Monday, November 7, 2011

Culinary Musings, Professional Disconnect

I've seen a problem recently in a good portion of the kitchens in Chicago.  Let me see if you catch on.  Let's say you used to work at the now closed restaurant, Red Light.  In the morning, prep cooks would set up the stations for the evening and evening line cooks would work the night's service, perhaps getting to work between 3 or 4 pm.  So you learn the fish station and you cook the fish orders for a busy Friday or Saturday night.  You finish working there and you come to see me or a fellow chef and put on your resume, "Fish Cook".

We ask you to butcher a whole striped bass. 

You look at me or my chef friend and say, "I've never done that before," with a confused look on your face.  You can cook it, but you can't deal with it otherwise.

This is a way more common occurence than I'd like to believe.  It also causes something I'd like to call, "professional disconnect".  This happens when we lose respect for an item, because we don't handle it from the earlier stages of its conception.  If a prep cook sets you up with 30 individual lasagnas every day and you burn 6 by accident do you care at the end of the day?  The answer is no, sadly.  But if you had to make those 30 lasagnas in the first place you'd be a hundred times less likely to effing burn them on pick up.  It's worse when it's been a living breathing life that gave its carbon up for you.  If you burn a steak, you dishonor a steer's very memory with your actions if it has to be tossed into the garbage.

No one likes more work for themselves.  Everyone is at least a little lazy and that's what drives us to find different ways of approaching problems or tasks on occasion.  And unless you can catch every overcooked bass or burnt lasagna, look for areas of professional disconnect. Chefs, make a connection by forcing the other cook into the prep cook's shoes every once in a while, it'll help us all in the long run.  You're only as good as the cooks that cook your food.  And I'll probably get your line cooks someday and judge you accordingly.  Respect the food, the process, and we'll respect you.

This whole idea of a "disconnect" also applies to how the general populace views its food.  We don't raise the chickens that we eat ourselves anymore or live next to someone who does, for the most part.  Exceptions occur, but have you ever killed something you've then cooked & then eaten?  Have you seen how your dinner or lunch lived and breathed before you ate it?  People make foie gras out to be a demon on occasion, but those ducks or geese live insanely better than chicken or even cattle raised for slaughter in the U.S., hands down.

Screwed up, isn't it?  If we could all reconnect with that one vital step as consumers, the whole process could change for the better without being steered by lobbyist propaganda.  That'd be something to see, wouldn't it?

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