Category Archives for "Behind the Apron"

A Natural History of the Chef’s Hat

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Tall Hat, Funny Picture.

Look up. Don’t see it? Look to the cook standing next to you. What the hell is that white bulbous growth coming out of the top of his head? And who thought that fire hazard would be a good idea?

If you haven’t yet gotten what I’m getting at, I am talking about the once omnipresent Toque Blanche. No, it has nothing to do with weed, but it is pronounced the same way. The Toque Blanche (often shortened to just Toque) is a white cloth or paper hat traditionally containing 100 pleats to represent the hundred ways a professional chef can cook an egg (or ways they can use each English profanity).

History has conflicting accounts on who first thought up this kitchen accoutrement, but for your reading pleasure I have chosen only the most entertaining stories.

Our story begins in 7th Century Assyria, long before the invention of modern cooking appliances or tattoo sleeves of pork-cuts. Now don’t get too big of a head (your toque may no longer fit), but Assyrian chefs in the royal household wore pleated caps, essentially cloth versions of the king’s crown. This represented their position within the king’s court and also the kitchen. Those cloth crowns (and the stature that came with them) acted to protect the royal family: Treat the chefs like royalty, crown and all, then they won’t poison the real royalty.

Let’s step forward a whole millennia to the Byzantine Empire, the next culture in history to take credit for the Toque. Byzantine accounts claim the Toque didn’t come about to protect royalty, but to protect the educated chefs who found themselves heavily persecuted because of their bourgeois positions. The church took them in (knowing who really brings in the bacon), and they donned the clothes and hats to fit in and survive. Being just as scared of God as the people trying to kill them, chefs later adapted the priest hats to the white, pleated form of the toque today to avoid being smote by God.

Steve Martin

Next up, we visit the British Isles. The Brits couldn’t leave their legacy out of it either (did their empire ever?) and many accounts have them taking credit for the proliferation of the Toque Blanche. Legend has it that the “Almighty” King Henry VIII found a hair in his bowl of soup. You know what happened to that chef. The next chef, hoping to avoid the same fate began wearing a hat to keep his hair where it belonged. They say the rest is history. Keep your heads, gents!

Liberté, égalité, fraternité! It’s a little ironic of the French to turn this all further into hierarchy by adding different heights to each Toque within the kitchen to display status. This change along with the formulation of the modern chef uniform (double breasted jacket and toque) is credited to Chef Marie-Antoine Carême of the 1800’s. He is believed to have had one tall hat, 18 inches with a full 100 pleats (something Napoleon could have used!)

Now, in my humble and “unbiased” opinion, the most important change to the chef hat was made by us Americans in the form of the un-pleated baseball cap and low profile bandana. We have a way of matching the functional to the awesome.

Now if you want to get your hands on Poached Jobs’ very own rendition of the bandana, shoot us an email at blog@poachedjobs.com with your restaurant name and address.

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Toque it up!

I was a Teenage No Call/No Show

Ok, so I was in my 20’s, but I was living the Spartan day-to-day of a teenager. I had just returned from an extended stay in Alaska and just wasn’t feeling like getting back to work. I was wishing for a perpetual summer in the face of the coming rain in Portland, OR.

Part of me thought ‘get over it’ and I tried my best to get back to working. I picked up two jobs in short order. I got some lunch shifts at a little neighborhood café near my friend’s house, and some night shifts bussing at a really nice place in a trendy area across the river. For the first few weeks everything went as planned. I worked my AM shift, hustled across town and bussed tables for the PM shift.

One day I worked my morning shift like usual, but as I was counting out my tickets something felt different. I thought about waiting for the bus and I just shuddered. I didn’t want to cross the river. I didn’t want to clear plates and pour water for well-dressed people. I didn’t want to collect a wad of hand-me-down dollar bills. I wanted to go hiking.

So I went hiking.

It was a pleasant enough hike, and a nice enough evening. It barely crossed my mind what I’d done. Even the next morning I felt fine with it. To me I was just a replaceable cog in the restaurant machine. If I didn’t show they’d have a new body hired within days – no big deal. So I went on with my life.

