David Chang on restaurant cooking's "dark side"

"… when you finally get to where you want, there’s no one left to celebrate it with. You realize that you’ve sacrificed all these people for your own selfish gain. You have not built cooks, you’ve burnt through them, and in the long run you’ve screwed yourself over. You are alone with your stars and your perfect plates. …

“… I thought about Jeremy’s choice for years after he left Ubuntu. I couldn’t understand how he could leave the position he’d fought so hard to occupy, to walk away from the insane and well-deserved accolades and his truly international influence over cuisine and gastronomy.”

http://www.madfeed.co/2015/culture-of-the-kitchen-david-chang

I have no idea whether cooks aren’t as good as they used to be, but I appreciate Chang’s remarks and I hope he does try to live by them.

1 Like

Chang makes some good observations here. I wonder though how “light side” a restaurant environment can be, really. Speed and timing are (if television has taught me anything) vital to a well run restaurant, and that takes drive and determination. I wonder if that can happen consistently with a group of cooks through inner motivation, without someone there to crack the whip.

I’m sure it does here and there. Vivian Howard on Chef’s Life seems to run a firm-but-fair kitchen, correcting without shouting, but she’s also working with employees who have little or no previous experience, and once trained are hard to replace. So maybe she just has to be nicer.

1 Like

Chez Panisse and some of its descendants including Camino and The Ramen Shop seem to have very low-key kitchens.

1 Like

Any of you play orchestral instruments? Orchestral conductors require a high level of precision and coordination from the players, but they don’t have to be assholes. Is cooking so different?

Funny, I had thought about theater in the same cooperative light. But I do not know if they are comparable or not. For one, in a kitchen there’s always the option of a redo, and in performance a mistake usually lands pretty squarely on the shoulders of the person that made it, so I would guess the pressure to get it right the first time is much greater in a performance setting.

No doubt there’s a ton of pressure at the highest echelon of kitchens. Timing, perfect movements, etc. and add to that continual criticism from diners and professionals alike, the constant need to evolve but stay true to one’s ethos, the need to surprise and wow an increasingly jaded crowd or perhaps an increasingly sophisticated and well-traveled set, serving food to some people with unrealistic expectations and uninformed perspectives about the food they’re eating, the threat of batshit crazy Yelpers who - while batshit crazy - still can negatively effect one’s business (damn extortionists), ah the business side and low margins, the business side in handling distributors, employment issues, the amount of staff it costs to run such a tight ship - I would assume it’s not unlike the stress at the high level of athletic/dance/musical competition. It’s not for everyone, and like MMA, it takes its toll I’m sure. Almost nobody escapes unscathed.

With that said, I’ve always been impressed by how calm and relaxed the team in the kitchen seems at The Restaurant at Meadowood. They have an impressario of sorts, an “expediter” who tells the kitchen how/when to fire up dishes based on the diners’ eating times. Then you see several chefs just very content to work on their respective stations. Of course there’s a lot of inherent stress and pressure at any very high-level kitchen, but they appear to be doing an admirable job of managing it. Music playing, and people smiling there. It’s an extremely impressive operation. That’s why like at Meadowood and Saison they allow people to see the open kitchen, and in fact, they’re rather inviting.

David Chang on BS Podcast

Less controversial but I thought I’d share David Chang on the Bill Simmons podcast, They don’t really talk sports mostly Beard awards, media ect.

1 Like

Really good stuff.

The thing about Meadowland compared to other kitchens is profit margins. It’s so hard to make money in the food industry. So, most kitchens are understaffed and have high turnover, adding to the craziness.

[quote=“markambrose73, post:7, topic:1461”]
the threat of batshit crazy Yelpers who - while batshit crazy - still can negatively effect one’s business (damn extortionists)
[/quote] Exactly!

Some parts are a little hokey. But, very good opinion piece. I just sent it to my beloved, surrogate son. He’s an in-demand young sous chef. Maybe it will remind him not to fall into these traps. I’m sure he struggles with these things often. I noticed he has started practicing Buddhism :slight_smile: