Text: Peter Hertzmann
Angry people frighten me. It’s a condition probably related to my realization as a youngster that when my mother got angry with me, one side or the other of my face would soon feel a sharp sting.
Every time I see a chef on television angrily yelling at the cooks in his kitchen, I feel a little of the same tension I felt near my mother. Luckily, the chefs I’ve staged with were rarely loud or angry in the kitchen. Some would become frustrated and yell at the line cooks to work faster and better when appropriate. There was definitely times when “the fur flew” in the kitchen. There was never a time when unbridled anger was directed at specific individual or part of the staff.
Other cooks have told me about chefs that did shout a lot in the kitchen, but most have said that the yelling was mostly ineffective. Most books on leadership will tell you angry rhetoric is not an effective leadership tool. Having not been in the military, I have no idea why or how anger is effective in training, but leadership by volume, if not anger, seems to work in this situation. When teaching in a jail kitchen, I’ve found that fake anger and yelling is an effective way of getting the attention of the inmates, but for the actual instruction or admonishment, a quiet voice is most effective.
I once asked the chef I was stage-ing with in Riquewihr about his two apprentices. One he yelled at constantly, the other he more or less ignored. He said the one he yelled at was interested in becoming a cook, and that he tried really hard and had potential. The one he didn’t interact with was counting the days until his apprenticeship was over. He had no interest in making a career of cooking so the chef saw no reason to expend any energy on him. As I watched these interactions take place each day, I wondered if the interested apprentice would have learned more with a quieter approach, and if the disinterested apprentice could have been inspired by the proper, quiet attention.
Maybe anger in the kitchen isn’t always what it seems. Maybe it is really a form of frustration. In looking back at the few incidences of anger I have witnessed in restaurant kitchens, what expressed itself as anger could have just been frustration. Frustration is a combination of anger and annoyance, but in my experience, the anger is less vitriolic than at other times.
And then there are the times that I personally have felt angry in a restaurant kitchen. When the kitchen staff is racist, antisemitic, or homophobic, I can feel the anger rising up in me like quickly rising flood waters. The anger is combined with the knowledge that when I have tried to interrupt similar language or actions, I’m seen as not being part of the team. I even feel frustrated at times with kitchen comments about pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, and other with food aversions or allergies. I feel that those truly dealing with food allergies should be respected.
Those with lifestyles that I personally cannot support need not be ridiculed, and at times, the sarcasm in the kitchen has really pissed me off. At the same time, the diner should not attempt to proselytize the staff into adopting their lifestyle choice.
Maybe the television chefs that do the yell and throw things are doing so for ratings. Is the audience watching this type of cooking show just to see the star chef have a tantrum? Does the same audience watch the cooking competitions not to see the winner, but to see who fucks up and how badly? This audience must really love it when the same competitor then explodes in anger.
Maybe when my mother hit me long ago, she wasn’t angry. Maybe she was just frustrated. Maybe not even with me. Whichever, my face still hurt.
The bread rose as planned.
The crumb is nicely spongy.
The starter is fine.