Years later, I was hiring a lead server. I went through the candidates’ resumes and arranged the interviews. One of the names felt familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. It wasn’t until halfway through the interview I recognized her: She was the other busser, the one who had to cover my section years ago. What was worse is she recognized me straight away. Or at least I thought she did. She made a lot of effort to emphasize her “Professionalism” and her “Follow Through.” She felt that she was “Always dependable” and “wouldn’t ever think of letting her team down.” She also made a lot of eye contact as she reiterated her “respect for the jobs she’s worked.”

I called her later that day and left her a message offering her the job. She didn’t call back.

In the restaurant industry, reputation is everything. People want to work with people they know and trust. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiring or trying to get hired – If you’ve done right by your community, they’ll do right by you. And that’s why No Call/No Show is a big deal.

 

 

 

Staying Focused in the Face of Chaos

The second large plastic crate of chanterelles blocked my view of my surroundings. Regardless, I could feel the Chef’s presence still near me. My soft bristle pastry brush felt glued to my fingers as I tried to stay focused. These mushrooms were a typical FNG stagier job, and I found myself in a momentary daze. It was right at this moment that Dan Barber walked up with a firm reminder, “Work faster please.”

Those four syllables made me cringe. Where had he arrived from all of a sudden?! I’d lost track of my pace staying head down sifting through the dirty crates. From the moment I’d arrived at Blue Hill at Stone Barns my mind was illuminated with excitement. The operational breadth reminded me that not everything was a tight New York City basement kitchen. It felt good for a change to not be prepping atop boxes of new product deliveries in the galley hallway, pushing with my fellow cooks to have our mise ready for service.

The farm flowed seamlessly from the two-lane country road, up over the hills, into the massive stone restaurant. I was out of the five boroughs for the first time in over a year. New York City is fast, gritty, and full of endless side-entrance hideouts. The City’s size alone gives reason for those of us transplants to never have a need to leave.

The Big Apple’s expansive reaches lost its grip eventually though. I needed a break, so I lined up three days off for a surprise change. Even if just for a two-day stage up at Blue Hill, I kept the third as the much-needed laundry day. I left right before dawn that first morning, mashing my GT 200 Vespa into its top gears over the Manhattan Bridge as I saw the skyline lighting up with the morning light reflection. Soon I was surrounded by the changing leaves of the imminent fall months; my arrival felt like I’d stumbled into a chef’s dream. The farm fields distracted me all the way around the property until I was pointed towards the delivery entrance to begin my day.

Halfway through the day, elbow deep in chanterelles, with Chef Dan Barber arriving upon my left shoulder from nowhere, my adventure had me realize an important life lesson very early on for cooks. At the time I’d fallen into a daze of foraged mushroom daydreams. He caught me.

NEVER STOP PUSHING.

It wasn’t the first time I lost my focus. It most certainly wouldn’t be the last. It’s common for us to have tasks needing done that simply don’t instill excitement. The focus and refined dedication that we place into those tasks are what set the greatest cooks apart from the masses.

Even if your restaurant is changing the menu seasonally, offering frequent specials or regularly adapting dish components based on the local farm bounties being delivered, odds are you’re doing the same fucking tasks multiple times a week. They are fun the first twenty times you do them, but it gets tiring on the hundredth time.

Understanding how to fight through the times when our minds shut down on us is possibly one of the most valuable intangibles a cook can have. The adaptability, the creativity, the patience all will follow from learning to have the mentality to fight through the grind. The stronger you build your will power to keep pushing, the easier these constant trials and tribulations will become.

 

The 5 Best Ways to Cut Yourself in a Kitchen

Cutting yourself while working is a rite of passage in the restaurant industry. According to some, you’re not a “real cook” until you’ve seen your finger-pad bloody-side down on a prep table. Once you’ve honed those knife skills and learned your way around a kitchen, the number of cuts, slices, contusions and punctures you’ll endure drops precipitously. But everyone has at least one good war story that gets a little better after a couple of rounds at the bar.

