“You’re Worth Your Weight in Salt.”
Have you ever been an outcast? Have you been excluded from a bonding moment, and had a brief moment of sheer terror feeling like you don't fit in? Let's face it, this happens in almost every kitchen, everywhere in the world. And it's from that moment that defines what happens next. Some people are loners. And so, they will claim that this doesn't bother them. Well, now they are liars as well. This bothers everyone. And if it doesn't well, then you have no soul. I jest, but it is a real problem that bothers most of us in the kitchen. We all want to fit in. But how does one do this? You can't just make people like you. Trust me, I've tried over the years with massive amounts of candy. All it did was turn the people around me into diabetics. Again, I'm kidding. But you get the idea. If someone doesn't like you, the fact is they never may. And there isn't anything you can do about that. It's kind of on them. But don't be mad. Not everyone will like you. And that's ok. But, do you know what's not ok? Being a human piece of shit. Sadly, these people exist. I mean, I get it, you have to have tough skin in this industry. Which you will get in due time. But this isn't from having to deal with bullying or any other form of emotional abuse. The tough skin comes from touching hot stuff on the line all the time. Bullying isn't ok. No matter the form or type of it. If you bully people, it only shows your insecurities. Listen, this field is hard enough. And we don't need people making it harder for others. So just stop. Don't be an ass. Talking about this reminds me of something that I sadly had to witness. I had a meeting with the owner of a restaurant once that I'll never forget. What happened next was inconceivable to say the very least. I arrived early for our meeting so that I could get something to snack on beforehand. Looking around the dining room I could tell that something was off. Yet, I couldn't put my finger on it. The food was a solid five out of ten. And that's me giving it more credit than it was worth. After finishing my sandwich, I told my server that I was there to meet the owner. And asked if she could let them know that I was there and ready for our meeting. Her jaw dropped. She started tearing up. So, I asked what was wrong. She begged me not to get her fired. Perplexed, I inquired how she thought she was going to be fired. She explained that the owner wasn't the nicest of people. And that they had it out for her for a while. But she was the only server that would put up with how they treated her. Upon hearing this, I wanted to leave. But being from this industry, I usually take everything with a grain of salt. Pun intended or not, you get the point. So, I calmed her down and asked her to dry her tears, stop worrying, and go ahead and get the owner. It took me only a few seconds to see what the issue was. Out of the back of the house door, came this person who looked normal. That is until they started speaking. Do you know the type of person that enjoys listening to themselves talk? Yeah, that's what was in store for me. So, this was about to be fun. And by fun, I mean obnoxious. As they made their way to me, I shudder a little with annoyance even before shaking hands. They walked up to me and stuck their hand out. I begrudgingly stuck my hand out and shook theirs. Which was pretty bad for a person of their size. They proceeded to start talking their business up almost immediately. Which isn't bad, however, don't start talking shit about your employees in your opening statement. With that, they asked me if it would be ok if their chef could sit in on this meeting. I agreed only to speed this up and get this over with. Ever had to fake an orgasm to get someone off of you so that you can go on about your day? Yeah, that's where I was. So, then the chef came out of the kitchen, introduced themselves, and took a seat to my right. That's when we got right down to it. Only a few minutes into the conversation, the owner had mentioned how they were thinking of going somewhere else to eat after our meeting. And had mentioned a Mexican restaurant close by. That's when it happened. They turned to the chef and asked if they knew about the place. My jaw dropped. So, I asked them to repeat what they said. So, they did. The chef just looked straight at the floor. She started tearing up. So, this makes two people that the owner made cry in less than 30 minutes. So, I spoke up and said something. I asked why they said that. Was it the color of her skin? Was it her name? Did she use to work there? Why did they ask that and how come she started crying? The owner said it was because she was Mexican. Appalled, I asked why the fuck did you say that? They asked, why it mattered. So, I then turned to the chef and told her not to take this kind of abuse from a piece of shit like this. She didn't know what to say. Which I understand. I turned to the owner and told them to go fuck themselves. I got up and walked the fuck out. I wasn't about to put any more money into that asshole's pockets. Upon walking away from this ass-hat, I heard them turn to the chef and start screaming. So, I turned around and told the owner to back the fuck off of her. I then asked them to scream at me instead. All while noting that I could take it and do something about it. They then threatened to call the police. Yeah, hide behind the police for being a fucking douche canoe. So, I told the chef to walk out. She then explained that she couldn't because she needed the job. Which I understood. But then told her that there are so many other great options out there for her. And that this kind of abuse isn't worth her time. She agreed and walked out right behind me. She hugged me outside and thanked me for standing up for her. I told her it wasn't right what was happening there. She agreed after calming down a bit. She shook my hand and went on her way. A few months later I found more unsettling things that happened behind the scenes. None of which is excusable at all, no matter who the fuck you are. Or who you think you are. We are all human. And we are all equal, and the moment you believe you're better than someone else is the moment that you become an ass-hat. Don't be an ass-hat. Be a good person. Don't treat people like shit. Would you want to be treated like shit? I didn't think so. And if you answered yes to this, well then go be a piece of shit on your island. I find it funny how people can treat others like shit and then expect them to continue busting their asses for them. If someone talked to me like that, most likely they would end up horizontal. I'm not afraid to stand up for myself. And many of us on the line would say the same thing. But some can't or won't. And that's where we have to step up and help them. Or hell, better yet how about we just stop being assholes. Take a second and take someone else's feelings or experiences into consideration. You never know what someone is going through. Kitchen life isn't all rainbows and butterflies. It's grueling sometimes. Long hours, fast movements, always on your feet, and never-ending printing of tickets. We have it bad enough sometimes. So be fucking nice to each other. And if you're an owner that treats the people under their employ like they own them, think again. Remember the owner I mentioned? Yeah, that place closed down a few months later when I found out about the other bullshit going on.
So, if you don't want to watch all of your money spiral down the drain, then don't treat people like shit. I can't emphasize this enough. Don't be a piece of shit. And for those who have had to deal with people like this, please know that you're not alone. And that you aren't worthless. Just make sure you wash your hands and be a good person. Being nice doesn't cost anything. And sometimes it can change someone's day. Or even better, their outlook on life. Many people don't understand that breaking down someone else can ruin years of hard work in a matter of a few words. And yes, words can hurt. You don't get to tell people how they feel. Try opening up and asking others about themselves instead. I've found that in this industry, you need to have the mind of a criminal and the heart of a saint. If you can't find a halfway decent balance of the two, then you may have some toxic traits that you need to work on. And don't say you don't have any. We all cook for a living. Which means, somewhere along the way, we have picked up some toxic traits from old-schoolers in the business. So, let's learn from their mistakes and grow into better people. This line of work already gets hated on so much for toxic behavior, so why make it worse? Why let everyone outside of the kitchen think that we are heartless? We are the broken ones trying to rebuild our lives from the outside world's torment. A good deal of us come from broken families, shitty situations, bad luck, karma kickbacks, etc. we are misfits. But being a misfit doesn't mean we are fucking heartless. We of all people know what it's like to be bullied, cut down, or emotionally abused. This is why we find solace in the kitchen. Any good chef will tell you that they wear many hats in the kitchen. I know I do. I was always a doctor when someone got hurt, a dad, mom, brother, teacher, therapist, baby sitter, etc. I am always there for my team. And I know that they will always be there for me. But face it, shit happens. And sometimes you can't do anything but walk away. And if that's the only safe outcome for anyone involved. Please do it. Don't let people take advantage of you. Stand your ground. It's burn and turn time baby! Do what you're good at. The world around you had enough bullshit in it, don't add to it. In a world full of jazz, be a funky bass line. And do that shit with composure and finesse. Now, get to it. Let the haters hate. Face it, they can't do what you and I can. Can I get a "Heard that"?
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 nouvelle and southern cuisine, 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. You can follow his story and insight into the world of cooking food @chef_rodney_117 on Instagram.