10 things chefs won't tell you

Obviously, a top 10 list is by definition a big generalization. But it is fair to say that the following is pretty accurate in the restaurant industry. And of course, the assumptions in the following list vary with the kind, location and standards of the restaurants, as well as the level of professionalism of the chef.

 

  • There is no such a thing as ‘fresh fish’. 

Let’s define “fresh fish”. I remember the days when I worked on a Mediterranean island in the south of France. I’d walk down to the harbor in the morning to meet with fishermen just back from the sea. They’d show me the catch, I would buy whatever I liked and I’d walk back to the restaurant. And I’d served the fish. That’s ”Fresh fish”.

I’ll take an educated guess and say that 80% of the restaurants in your town buy previously frozen fish. “Frozen”. Not “fresh”. While we’re at it, I’ll just go ahead and say that any given piece of fresh or “defrosted” fish has an average ”shelf life” of 2 days. Not so “fresh”. And that’s not counting the time spent traveling from out-the-water to the kitchen, which could be 1 or 2 days.

And by the way, even in Tampa Bay, FL, common grocery stores such as Publix or Sweetbay serve pieces of fish that are about 2 or 3 days old, sometimes evidently more. Again, that’s not counting the time of transit from sea to store.

  • Specials aren’t “special chef’s creations”; they just help our food cost. 

Come on, specials were created to sell. In the average restaurant, the chef communicates to servers what he needs to sell. Reasons go from over-ordering to lack of freshness, or left-overs from a catering event. And no, I never order a special.

  • Soup du jour is rarely du jour. 

Soups are great money-makers. Leftovers get recycled. Not-so-good-looking vegetables get used. Quick and easy to make. Don’t think for a second that chefs spend a lot of time thinking about soup du jour. At the contrary, soup du jour comes naturally. Unused leeks + old potatoes = vichyssoise. Leftover chicken + corn from yesterday’s lunch = chicken soup. Over-riped tomatoes and so-so fresh basil = tomato and basil soup.

And of course, a soup du jour (of the day) is likely made the day before for flexibility of production. But that’s a good thing. It does tastes better the next day.

  • A restaurant can’t easily operate without illegal immigrants. 

Restaurants margins are paper thin. Good net margins turn around 5-10% for well-managed restaurants. A penny saved is a penny earned. Illegal immigrants are cheap and “hidden” in the kitchen. Many restaurant owners and chefs rely on them. They are hard workers, too, never complain, and if they’re sick one day, they’ll find a family member or a friend to replace them. They are just unvaluable in a restaurant kitchen.

  • We know you don’t REALLY want to be a chef.

You already have a career? You’re bored with it? Thinking about something cool to unleash your creative side? Just happened to watch the naked chef on the Food Network and are attracted by the glamour of it all? That’s great. But that’s not the reality. If you knew the reality of being a chef, you wouldn’t want that for yourself. Trust us. 

 

  • We despise vegetarians. We hate vegans.

We just do. Vegetarians, unless your lifestyle is confined to your own house or you’re paying for your own lunch, we think you’re rude.

Vegans, actually, not quite true! We love them. Between 2 slices of baguette with sea salt, tellicherry pepper and a little olive oil.

  • Steak well done? You get the smallest, ugliest and potentially oldest steak of all. 

We have to cater to you, you destroyer of Taste! Otherwise we would tell you how ridiculous it is to cook a perfectly good and likely expensive piece of meat until it’s tasteless and yukky-textured. Plus, because you won’t notice the difference, we choose the smallest, ugliest and oldest piece of all.

  • Special requests are a bitch and we hate you for that.

We work long hours and we’re pretty uptight and precise about the way we do things. Getting us out of our routine because you want your dressing on the side is a pain. And sometimes your requests are plain ridiculous. Mac & Cheese with no cheese?

  • We aren’t inspired “artists” in sparky white chef jackets. We’re a weird bunch of hard-workers who retranched in the hidden back of the house because we feel better that way. 

Culinary Arts are 90% work and 10% creativity. Most chefs are hard-workers and seem to be more comfortable in the back of the house, focused on their mise en place and thinking about lunch or dinner. We don’t have much time to interact socially while working.

  • We don’t own Viking stoves or All clad cookware.

Some of us indulge in expensive pro- or semi pro- heavy equipment at home. But really, we cook at the workplace. The only thing we waste our money on is great german or japanese knives.

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