Here are the five most likely ways you’ll cut yourself in the kitchen:

1) Shitty bread knife
Cheap bread knifes are far too common, and I’m not talking cheap – I’m talking cheap-cheap-cheap. A Foreschner or a Mercer is good enough for not much money, but owners and kitchen managers still manage to dig up bread knives that somehow cost less. Every warped edge and bent tooth is a testament to the absolutely bottom of the barrel quality found in these insidious finger gougers.

2) Sleep deprivation
Nothing will cut you to the quick like missing a night or three’s sleep. But what’s a finger when you can work three 12-hour shifts in a row and still go out to see Action Bronson?

3) “The Ticket Stabber was moved by the damned host. Again. It’s supposed to be 25 inches from my station. I know because I grab 200 tickets a night and stab them one by one in a swift arcing motion. It’s nearly a reflex, by now, and something my body just does for me, like breathing or frowning. But no, Carl had to come over and make “small talk” about some indie band called Jenga Hang Glider or something. His busy little hostey hands just had to move the stabber. I hate Carl. Anyone got gauze?”

4) Modernist Cuisine
Modernist cuisine has brought us a great number of interesting and exciting innovations: Olive oil powder; spheres of foraged moss; razor sliced rounds of green almonds that require laser-like precision during the rush while Chef is yelling at you.

5) Benriner
There may be no other kitchen tool more responsible for spilling blood than the simple Benriner mandolin. I’ve never seen one for sale in a store because they likely violate at least a half-dozen consumer protection laws. For the uninitiated, a Benriner is nothing more than two pieces of plastic with a stainless steel blade in the middle. It comes with a “hand guard” that is best held firmly in one hand, between the thumb and third finger, and then tossed into the garbage as you laugh at its near total uselessness. You have been warned.

 

Off-Sites: 6 Ways to Make Events Work For You

As we approach event season, now is the perfect time to answer the burning question: As a restaurant owner or chef, how often should you say, “yes” to event participation invitations?

You know the drill. As soon as April rolls around you’re getting requests from all directions. Will you cook an 8-course meal for my event benefiting the abandoned tropical birds of Texas? Can you prepare 900 servings of Dungeness crab risotto to serve the underprivileged youth of the Upper East Side?

Admittedly, most requests aren’t so ridiculous. In fact, most cities have events all summer long celebrating nothing but great food and benefitting worthy causes, which can be a fantastic experience for chefs. As Lisa Mygrant, owner of Portland’s Raven and Rose, points out, participating in events can create “brand exposure to both the industry and the market demographics, which is paramount for a young business.”

If you’re running a new business, or even if you’re a well-seasoned chef, keep these tips in mind while you build your event-season game plan.

Roy Choi

Weigh The Costs

Participating in an event attended by tens of thousands of self-proclaimed “foodies” may seem like the best self-promotion ever, and it very well can be, but keep in mind that the vast majority of these events are unpaid. While a small budget may be provided, it’s rarely enough to cover ingredients, let alone compensate your team or yourself, for your time. Before you commit to anything, decide how much time and money you are willing to invest.

Pick The Right Cause

Going back to our tropical birds example, as a chef or restaurant owner, this may not be the most obvious brand association. However, if this is a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, then by all means, go for it. My point is, don’t just haphazardly choose an event. You may risk being associated with organizations or brands that don’t line up with your values.

Cook With The Best

Mygrant says it best, “Frankly, it is valuable to put yourself in good company.  We are careful to align ourselves with other restaurants, bars, and food or beverage purveyors that are committed to top quality, and are constantly improving themselves as members of the food & beverage community.” The events you choose should feature people that you respect and admire in the industry. It takes cooking with the best to be the best!

Location Is Everything

You wouldn’t order Thai takeout from San Fran if you live in Chicago, would you? The same goes for events. Unless it’s a nationally recognized soiree with lots of media attention, like Feast Portland or Austin Food and Wine Festival, try to choose an event that is local. The closer you are to home, the more enticing a visit to your restaurant will sound for attendees.

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Tweet Like You Mean It

Try as we might to escape the death claws of Facebook, it always comes back to status updates, doesn’t it? Participating in events is a great way to amp up your social skills and reach new followers. Have your social media team (or your sous chef) working overtime to capture every dish on Instagram or tweet a play by play to the world. Use the event hashtag and tag other vendors to encourage conversation and increase awareness of your brand.

Own The Event

If you remember one thing from this article, remember this: participating in an event is your time to shine. “You have the chance to put your brand in front of thousands of new people,” says Mygrant, “Plan to blow people away.  Plan to be the best at the event, regardless of what it is.” The number one reason to take part in culinary events is to get more people in the door of your restaurant, so choose the right events, put your best foot forward and make a strong impression!

 

Daddy Issues

Once upon a time all chefs were huge assholes. They preyed upon the young and inexperienced to become their interns, working for free, stuck in overcrowded dorms with insufficient heat sources.  Chefs smashed plates against walls and made staff eat spoiled steak to reduce food cost.  Hmmm…. I think I just described my 6 month stage in France.  While the entire experience left a less than pleasant taste in my mouth, I did come out of it a better cook. It put the fear of chef in my heart.  The flash of his whites at my side tautly stretched over his giant belly made my hands tremble and turn vegetables faster. I hung my head a little lower and smiled a little less.

The life of a cook can be stressful and all consuming. While the return is financially meek, as an artist it can be rewarding to create something of physical beauty on a daily basis. It’s amazing to think something so beautiful can come from the utter depths of negativity.

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The French chef I worked under was a monster, literally: all his little French maids called him, “Monstre”.  He was the original mold for the douchey chef. He was gluttonous and rude. He philandered with his mistress in front of us while his wife waited in the office interrogating us about using liberal amounts of icing sugar on the waffles in the morning.  The living conditions were less than acceptable. In the middle of winter, our heater died leaving the stagiers with no hot water or heat. The monster laughed asking us, “Cold enough for you?”  After working 16 hours a day in a kitchen with no hot shower and you can begin to see why this guy was a real special type of monster.  Even back in culinary school the chefs were strict.  They threw you out if your coat wasn’t ironed or if you were missing any part of your uniform.  They screamed in your face for mistakes that they were supposed to be teaching you not to make.

Over time it taught me respect and while I was afraid, I kind of enjoyed the abuse. It gave me an adrenaline rush. I constantly wanted to achieve better results and feared negative responses for my sloppy work.  I was trying to please this patriarchal father figure. The fact that I enjoyed it makes me question whether the traditional ruthless practices are the right way or do I just have daddy issues?

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This was only 12 years ago, but a lot has changed since then.  Now cooks don’t address chefs as “chef” and they rock jeans in the kitchen.  Every cook wants his picture in Gourmet or Bon Appétit. A cook who just left the womb of culinary school is calling themselves “chef.”  Where has the pain gone? Why aren’t these kids getting infections from cleaning shellfish for endless days and being brought to their knees for throwing hot stock in the walk in. Is yelling and bad temperament necessary or are the gentle ways the new way? There is a fine line between abuse and just letting cooks mature into lazy chefs.

I would love for the restaurant industry to evolve to become a place where the job is a respectful career, one that your lawyer and doctor friends would not scoff at. I also think that somewhere in the spotlight of popularity and pig tattoos something has been lost.  Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of dodging a hot pan being tossed at you for overcooking something but not everything can be passive and coddling.  Sometimes with passion for a craft comes the well-deserved tongue lashing that makes you strive to do better.

 

 

Cooking with Chef Candy – Brining Chickens

The first thing you learn cooking in a professional kitchen is you’re a long way from home. Methods and techniques that worked well in your family’s kitchen can lead to failure, as well as spiking food costs, when applied in a professional kitchen. One example is brining. While it’s not rocket science, there are some definite differences between brining a chicken and brining a whole lot of chickens. We asked Chef Candy Argondizza of the International Culinary Center her best chicken brining techniques for a professional kitchen.

