Huck's Rant: Wash your mouth out with soap
The archaic, potty-mouthed chefs of yesteryear are dropping like flies. Barking orders is for old dogs, and the trick these days is to lead by example, says Anthony Huckstep.
Traditionally, if commercial kitchens had a swear jar on the pass, it’d be fuller than the tip jar by the end of most services. I’m not suggesting that most chefs have the mouth of a sailor but, well, ok I am.
Not that I can talk. I’m only a few nautical miles off the high seas myself, but barking orders at staff – front and back of house – and general displays of aggression are as out of season as last summer’s stone fruits.
It might be cool to be more casual and natural in the kitchen, but no one wants to cop a side of ‘ear full’ with their steak tartare.
A few years ago I submitted a restaurant review that was never published, but was turned into a piece that declared the sort of awful things that can happen while dining.
The chefs, operating in the theatre of an open kitchen, delivered a kaleidoscope of language for all to hear in the dining room. Add to that the fact they were eating while cooking. Not tasting and testing for seasoning, or even picking at off cuts from dishes created – they were eating entire meals, in the kitchen, without even ducking behind the counter.
Then there was the front of house team, that dropped off as many F and C bombs to each table as they did menus. It was as if a crew of sailors had commandeered the ship for an evening. Alas, it was simply the ‘cool’ modus operandi of the establishment. Honestly, it was lame.
Anyway, my point isn’t just about swearing. It’s about how head chefs, and indeed the brigade, relate to and treat other staff members, and the impression it leaves on guests who are tired of the screaming ghosts of restaurants past.
It’s a cliché, but the notion of putting love into food has merit. Sure, it’s one of the toughest jobs out there, but it’s been proven by a swag of chefs that a calm kitchen will create a calm and welcoming place to dine too.
At restaurants like Igni in Geelong and Poly in Sydney, chefs at the pass of the open kitchens simply clap once to get the server’s attention. No yelling allowed. And the reward is a humming atmosphere of clinking forks, soft music, conversation and laughter.
After all, aren’t restaurants about hospitality? About feeling welcome like you’re in someone’s home? The plate-throwing, spitfires of past generations are out, and in their places are kitchens that nurture their staff, rather than flinging frying pans at their heads.
You don’t get the best out of someone through fear and intimidation. And you certainly don’t garner respect. Yes you need to point out shortfalls and find solutions to help your staff learn and grow, but imparting knowledge and bestowing belief respectfully, particularly in young staff, can lead to longevity in an industry whose workers are more nomadic than a door-to-door salesperson.
Keep your howling until after work, and let the neighbour’s dog do all the barking.