skills" in large grey block lettering. Inside you will find information about the various types of knives and their usage, and some illustrations on how to cut fruits, vegetables, and meats. If I can find a link for it I'll post it up. I remember it being authored by more than one person.


    I currently work only 40 a week, but I'm just line cooking at the moment. There's isn't a typical schedule that restaurants follow, at least in my experience. Some places put line staff on salary so they can have free overtime, some places have six-day setups where each cook works the same station at the same time every day while having Sunday off.

    A social life is easy to maintain in this industry. A restaurant quickly becomes something akin to a family, and there's always a party or something going on that everyone's invited to. Turnover is very high in most places, so you meet a couple new people every week just by showing up for work.


    I'd take on Mario Batali. None of the others really do anything for me, and I'll admit that don't know much about any of them. But Mario, his entire family does food.

    <a class="postlink" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salumi_%28restaurant%29" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salumi_%28restaurant%29</a>

    I'd choose olives, if only because I use them quite often already and it would give me a bit of help against a monster like Batali. If I didn't want to stack the deck I would choose a fruit of some kind. Probably pomegranate, just for the challenge.

    And I wouldn't call Batali anything other than sir. He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy that would take any shit from anyone. He's a big fucker.
     
  7. Volo

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    That's the impression that I got while watching it. It's not unwatchable, but I'd take the original anyday.
     
  8. JC62

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    How long does it "really" take to cook risotto? The Food Channel guys always say it takes 20-25 minutes and I call bull shit. I make risotto often and for it to come out perfectly cooked and nice and creamy it takes closer to an hour if not longer. How long does it take you?
     
  9. Rob4Broncos

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    I've been told that in top kitchens (we're talking 4- and 5-star places), the line is so rank-and-file that the only person allowed to speak is the head chef, and everyone else has to ask permission before saying a thing. Have you worked in a kitchen that operated this way? What is the purpose of keeping things in such close order? I always assumed semi-constant communication was key in an environment like that.
     
  10. MisterMiracle

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    About 25 minutes. You need to vary the heat temperature when you add the liquid, but 25 minutes sounds reasonable.
     
  11. LatinGroove

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    Are you fat? It seems to me I'd gain so much weight being a professional chef because I love food so much.

    How do women respond when they find out you cook professionally?

    How often do you find yourself cooking at home for yourself? For others? Do you ever get burned out?
     
  12. MisterMiracle

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    Depends on the chef running the kitchen. During service time there are many components going on each individual dish, so it's important to stay focused. Most solid chefs know this and won't say much while they're working during service time. The head chef needs a clear head to keep up with the orders as well as checking on the quality of each dish. The last thing you want in those situations is somebody who is talking it up about other things besides the work they are doing.

    Constant communication is key in these environments, so you don't want to have to talk over anybody at any time.

    Things are generally much more relaxed before and after service.
     
  13. Diablo

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    From my limited experience with Top Chef, they all seem to have their own personal knife sets. What knife sets do you guys have?

    Going with the Top Chef thing and other TV shows of the sort, do you guys watch those shows and critique them or criticize them?

    When you're sitting at home doing nothing and hungry, do you eat regular people food like turkey sandwiches and whatnot or do you always cook something spectacular even for your personal lunch?
     
  14. MisterMiracle

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    Any chef that I witnessed messing with somebody's food would no longer be working in my kitchen.


    I don't care if the server is getting cussed out for no good reason whatsoever or the patron keeps sending perfect meals back to the kitchen because they're an asshole. There is never a reason for a professional to ever mess with somebody's meal. In some cases, a good kitchen's reputation has been ruined because some asshole in the kitchen decided to have a "little fun" with somebody's meal.
     
  15. MisterMiracle

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    1) I'm in good shape even though my body metabolism has slowed a bit in my late 30's. I run 5 miles a day and I work in a hot kitchen. Both of those things help sweat off the pounds. Right now I'm at 180 pounds.

    2) I dunno, you should ask my 2 ex-wives.

    3) I cook for myself all the time. I cook for my girlfriend most of the time. I get burned out working in other people's kitchens, which is why I work for myself or for the Food Network. Less stress, better pay.
     
  16. MisterMiracle

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    1) I wrote about this before on the "Coolest Thing You Own" thread, but here's a rehashing of the kind of knives I use:

    "My Hattori KD34 Gyuto chef knife. It is the best piece of professional kitchen cutlery made today. Every single one of these knives are made by a 70 year old Japanese dude in his mountain home. It can take years to buy one as you need to put your name on his waiting list which is already a couple of thousand names long and he only makes 3-400 a year. The swordmaker Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill was named after the guy who makes my chef's knife.

    You can see the detail of his craftsmanship every time you look at the blade."

    See photos below.

    2) I watch Top Chef because it's a well done show. Mostly I watch the program because I like to think of how I'd approach a challenge. I would do awful on this show because my way of cooking wouldn't allow me to make quick decisions that could make or break a dish. Most chefs I know feel the same way. In general, it's a fucking hard show to win.

    I also watch Chopped because it's like fraternity hazing for both chefs and judges. Also, I'm pretty good friends with a couple of the judges and sometimes an occasional contestant, so it's fun to watch so I can make fun of them later.

    3) You'd be surprised how easy it is to make something ordinary into something spectacular. Just takes a little planning.
     

    Attached Files:

  17. dixiebandit69

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    1. So then is there any way for us regular folks to be able to tell which kitchens are professional, and which ones are run by punks? Like, are there any signs or clues we should look out for (before it's too late)?

    I've had two food service jobs in my life: Wendy's, and an expensive private club. Wendy's kitchen was spic-and-span, the private club kept getting shut down by the health department.
     
  18. scotchcrotch

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    Thoughts on the current organic and "green" trends popping up in restaurants?

    A long-term trend or short term fad?
     
  19. MisterMiracle

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    "Organic" food isn't a trend or a fad. In a good kitchen it's the standard. Simply put, you get better produce from individual farms then you would shopping at a mammoth food distributor or corporate farm. It does cost more, but you get far better quality, and as a chef our job is about quality. Most kitchens have always been organic, right now it's just the consumers that are catching on.


    "Green" is more of a fad. As I see it, the world is fucked and "green" is just bullshit posturing.
     
  20. hawkeyenick

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    Are there any ingredients that you always have in your kitchen? I'm especially interested in things beyond the standards like olive oil or salt, but if there is a variation of those, like lemon-infused olive oil, that would be interesting to hear about.

    Is the industry as small as shows like Top Chef can make it seem? For example, they had the Voltaggio brothers last year, and roommates from CIA (I believe) are on the show this year. Or is this simply a case of the people getting on these shows helping their friends, and pulling up the people they know. I'm sure connections are huge, I'm just wondering if they're that huge or if the elite of the industry is a small group.

    When/how did you begin a career in this field? Did you begin as a dishwasher or a line cook in a diner, or did you just always enjoy cooking and head off to culinary school?

    What is the worst night/experience you had as a chef?

    Thank you for doing this. Your career is probably the one that I regret not exploring in greater detail when I was growing up and trying to decide what I should be doing with my own life, so I find this topic very interesting.