1. Choose a container:
In a professional kitchen we use what we call, lexans, which are large hard plastic containers that hold about 25-30 gallons. More importantly, whatever container you use, it must be sanitized and immaculate. If a lid is available, better yet. Always choose containers that are higher than wider so the food is always submerged.

2. Make your brine:
I like 225 grams of Kosher salt to 4 liters of water. I also like to add 100 grams of sugar to my brine. Spices can vary depending on the flavor profile you’re trying to achieve. Always bring brine ingredients to a boil to melt the salt and sugar, and then cool completely. This may take time with larger amounts of brine, so do it the day before it’s needed. The ratios will always stay the same whether you have 4 chickens or 40 chickens. What will change is the size of the container and how much liquid is necessary to cover them.

3. Add the chicken:
Always make sure the container is sanitized and clean. If adding anything else to the brine besides salt and water, make sure it is clean and dirt free. Make sure that the brine is cold before adding the chickens, take the giblet bags out and drop them in. Make sure the chickens are submerged; they can be weighted down if necessary.

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4. Mind the details:
Label everything you use in a professional kitchen (or home kitchen for that matter) by saying what it is and the date. Write big and legible.

5. Properly store your project:
Always store raw meats (whether brining or not), on the lowest shelf in the walk-in (never on the floor). This is a Dept. of Health rule, plus the containers are large, heavy and dangerous anywhere high up.

6. Mark the time:
Depending on the size of the chicken, brine anywhere from 4-10 hours, whether it’s a 2# bird or a 4# bird.

7. Remove the chicken from the brine:
Pat it dry prior to cooking. Dump the brining solution down an appropriate drain – do not reuse the liquid.

8. Cook and test:
Never assume all is well. Cook and try a piece prior to serving. If I feel the meat is too salty after cooking, I soak the other brined birds in unsalted water for ½ the time it was brined.

Questions for Chef Candy about working in a professional kitchen? Hit us up at Blog@PoachedJobs.com.

 

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Founded as The French Culinary Institute in 1984, the International Culinary Center (ICC) is the global expert in professional culinary and wine education, with programs in New York, California and Italy. The renowned six-month Total Immersion program has produced other talents as Bobby Flay, David Chang, Dan Barber, Hooni Kim, Christina Tosi and 15,000 more under the guidance of deans including Jacques Pepin, Jacques Torres and Jose Andres. ICC provides students with the credentials, confidence and connections to chart a successful career anywhere in the world.

 

Burning Bright: Embracing a Chef’s True Element

The relationship between humanity and controlled fire has fascinated me for a long time. Years ago I read Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: Cooking Made Us Human. In it, Wrangham goes as far as stating that civilization is what it is today because we learned how to retain and utilize fire.  This book is in my opinion a must read for all people, cooks especially.

After I read Wrangham’s book, the universe dropped my first Chef de Cuisine position into my lap. What was most fantastic was that I would be opening a restaurant designed specifically around a wood fired oven.

I had never worked with wood in this capacity before. We were going to rely on the oven for nearly all of our cooking. Aside from a deep fryer, a gelato machine, a meat slicer, and our 140 qt Hobart mixer – all cooking went into this wood powered oven.

I began researching the water content and smoke affinities of the various Pacific Northwest woods we sourced. I bought things like moisture readers and hatchets for the first time as my “cooking tools”. This opportunity was finally a chance to enjoy fresh air while working – better known as chopping wood.  I looked forward to teaching my young line cooks and dishwashers how to swing an axe. It became an opportunity to step out of the heat of the kitchen and remind us that this wood was our lifeline. As the primary fuel that our kitchen ran on, if we didn’t swing the axe, the restaurant wouldn’t function.

Every 5, 10 or 30 minutes, a fire is going to be at a different stage than it is in this moment. From a chef’s standpoint, you want to create a constant temperature with open flame. Much like setting a stovetop burner to medium high heat.

