Updated: Jul 20
The tyrant chef, a thing of legend, the jewel of the food network. People seem to love watching a chef humiliate and degrade someone for poorly prepared food. But then they ask me, another chef, is this real or just Hollywood? It's real, and sometimes worse than you see on TV;
You’re in his way. The order didn’t come in quick enough. We've run out of steak tartare. These are some of the minor inconveniences I have seen trigger full-on breakdowns from adult men in restaurant kitchens. But this is normal, right? Because in a restaurant, with the long hours, pressure to work quickly, and rampant drug culture, aggression and rage are as commonplace as bad arm tattoos and beards. Professional kitchens are confrontational. They are busy. And if you can’t take the heat, then maybe you should get out of the fucking kitchen.
The first question might be, what is the basis for this behaviour?
Borne from the strict hierarchies of traditional hotel and restaurant kitchens, perpetuated over generations by aggressive (and often male) chefs, and finally, glamorised by television personalities like Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White, the angry chef trope permeates the restaurant industry.
I also was born into this mayhem of sorts. Often berated, having things thrown at me, belittled, etc. But not just myself, serving staff were often brought to tears by the chef.
While many would see these profanity-filled outbursts as a relic of early-noughties kitchen culture, the conversation around aggressive chef behaviour resurfaced this week, after Channel 4 shared a montage of Gordon Ramsay's worst Kitchen Nightmares moments on Twitter. The chef, who has created a multi-million pound television persona from emotionally abusing staff and failing business owners, is seen verbally exploding at staff in clips from the show, which ran from 2004 to 2014. “You bullshitting little fucker,” he screams at one chef, over some chopped potatoes. “You stuck up, precious little bitch,” he says in another clip.
Now if you’re thinking the majority of head chefs out there are tyrannical, egomaniacal overlords you’d be wrong. In fact, the majority of the top chefs in the country right now, like Thomas Keller, David Burke and Eric Ripert are not prone to screaming and yelling. In fact, Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York City is known for embracing a more inclusive and collaborative approach in the kitchen. Chef Martin explains says, “[He] has a reputation of inviting ideas to come from below. He takes those ideas and uses those ideas as a seed to executing perfection. When a cook…comes up with an idea for a dish, and the chef takes that and runs with it and really sees it come into fruition – the level of teamwork is unbelievable. Also, the level of confidence in the cook is unbelievable, it gets raised unbelievably. And then, if the level of confidence in the cook is there, he could execute his job because he believes in himself then.”
So what are we to make of the fact that the archetype of the angry, yelling chef is so popular in the zeitgeist of today? Answer: take it with a grain of salt. In reality, it probably has much more to do with reality TV and ratings than accurately portraying how the most successful and productive chefs manage their kitchens nowadays. And as for Gordon Ramsay himself, Chef Martin Gilligan had the honor of meeting him when he hosted the Silver Spoon Award for Food Arts Magazine in 1996 and says he was “the most gentle guy in the world, the kindest guy in the world.” In Chef Martin’s opinion, “When he gets on that Hell’s Kitchen show, he is literally taking what this article is kind of talking about, he’s taking that old style of kitchen management and he is bringing it into light and bringing it into this next generation, where it’s really not accepted at all.”
So, to conclude, is it really necessary for a Chef to embrace this seemingly old school methodology in the modern kitchen? Yes and no. Yes, because it helps you to develop a backbone in a world that is soft and fragile. You can't say anything about anyone without getting in trouble it seems. We walk on eggshells regarding everything, madness! On the other hand perhaps chefs go a little to far with the heavy hand. Chefs need to learn a little more about what motivates individuals, and how to get the best out of there staff. I have often said "I can teach you to cook, but you will have to learn how to lead people". Another good one is "Manage things and lead people". Not the other way around. I'm currently offering a Professional Development Program online, not specifically for chefs, but for anyone looking to improve there quality of life. You can check it out HERE.
Cheers, and have a great weekend!