So, I blogged the other night of me, many years ago, being dunked in a sink of iced water, then having a Pig Bin thrown over my head. This happened on my last day of work after a two year stint in the kitchen. It was done by fellow chefs, who respected me as a friend, a chef and a colleague.
Again, I retain my Devils Advocate status on this blog.
Why did they do it?
What makes it acceptable for a group of people to subject a fellow member of staff to that? Surely its bullying? both psychological and physical? Violent conduct? Physical abuse? Gross Misconduct? In truth, it’s all of these, so why did they risk possible discipline and even termination of their employment?
To them, it wasn’t about that, To them it was about sending a fellow chef on his way in style, with a bit of fun thrown in. To them there was nothing wrong in what they did. It’s a kitchen thing. And to those reading this who have never worked in that sort of environment or had any dealings with anyone who has, it is difficult to understand and not be appalled by what goes on, and I understand the feelings that you may have or thoughts running through your head when you read this, although, being in this type of environment 24/7, some of your thoughts and reactions may escape me. I’ve been seeing this for nearly twenty years, and over that time i have changed, mellowed, grown up, become responsible, and calmed down. But, and I refer to the title, these sorts of goings on, happen in kitchens, around the globe. And begs the question, yet again, does it help or hinder?
A kitchen, can be a stressful environment, there are many types, from your MacDonald’s to your Michelin kitchens. Of course there will be different types of stress levels and staff deal with them int he way they choose. But how do you cope with that stress? Banging your head against a wall, just won’t do. It hurts, and you look silly. Some say laughter is the best medicine, but if your’e all out on a Saturday night service, annoyed because checks keep coming on, staff are making mistakes, the restaurant manager’s gone AWOL, then you don’t really want to start grinning at people, it’s not going to make you feel any better. But get over that service, and that’s a hard one done with for at least another day. You can clear down, relax a little, do your orders, mise-en-place lists for the next day, whatever you have to do.
Can some light hearted banter alleviate the anger? Of course it can, a few smutty jokes, some gentle ribbing of fellow staff members, that sort of thing, keeps the spirits up yet harms no one. But when you come to Kitchen pranks, that’s when some people think different.
The following are things I have seen, been part of, heard about, read about or been told about.
Hiding in someone’s locker and jumping out screaming when they open it.
Submerging a chef’s knives in a bucket of water and putting it in the freezer overnight.
Pulling a chair away from someone as they go to sit down.
Putting them in an oven and shutting the door.
Covering your face with Chocolate mousse and giving a waitress a kiss.
Holding them down and dropping food on their face.
Soaking them with the steamer hose.
Doing service wearing a pair of knickers outside of your trousers.
Gaffer taping them to various machinery.
Filling their shoes with Chocolate Mousse.
Filling a pair of chefs trousers with clothing, fitting some shoes to the end and putting them under a shelf in a very full fridge, waiting for someone to come in and then wiggle the leg making sounds lie your’e trapped and waiting for the scream………Okay, I’ll admit to that one, and she screamed really loud.
The list truly does go on. But in my experience, it NEVER got in the way of work, in any way, shape or form, it NEVER interrupted the progression of the job. I wouldn’t allow that to happen. If we were that busy, we got on with it.
Now reading back over that list, those who have worked in kitchens will nod with understanding, thinking, you should have tried this one, or, I never tried that. Those who have no experience of kitchens may be abhorred or have even stopped reading, but it just goes down to understanding that environment. If you don’t then you probably will never understand it. It isn’t an office job, we aren’t florists, or telephone engineers, we are CHEFS.
Do the clients see what goes on? Not on your life!!
Do they ever hear about it? If they read this then yes.
As I said before,from my experience, in no way does it affect the job, so it won’t affect the guests experience of eating.
Does it bring the brigade together in a sense of togetherness in times of stress and turmoil? Yes it does, because you are going through the same shit together.
Take these two photos………………..
This was a very busy day for us, we had possibly, four or five functions on the bounce, were working 12 hour plus days, with little breaks, tension was high, people were tired, but we found ten minutes to take a breather, and Ensign Chekov’s new car was born. Now some may think, WTF, but to those who were there that day, that ten minutes was the difference in retaining our sanity and going completely mad, it WAS one of those days. I can’t remember where the toy came from, but he stayed in the kitchen for over a year, when you pressed a button on his back he spoke, there wasn’t a week that went by without someone pressing him. But chefs understand this.
In my own view, do pranks help or hinder? As long as they are controlled, and the people involved understand, then it helps. There are lines you don’t cross, people can get upset, or hurt, accidentally of course, but it could happen, and thats’s when you have to take a good look at yourself and what you are doing.
But I still talk about things I’ve seen or heard about, years later. One of my favourites, and this happened before I started work at my first job. The sous chef was teaching a commis, and that particular day he was cooking lobster in large roasting trays on the stove top. “Youv’e got to keep them moving, if they turn orange, they’re fucked! do that and they’ll be trouble” (he didn’t actually say the last part, but you get the drift).”Keep shaking the trays, DO NOT LET THEM CHANGE COLOUR”
Anyway, anyone who knows about these things, knows that when raw lobster gets hot, it changes colour, the commis, didn’t. So five minutes later a terrified commis is shaking the beJesus out of the roasting tray, screaming “Chefffffffffff!!!!! It’s turning orange and it won’t stop!!” I think it’s funny, and so do fellow chefs, because they’ve also taken their own fair share of these jokes.
We’ve all been sent to the stores for a long stand, the souffle pump, some chicken lips, a left handed palette knife etc etc, it happens in kitchens, usually to commis, but we have all been there and had it done to us. I’ve been put in sinks four times in my life, only one of them was for leaving. Did I get offended? No. Did I think it’s wrong? No, because I understood where they were coming from when they did it.
Would I stop all these pranks from happening in a kitchen I was running? To an extent yes, but for reasons I may make clear at a later date, and they are valid.
It’s up to each individual Chef to govern his kitchen how he sees fit, some may tolerate it, some may get involved, some may not let anything happen like that at all, and fair play to those who choose their own way of doing things.
Camaraderie, that’s what it is to me, I understand it, I know why it’s done, I’m mature enough………..to know the rights and wrongs, and I see the help it brings.
It took three days before I stopped smelling peppers after my first time, and smelling them still brings back those memories.