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Three years later, I began working a grill in Austin, Texas that put me up close and personal with the fire – literally elbow deep into it. Knowing the balance of how to not just scorch the grill box by stuffing it full of wood, but rather conserving the expensive fuel source was critical. After all, wood was money and bosses like when you save the business money.

A few months since I left the grill position, I resumed traveling. We headed up to Alaska to begin filming footage for a web series concept created by my team called The Vagabundus Project. When we arrived in Alaska, there was word of a local chef competition.

The cooking challenge was to grill the best local salmon barbecue recipe you have. BBQ expert Steven Raichlen, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and two prominent local chefs were judging it. Anyone could apply and the top selected recipes would compete. I’d never cooked in a competition. Shit, I don’t even know when the last time I grilled salmon was, but my friends from the area urged me to enter.

As an outsider, I assumed the odds were stacked against me. Each of my competitors came with their own secret stash of a local stream’s salmon run they had affinity for. My salmon was provided and unfortunately pretty haggard. It had been pre-butchered by what looked like most certainly a hammer and a butter knife. As the odds became more and more stacked against me, I pushed the limits with a recipe I’d created on a whim, never anticipating winning the selection process. Pairing kimchi with sweet potato confit I made my salmon into a tight roulade after patting it dry of its ponzu-based marinade.

I nervously glazed the salmon over the scorching cast iron grill I had brought with me as the prominent chefs watched within inches of me. The brown rice syrup was the perfect balance of just enough sweetness with an ability to garner the perfect char. That char is what sealed the deal, with a little help from the ingenuity to take that beat-to-shit salmon and roll it into a roulade.

My risk paid off and to my surprise I won. I took first place unanimously and went from being the underdog outsider to the humble champion of secret culinary talent. With my confidence riding high, we left Anchorage and travelled to Seward on the coast.

We were filming on location from the Nauti Otter Inn & Hostel. When we arrived we discovered that Heather, the Inn’s owner, was hosting a beach bonfire for the 30th birthday of her property’s resident handyman. As we walked onto the coastal beach with mountains surrounding us, I saw Heather struggling to toss around the various foods that she’d brought to cook over the fire. After cracking a bottle of local dark ale I was by her side asking if she’d appreciate the use of my “chef hands”.

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Having yet to even really determine what I’d be cooking, I took over completely, flying practically blind in the dimming twilight. There I stood rearranging a fire with fifteen or more locals and travellers mixed about sharing beers and stories around me. I added more wood. I dug up rich embers from the bottom. I built a small coal powered grill off to the side. Two logs and a metal door from a dog kennel worked. I was cooking now with my makeshift grill feeling just like back in Austin.

This was me now in perfect peace; a beer in hand, next to a bonfire, with wonderful people all around. “Hobo-packs” of beefs, onion, potato and carrots roasted as I grilled bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers and bananas stuffed with chocolate rewrapped in their peels. Without hesitation, this circumstance felt as if we were destined to join the group’s party all along – not just be there to obtain some keys as originally planned. For me to have the knowledge needed, let alone the skill sets, to actually work the makeshift “bonfire kitchen” for them felt totally rewarding.

My relationship with fire began as a child throwing marshmallows on sticks and singeing them until they bubbled with black crusts. No matter how deep I search to better understand the use of fire, I can’t help but come back to those moments. We all are part of a civilization that in one way or another must appreciate our history with cooking over fire.

Fire and cooking food are what make us human, as they bring us together with one another – sometimes as friends and family, and sometimes as strangers. I work to let those relationships burn wild and bright.  And while microwaves or deep fryers or sous vide machines have taken over our kitchens, they are second best to the ax, the oven and a few quiet moments spent rubbing some sticks together.

 

 

 

What Motivates Us?

This question has lingered between my ears for a long time. I fell into this industry at 15 due to the comfort I found within kitchens during that stereotypically awkward adolescent age. I needed a summer job. So I thought, “Fuck it dude, I can nosh an easy two or three burgers  ­– I should be in a kitchen”. I landed a dishwashing gig at a new café – and my culinary career began.

