“Behind the Curtains: A True Look into the Culinary Lifestyle.”
The ticket printer started printing its little ass off. That was then that I knew we all were in for a ride tonight. Something that a select few of us eccentric oddballs behind the knife know about all too well. But with the brigade that I worked with; we didn't have any worries. Well, none that had anything to do with dinner service. Instead, it was what was happening behind the scenes that was the real emotion here. These emotions are what sometimes fuel our passions for food. But sadly, not all of us can capture this passion. This type of feeling is only achievable when you follow 4 simple rules.
Rule # 1: replace general rules of thumb with rules of science. And create organized thoughts and practices.Most people would refer to this as a form of a mental mise en place. Which helps, so if it works use it.
Rule # 2: overcome chaotic individualism. Stop trying to be so different. I've seen this way too many times in a kitchen. Try working and coming together for the greater good of the kitchen. So many people are too concerned about trying to be the best when at the end of the day they are the ones holding the line back from a near-perfect service. Let's face it, in this industry, something always tends to happen. Even though we strive for it, perfection doesn't exist.
Rule # 3: always work towards the maximum output. This concept is pretty self-explanatory. Sadly, most people don't know how to achieve this. Or it's a lack of proper tools for the job. This has led to a stronger ability of problem-solving among those in the restaurant industry. I've seen first-hand a lot of people having to adapt and overcome. There are a bunch of times that I can remember this was forced on me due to lackadaisical chefs. Instead of creating a teaching moment, and showcasing their skills in front of their staff, they choose to watch their co-worker suffer. Which is funny at times don't get me wrong. But how petty is the hazing going to be? Don't be lazy, grab this teaching moment and build from it.
Rule #4: Always be learning/training. This one is seriously the most important rule. A day that goes by where you didn’t learn anything new, is a waste of a day. And as cooks/chefs, we hate waste. This creates a sense of worry in almost everyone in the kitchen. From bussers to executive chefs, it’s important to always push your mind to its fullest and learn what you can from where you can.
These rules have been adapted over the years from the legendary French chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier. Who is known as the grandfather for the culinary industry? Yeah, that'd be Escoffier hands down. People who argue anything different are wrong. The real problem with that is that they don't know that they are wrong. Fake it till you make it types of people. I'm the opposite. A chef. The way we got to where we are is from faking it so much that it became a reality and then boom, you fall from the top. This usually is a long, long way down. Hitting every branch and twig on the way down. This is where the fun and real passion begins. The first place where a cook pushes themselves to get back up. Some don't. That's just the nature of the beast. Consuming its victims even before they got a chance to fight back. Ruthless. No warning either. I've seen this happen a few times after a cook worked a gig for a few years, and then go in like any normal day work their shift, and boom, fired at the end of the shift. Having worked and busted ass to kill it on the line, only to be 86'd at the end of the shift. That'll knock you off the top very fast. Enter anxiety and depression. This is where you have to fight for your life as you know it. The first climb was bad enough, and now you have to do that all over again, all while trying to regain whatever shred of dignity you can along the way. Not a place anyone wants to be in, but this is how it ends up. Your dreams during this time won't happen due to the high amounts of stress. Sleep, ha, that's a joke. Now you have to start negotiating your value more and trying to keep it as high as you can. This is the livelihood you are playing with. Loosing here would not be good at all. So why start small? Why do we make it possible for everyone else to take advantage of us? I mean yes, at the end of the day it's all business, but still, there should surely be some sort of way to avoid this. There is. And I'm going to tell you. But your organization is an absolute key from now on.
