Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!
Even as affairs in American kitchens are slowly changing from the bad old days, one aspect of the Kitchen Life still holds up:
The professional kitchen is a meritocracy.
You either can do the job, or you can be TAUGHT to do the job, or you can’t. Doesn’t matter where you went to school, who you know, how many cookbooks you have.
You can either show up, on time, in the right state of mind, and do the job like you said you could… or you can’t.
That said, the space between arrival and the last two week of a position can be… colorful, to say the least.
No one likes to own up to making a mistake, or that they overlooked some detail, or really thought this would be an easy paycheck, but after going to some professional chefs and asking for the worst excuses they’d ever heard come out of their staff’s mouths…
C’mon, people… just… holy crap come ON.
Now before the old hands reading this start frothing about “kids these days” and millennials (obviously the worst plague on the world since the Black Death *eyeroll*), I should mention that inefficiency and blame-dodging knows no age group. Some of these I’ve heard come out of the mouths of older chefs- even some of my former superiors.
The 10 Worst Kitchen Excuses
1. “It’s Rustic.”
I had a boss that would use this one. “Rustic” is supposed to mean charmingly imprecise, or seeming homemade. It is used to mean “it’s sloppy and I don’t care enough to go back and fix it.” If you’re a professional, why should people be paying you to make something that looks a Pinterest Fail?
2. “It’s how we did it at my old place.”
Then go back there. You’re in a new place, it doesn’t matter if they are doing a standard pastry- they are doing it their way, and unless you were specifically hired to change that way… you do it THEIR way. Another former supervisor of mine (hired after me) took this tack when I tried to show her some of the staple recipes. She insisted she didn’t need me to show her… and proceeded to screw it up three times.
3. “It’s how [famous chef] does it!”
I remember learning some time ago how the famous Italian chef Massimo Bottura once dropped a lemon tart he was plating for service, and it fell on the plate in such a way that he finished dressing the plate and served it as “Oops! We Dropped The Lemon Tart!”
Here’s the thing, pal- Massimo, or which ever chef you are referencing, spent a LONG time figuring out how to get it right before they could screw up, call it right, and have people agree. Unless you are WORKING for that chef, whatever you tried- you did it wrong. End of story.
4. “So what? It’s not like they are paying for it…”
This one is insidious, because it doesn’t just reflect a lack of discipline, but a lack of respect for one’s own work. At a previous job, I used to have to do cheese puff pastry sticks that were offered for free during Sunday brunch. I hated them. It was the kind of annoying, repetitive task that seemed like there needed to be a more efficient method for. All the same, I always tried to spread the cheese evenly, twist them right, etc- because they were food, and for the customers. Whether or not it’s free is no excuse to half-ass the job.
5. “I’m not paid enough to care about that.”
This one is honestly kinda tricky and nuanced. Someone using this line is likely VERY accustomed to disassociated managers, or leaders that tend to pass the buck. If people making twice their salary don’t show ownership, why should they- ESPECIALLY if it involves decision-making that should have happened farther up the totem pole. It reflects a lack of feeling of ownership, pride in one’s workplace, and faith in one’s managers. Still a bad habit to say, but usually not without some reason.
6. “I’m paid too much to care about that.”
These are the words of an overpromoted shmuck that needs to do a few turns in the dish pit. I have had executives run orders, chefs unclog drains, and owners come in early to coach new employees. If your employees are saying they “aren’t paid enough to care…” look around for someone with THIS attitude, and take them down a few pegs.
7. “It’s European Brown.”
Apparently Europeans like their pastries baked a little darker than Americans. They also like them less sweet, not always covered in icing, or draped in bacon.
Doesn’t matter though- you f***ing burned the cookies, kid.
8. “I was tired/in a hurry/wanted to go home.”
Yeah, that’s all of us, champ. I can’t speak for EVERY restaurant or chef, but I’d rather eat the cost of a little overtime than the cost of product ruined over haste. If the reason you are “hurrying” is because you were faffing around the kitchen or putzing about on your phone, though… let’s just say I know how to make sure you get ALL the home time you want.
9. “It’s how we’ve always done it.”
If you are newly hired into a position of authority over long-time employees, this can be a little tricky. In one respect, it’s YOUR duty to learn and understand how things are done in your new kitchen BEFORE you roll in and start changing things. Unless it’s just something UNIVERSALLY wrong (bad food-handling practice, for example) then they might have a point.
If you’ve been there a while though, or it’s something they should have understood LONG ago… then they are either bullshitting you, or it should have been fixed a long time ago and anyone else should have caught it first.
10. “I didn’t know.”
Look, no one knows everything. You walk in to a new kitchen, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the field- there’s a learning curve. Your previous experience just decides how steep it is.
Not knowing some esoterica of your kitchen- how a certain chore is done or a special preparation they haven’t done before- is acceptable, and to be expected.
“I didn’t know” has a shelf life though. If they are missing or forgetting stuff, they need to be keeping a notebook, or get paired with someone experienced to remind them.
“I didn’t know” is to be expected for the first few months. After a year- or after claiming extensive experience elsewhere- it stales quickly. If you didn’t learn after all this time, you either won’t or don’t want to.
Stay Classy (and own your s***,)
P.S. NEW BOOK COMING OUT MAY 7th!!! Follow me on Facebook or Instagram for updates and details! -BHB