My dishwashing spot rolled into prep cooking, but at a young 16, peddling to my co-workers and flirting with female servers was more enticing. I had no idea how to comprehend the wild chaos of working in a kitchen. That same summer, as I tasted the culinary field for the first time, Anthony Bourdain hit the NYT Best-Seller’s list.

I read “Kitchen Confidential” cover to cover. I drank the crazy Kool-Aid and signed in real blood. Which of course led to me collecting excessive forearm burns.

Most of the ‘Confidential’ stories proved true by my twenties. Despite the drugs, sex, and late night fun, my focus shifted drastically to a perspective of sustainability. Having by this point worked next to a few salty bastards, I was determined to not hate my own daily world, as they seemed to dislike their own.

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Can a kitchen life be one that included aspects of grace and tranquility? I read of kitchens named funny things like The French Laundry and the Fat Duck. Apparently there was a higher level out there. I was determined to have it shown to me.

The irony is my hardwiring became super weird after years of driving up through these fine dining kitchens. I was raised to believe ‘Patience is a virtue’ by my mother, but my girlfriend will be the first to tell you I’m awful at demonstrating this common Sunday school lesson.

Consistency and efficiency became absolutely critical to me. How could I eliminate half of the physical steps I take each day? Could I prep out my station’s mise en place faster than the day before? Perfect knife cuts haunted me over the typical beer & a shot after busy night services. What little moment of my lamb braise could I more intently focus on to kick the shit out of the last dozen?  Maybe I might even get a compliment from my Executive Chef.

As I slipped deeper into longer workweeks within more difficult kitchens, I worried I was losing the essence of what initially captivated me.

The only reason why I even gave fuck about Ol’ Tony’s stories as a kid was that I realized I could travel anywhere in the world. All I had to do was learn how to cook. The world of cuisines was like reading an encyclopedia… by the time you got to the end, the beginning was already revised. I’d always have more to learn.

What was motivating me to continue going against the grain of normal societal tendencies? Why not just get a quiet office job or stock shelves or work a warehouse? Get weekends off and time and a half and holiday vacations.

Through the exhaustion and mere flesh wounds, the phrase that took me the longest to learn was “Oui Chef.” Even as a chef leading my own team, it was hard to drive this efficient system home to them every time. Something about being a ‘yes man’ always seemed like a fucked parameter for a job. I love to speak my thoughts and discuss a situation. I will take into consideration yours – even when completely off target. Sometimes the pot-peddling dishwasher might see something the chef is too preoccupied to see.

As I matured, the realization of just saying ‘yes’ broadened my skills of flexibility. Countless times I’ve heard when in the shits with no logical solution to the problem, the Chef would say, “Just make it fucking happen!”

We made it happen. Against all circumstances, we produced in a pinch. It was never in the systematic ways of reasoning, logic and execution we were taught. We’d jimmy-rig, we’d stretch mise en place, and we’d create last minute miracles. It was the fun that drove me each day to become better. My focus became to set up my station so not to ever grit my teeth for the order that drained my station into the dicey hole of 86’ing something.

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Eventually, my stations were set, my knife cuts were on point, and my seasonings no longer needed adjustments by the chef. Still, I didn’t stop searching for motivation. My efforts turned towards helping my coworkers get to that point as well. It seemed my motivations were as much for cooking, as they were to simply be a solid co-worker.

It had moved beyond food and gone full circle. Each kitchen gave me new techniques to perfect and the occasional ingredients I’d never seen. Yet, it was the people that motivated me. The community in that first kitchen that sucked me in as a wild-eyed teen still existed – simply now in kitchen settings across the globe.We as culinary professionals are a family of pirates that many see as social outcasts. We’re loud, abrasive, incestuous groups that can appear to keep things clean and tight on our station and yet totally messy in public life. Our whites stay clean despite how dirty our minds turn. Yet, the countless beers over stacks of cookbooks in an apartment after work, shooting ideas and talking shit together until nearly sunrise, made me see things anew. It was now a professional family.