The first thing that you’re going to want to start, is exercise. This is so essential for not only the body but the mind and soul as well. I can’t stress this enough. You don’t want to have a heart attack on the line during a Friday night service after your sous called in so that they could go to a hockey game, and you got stuck running the grill station. I’ve seen this firsthand; you do not want to go out this way. It doesn’t sound fun, does it? I didn’t think so. Getting up and going to the gym is a good way to help avoid this happening. It’s called an outlet for a reason, so use it. Whether it is before a shift or after, your patterns outside of work are more important than the ones you use at work. And those are extremely important, so you get my point. You have to always drive home the need to take care of such needs as a human being. That means, take care of your body, mind, and soul in a healthy way. But how can we when we work such long hours? Time and time again, we work on holidays, thinking that we will make extra money for working said holidays. And how many times do we get screwed out of it and do nothing? More times than anyone would like to admit I bet. But let me ask you this, is it worth it? No. Nothing can replace that time away from your family. And the gods forbid that you ever request a weekend or a holiday off. People in the outside world do not care if you don’t get to see your little girl at Christmas or not. Just as long as they get to come to eat so that they don’t have to cook at home. And if there’s a dollar to be made, the owners demand you stay open. Which results in internalizing hatred. Think about it though. You’re making someone else richer on a holiday that they told you that you’d get paid time and a half, and then after you get paid, it wasn’t on there. That’s savage as hell. And they know it. But if you ever argue for more money or mistakes on your check, they will look to replace you for making waves, etc. This goes to show how savage and cold this industry is and can be. Oh, and let’s hope you don’t have to take time off for anything medical. Because if anything happens to you, you’ll get replaced almost immediately. Even if you die. Now that’s worse than punting a puppy or kicking a kitten in broad daylight in front of an elementary school at recess where all the kids are watching you. And yet, guess what restaurant doesn’t offer health insurance? Yup, the one you work at. So, taking care of your health just became the top priority, didn’t it? You’re slaving to death literally for a place that will have you replace in an hour. Without hesitation or a second thought. It’s sad that if you end up in the ground, it’ll be like you were never around.
Make sure to always know your worth compensation wise as well. For example, if you're not making your rent or house payment in one week, then is it worth it? Why are you settling for less? Do you even know how much you need to make each week? No? Because no one taught you how to make a budget? Well, now I am, so pay attention. Each week you want to be able to pay your rent. And then bills with the other week, the last week is all about putting that dirty money into clean savings or investments. I'd save up for more knives and cookbooks. But that's just me. Do something smarter than me. Start planning your retirement now. Let's face it, if you chose this path in life, you won't have much of retirement when you need it. A very sad thought sometimes, but it's all about the passion, right? Well, we will see when we get there. I'd have to say that gathering the things that you'll need to become successful in this line of work isn't going to be easy. But then it wouldn't be worth it, right? It's almost like gathering the ingredients for a recipe. Hell yeah, life is just like a recipe. Make sure to gather what you will need to be successful. But the one thing that you'll find you'll need to have is money. Though it can't buy you happiness, it'll help a great deal. Jet skis and joints are expensive. But you'll be able to buy things that will aid in filling the void that exists inside of you if you know your worth. Just don't continue to make it possible or ok for customers and owners to make this happen to us all the time. We are better than they are, and all they want is to benefit and profit off of us. At the end of the day, it's just business, right? So, stop letting them tear you apart. Know your worth.
Now, these ideas and concepts are great and all, but what about this emptiness I'm feeling? And why does it feel like I have all of these problems that can't be solved by anything? Why can't I help myself against the intrusive thoughts? And why do these thoughts surround me and make me feel like I'm going to be harmful or violent to people around me? Am I normal? Am I going to die in this prep room? Not like this! I wanted to die in the blaze of glory. Or having sex. You know, something badass. Not going insane in the prep room and wanting to just end it here and now. That would just be a bleak ending to the story dead in its tracks. No climax or anything. Just a great deal of sadness for those left behind without answers. But the perfectionist in you makes you yearn for the blaze of glory. So how the hell can I obtain it from this desolate place? The place where I'm left with my thoughts while I cut vegetables for a mirepoix sachet, all while hating the people that will enjoy this before they even walk in the restaurant. Isn't that something that you've thought of before? Yeah, that's called intrusive thoughts. These are normal. But it's more important that you don't act upon them and take care of your mental health. Our biggest threat as the black sheep is, in fact, mental health. This literally can kill you from the inside out. How many of you acted all big and bad saying "The only person that can kill me, is me."? Yeah, how tough do you seem when you're crying alone in the walk-in because you're not on point for service. Pretty tough right? Although, I do have to admit that sometimes acknowledging the problems can make them more real for us. And other people looking from the outside looking in will never understand that we are always on the lookout for it and being afraid of when a panic attack will hit.
So, what causes these thoughts? Why do I feel like no one realizes my talent or sacrifices I make just to entertain people with my food? That's just it. At the end of the day, we all are just entertainers. For those we entertain, it's all about the experience, and not having to cook it themselves. Probably because they don't know how to cook. For us though, it's about the result. The plate. People on the outside just don't see that we are putting ourselves into every plate. Only to receive next to nothing pay wise. But they always say that the perks of the job always outweigh the hardships. They've never run out of hollandaise on a slammed brunch shift on Easter Sunday, only to have it break on you. That kind of pressure could create diamonds. Admittedly, we as food workers just want you to eat your food and get out. Some people may say it's all about the experience. The food was supposed to the experience. If you missed that then you missed the whole point the artist was trying to make. The art you can taste, not just see and feel, but the taste and enjoy. That, in my opinion, is the best type of art. One you can taste the emotion and story of. And it's from this that we in the industry have developed an ability to have two faces. Not meant in its traditional negative connotation. But instead, something developed for survival in this lifestyle. See at our core we food workers thrive off of stress. It's addictive. But steaming from this comes a learned behavior where we can become the best problem solvers out there. Quick on our feet, and our wit is just as fast. Maybe that explains why our end of shift patterns are the way they are. We seek the instant gratification of finding the fastest and best way to subdue our emotions so that we may have a few moments of solace and peace. And considering that we are always full of adrenaline at the end of our shift, it makes total sense that we go so hard at whatever the night has in store for us. We aren't small shot takers. We go hard in the paint. And are always pushing ourselves. So why should anything else in life be any different? We even prep for the end of our shift hours before it ends. Let's say you stop service at 10 pm. Everyone in the back of the house knows you stop serving food at 10 pm. And since we are wide awake and still kind of high off of the mix of caffeine, THC, and all kinds of other stimulants needed for our regular daily operations, we want to go party. So, closing prep would start around 8/8:30. We take that same speed that we killed service with, and apply it to pre-closing so we can get the hell out of dodge so we can have more time to party. Why? Well, our kitchen family are all doing the same thing, and you don't want to be the odd one out. Not to mention, the fact that drinking isn't ever fun when you're alone. The booze tastes better with loud music and other people around. Plus, let's face it, sad or not, we are not quiet people. We thrive to be loud and enjoy very loud things. This is most likely due to the tinnitus caused by the exhaust system hoods on the line. Sometimes it's fun to feel that low hum lifting off of your back after a good service. It feels like taking your backpack off after getting home from school.
So how did we come about to have such a high rate of functioning sociopaths in our industry? Well simply put, trauma. Something happened to us at an early age, such as abuse, rejection, adverse conditions, poverty, etc., that has caused us to become this way. But to see it, we need to understand what a sociopath is. That way, since we are all good at problem-solving, then we can find a solution, right? So, what makes a sociopath? There are 8 main symptoms of a sociopath, and they are as followed.
- Glibness and Superficial Charm. This is where sociopathic people get you to like them quickly. Always trying to become the center of attention. Think about it, everyone you’ve ever worked with on the line loves being the center of attention. These people don’t feel fear or being shy.
- Manipulative and Conning. People in this state of mind will never see the issues with their actions and will always justify or deem the actions permissible no matter how anyone else cares. How many people have you met in this line of work that has made you feel guilty, doubt yourself, feel insecure, and make you believe what they want you to? (Yeah, that’s what that is.)
- Grandiose of self. This is an unrealistic sense of superiority. Ever talked to a person who always portrays a sense of personal uniqueness? No? Ok, let’s take a look around the kitchen right now, show me someone who talks fast, erratically, or something irrelevant? That’s commonly referred to as Frenzied Speaking. This is an obvious trait of grandiose or manic behavior.
- Pathological Lying. Normally, people will tell little white lies from time to time to avoid blame or hurting someone else’s feelings. Not sociopaths. They don’t care about anyone else at the end of the day. They just lie for damn near no reason at all. Ever hear about someone’s accomplishments that you know damn well they couldn’t have ever done? Chances are they are lying. Makes sense now?
- Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt. Now, this is the most important trait for a sociopath to have. This is how they survive. They don't care about anyone or anything. And can treat people terrible and act as though nothing happened. Ever witness a server scream at the dish person about how they suck because the silverware hasn't been through the machine yet? Yeah, you think that they care how that made the dishwasher feel?
- Shallow Emotions. This is the core of being self-centered. The reason as to why greed, jealousy, or looking good is important to sociopathic people. Stigmatized by their actions the person acting this way more than likely feels inferior to others around them in a social setting. Do you know a person that's very arrogant and has to always be revered? Chances are that's the type of person I'm talking about here.
- Incapacity for Love. I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory. Sociopaths have a very hard time feeling any emotion, love and the concept of it are no exception. See that edgy, cool, tattooed line cook over there with a bad attitude that keeps talking about failed relationships and how it was never their fault? Yeah, that’s exactly who I’m referring to.