The motivation was as much my love for food as it was this oddball family spread through kitchens far and wide. We should be cooking because we love to do so. We can say similar things about servers who epitomize hospitality or those bartenders who sling libations straight out of a science lab all night. This industry is one about love. Love what you do, push to find your own deficiencies, then scorch them to a crisp. Be a better person than you were the day before and try to learn something new each day. That’s what motivates us.

Best Dishwasher 2014

If you’ve worked in a kitchen you know at least one simple truth: Dishwashers Rule. Washing the dishes is only a part of what they do to keep kitchens running smoothly. Need extra prep? Dishwasher. Need sauté pans? Dishwasher.

Inspired by the tireless dedication of these hardworking ladies and gentlemen, we put it to you, Poached readers, to nominate your restaurant’s dishwashers. The results are in and here are a few favorites:

Maryam Halimah

maryam

Maryam Halimah is the backbone of the kitchen at Whole Foods Market in Portland, OR. With focus, speed, and a great attitude, she can get through any tower of dishes no matter how high they might be without breaking a sweat. She can run circles around the guys in the kitchen and has a great and focused work ethic.

 

Ibrahim Mansour

ibrahim mansour

After the first week working at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, both Ibrahim Mansour’s peers and managers noticed that the dish pits looked better than ever. This was even amid the chaos of the two week South by Southwest event happening in Austin. Ibrahim hit the ground running during this time, proving himself a valuable member of the stewarding team. Five months later, Ibrahim continues to pay special attention to detail while maintaining a high level of enthusiasm and a great attitude.

 

Arturo Corres

Arturo Corres

Arturo Corres has been working at the Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, California for the past 22 years. While he joined the team as an entry level dishwasher, in a few years his outstanding performance and high standards for cleanliness allowed him to be promoted to Dishwashing Supervisor. Not only is he the Dishwashing Supervisor, but he’s been known to jump in where he’s needed in the kitchen, even if he has to join the line to plate a dinner for over 750 people. 22 years later and Arturo’s still your man to get any job done.

 

Elmer Cime, Miguel Ramirez, Kevin Roberts

trio

The staff at Nostrana got together to nominate their entry into the Best Dishwasher in America competition, and found that they had nominated a team: Elmer Cime, Miguel Ramirez, and Kevin Roberts. As a team, they’ve proven indispensable, completing any task they’re presented with. Elmer, the storemaster, organizes and maintains the storage facilities in the restaurant. His dedication to maintaining the restaurant and treating it like his home shows how much he loves what he does. Kevin is the woodsman and champions the entire wood program that makes Nostrana’s cuisine possible. Miguel, the captain, is always quick to lend a helping hand and is always ready for a laugh. Together, the trio makes an excellent team that keeps the other staff upbeat, helping them get through the toughest of nights and always providing a smile.

And now, The Best Dishwasher 2014!

Moises Avilla

moises

Cooking schools go through thousands of dishes in a single day and the San Francisco Cooking School has the guy to keep it all together. Meet 2014’s Best Dishwasher in America: Moises Avilla.

Moises, or The Boss, as they refer to him at the San Francisco Cooking School, is always upbeat. Every six months, when new culinary students enter, it’s Moises who sets them at ease with a smile and a hello. Leave it to Moises to learn every student’s name. Nothing ever seems to faze him at work:

“He is the one-man show that keeps this place humming. Bowls and beaters covered in buttercream from our Pastry Program? No problem. Scorched pans from our revolving door of recreational students? No problem. Oil spill in one kitchen…a crash of a wine glass during our Friday night wine classes? Not even a blink of an eye.”

If that wasn’t enough, as soon as he gets home, he straps on a pair of running shoes. Everything that happens at the San Francisco Cooking School would be a lot more difficult if it wasn’t for Moises Avilla, and because of this, he really is the 2014 Best Dishwasher in America.

 

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