- Need for Stimulation. I feel like everyone knows what this is. But for those who don’t know, it’s something that rouses the recipient to activity. Sociopaths crave stimulation. They feed off of it more than servers eating the fries. Don’t blame your ADD friends here. They can’t help it, whereas sociopathic people can and don’t think that you should tell them what to do.
So, if I have any of these traits, does that mean I'm a sociopath? That's not what I'm saying. I'm simply trying to provide you with proof that those in this industry attract to each other for a reason. Some come seeking a new family to replace the abusive one they already have. And some come seeking the same Machiavellians traits that they have come to enjoy during their lives. Which makes sense. A kitchen is a cutthroat place. A place where the common good for everyone is selling plates. No one notices the feeling of how alone someone can feel in a busy, bustling, loud, and fast-paced environment. Ever tried screaming at the top of your lungs in a concert? You barely heard your scream. And no one around you heard anything. That's where the problem that you or anyone you know can solve starts. That moment when you are pulled away from reality by your mind and surrounded by emotions that you can't find the words for at that exact moment in time. Here's the sad truth, we don't have a real solution to this. Only things that can aid us in a better mental health future. Maybe one of the steps in creating an everlasting solution lies within trying to be compartmentalizing what suicide feels like. Some have been there. And some have not. The ones that have been over the edge, always seem to want to help others. Why is that? Is that the emotion that they felt as they slipped away? Regret? And so, to combat the feeling of remorse, then use their second chances to help others avoid the edge? Logically that's pretty sound but then how does it feel for others that don't feel regret? Does it feel like a struggle of always having to fight for a living wage? Now that makes sense as to why they call it a living wage. Too funny. Or maybe it was named that way. Shit, who knows. When we reject everything else here as an answer, we must look at the reality of the situation. And that reality is that no matter what it feels like, we are living the hell led us to that dark place in our minds. And we know that we shouldn't feel this way, but due to our profession is full of false idols and bullshit celebrity chefs, we are led to believe that this profession cannot survive without being toxic. And that's how we are not the same as them. We seek a change to the industry, and they seek followers and viewers. They only want to be praised and loved. And all we want to do is keep our passion in our art and take care of our families like we were promised in the beginning. We chefs that have gotten to the top only to have fallen, truly see that mise en place isn't just about food. It's about life and how we live it. Because no matter how cold-hearted you think you are, you have to realize that family is needed to survive. If we were meant to live this life alone, then I don't think that there would be so many different types of people, places, things, and flavors to enjoy around the world.
So why not step forward and take the risks of seeing the world from a different flavor. Tasting the world from a different windowsill. And smelling the world from walking through food markets scattered with the hint of honey in the air. I can assure you that if you leap forward to see the world for what it tastes like, you'll never worry about being alone. And you'll never worry about how suicide feels like. Let alone why you drink so much. So, I say you sharpen your knife and use it to cut out your outline of what you want your life to be. Just make sure to love and respect those you meet along the way. For it's those people who help you solve this mystery we call life. You've survived some of the hardest things that life has thrown at you. Why not take on the biggest challenge of them all and be a smile in a very sad world. Not just the kitchen, but the world. I bet you never have considered a kitchen to be a funnel of flavors before, have you? Well, think about it. We all come from different backgrounds and use those backgrounds to prepare food. Now imagine a huge funnel overtop the ceiling of a kitchen, and above it is all the flavors, ingredients, passions, and methods all swirling above the funnel. And as all of these things swirl around in a smooth whirlwind circling down into that kitchen. And all of that inspiration is carried out by your hands.
Rodney Lienhart is a Chef formerly of McKenzie, TN but is now working and residing in Lansing, MI area. Starting at the young age of 7 years old. He worked his way through the ranks in his mom's kitchen in the hills of Tennessee. With a background in southern, Italian, French, and nouvelle cuisines, he uses what he knows to learn more about what he doesn't. When he isn't putting a flame on a sauté pan, he can be found reading and researching about what makes people tick. A massive overindulgence in psychology has led him here to share what he has witnessed in his experiences. Make sure to keep a close eye on his videos coming out soon. In these videos, he will be closely working with Wayhot sauce and Krystilion CBD on future recipes and concepts. You can follow his story and insight into the world of cooking food and adding the health benefits of CBD to his dishes on Facebook also on Instagram @chef_rodney_117