The Reality of Being a Chef Today

I walk into this turkish lounge, called “Hookah Turka” in Bethlehem and take a seat at a table near the door while I wait for Logan to arrive. I order a hazelnut coffee and pull my notes out of my bag. I am just beginning to review what I have written down when I hear the bells on the door chime, indicating that someone has just walked in. I glance up to see Logan arrive and he looks around to find me. We have met before, in passing, so he knew what I looked like. Finally he spots me and gives me a quick wave before turning back to the waitress, engaging her in friendly conversation. After a couple of minutes, he breaks off and makes his way toward me. I stand up to greet him and we shake hands. Logan is about 5’10’’ and has an average build for his height. He has short brown hair, wears glasses, and as I found out, is 21 years old. Logan carries himself with a lot of confidence, it’s clear to see that as he made his way to the table I was sitting at. Out of respect, I will not use Logan’s last name, as he has requested. I also have used images from the internet, since I didn’t go to Lafayette College, due to the campus kitchen being closed at this time, for this interview.

Q: Where did you go to culinary school and why?

A: I went to Northampton Community College. They have a twelve month culinary program. I chose the school because I could afford it, it was local, and it is highly respected among most restaurants in the area.

Q: What did your training at Northampton consist of?

A: We did one to two months of straight book work. After we got our Serve-Safe certification we were allowed to enter the kitchen. We got incrementally more kitchen work as the class went on. For the first six months the classes were segmented into three week sections. If you didn’t pass the section, you didn’t move on. We lost many students as the week went on. The final six months we spent in the kitchen. The class split in half, one went to lunch and the other to dinner service, after three months we switched. We had very little book work at this point. We started the year with 32 kids and ended with 17.

Q: What are some of your favorite things to cook outside of work?

A: When I’m at home, I make bread a lot.

Q: Do you cook a lot with your roommate, who is also a chef, and try out a lot of new dishes?

A: When I’m home I don’t do much experimenting unless it sounds particularly delicious. The thing about cooks is that we work eight to ten hour days cooking, the last thing you want to do when you are home is cook.

Q: Where was the first place that you worked at?

A: “Edge” was the first proper restaurant I worked at. I worked at a Shoprite food court before that, and prior to that I hosted and bused tables at a steak house.

“Edge” is a restaurant on Broad Street in Bethlehem PA. The chef there uses influences from both French and Asian cuisine to create the dishes. It is an upscale restaurant that has gotten very great reviews in the local newspapers.

Q: What was it like working at “Edge”?

A: Working at “Edge” was a good experience for me. It wasn’t a terrific place to work but it was a restaurant gig. The chef had a serious temper and some of the slightest mistakes would set him off. We had a bit of a system where if we would mess up, we would try to fix it long before the chef would notice or see it.

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Q: What were some of your duties and responsibilities on a regular basis?

A: My duties were keeping my station stocked with my menu items and ensuring that the chef orders anything I needed later in the week. More of my duties were things like cleaning and cutting calamari, making crab cakes, cleaning mussels and oysters, making gnocchi, cleaning my fryer, so on and so forth. Also, the production and plating of my dishes were my responsibility. One of the last responsibilities, which was neglected by a few, was to help out your partner if he wound up in the weeds.

Q: What does “in the weeds” mean?

A: In the weeds is the term for having your line covered with order tickets.

Q: At “Edge” did you have to follow a strict recipe or was some creativity allowed?

A: At “Edge” I did have to follow a recipe but I wouldn’t say strict. As long as the product was consistent with the recipe he gave me, the chef was cool with it. As far as the creativity, whenever we were slow or bored we would just start playing around with food. That is how we came up with new menu specials.

Q: Did you like working in such a high quality restaurant? Why or why not?

A: I enjoyed the products we made. Making high end, high quality, to order food is fun.

Q: What was your favorite thing and least favorite thing about working at “Edge”?

A: My favorite thing was seeing my skills improve. From day one to my last day, there was a significant difference in how I handled things. My least favorite thing was the chef’s temper. When he started getting in a huff, you kept your head down and your work tight. He threatened to fire somebody and threatened to quit multiple times.

Q: You had said that you saw a significant difference from where you started at “Edge” to your last day. What are some of the things that you saw yourself improve on?

A: The difference between the first and last day was my ability to get the orders out faster and prep faster. Also simply being able to handle the pressure of having a ton of orders in your face.

Q: Now you work at Lafayette College, what are some of your responsibilities there?

A: At Lafayette I work the global station. Most days it is a saute station. So generally without a recipe I make a sauce from scratch, julienne vegetable (which means to cut into strips essentially), prepare a protein either from scratch or from leftovers from other stations. Then when service starts, kids line up and I cook a saute dish to order. The station has gotten a good reputation since my roommate, who is another culinary graduate, and I have been working on the station. Most kids know our names and know we have the best food in the court.

Q: How do you prepare your sauce from scratch?

A: To be completely honest I just kind of toss ingredients in a bowl until it tastes the way I want. If I am not sure what goes in it, I google it and just throw in the ingredients without measuring.

Q: Do you get a chance to change up the sauces or do you have to stick to a strict recipe?

A: The menu is different day to day, I have to follow the menu, not a recipe.

Drake-Dining

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Q: What are some similarities and differences of working at “Edge” versus working at Lafayette?

A: There are almost no similarities short of food being involved. The food court I work at is all you care to eat so the food has to be prepared differently. Also, everyone that works here is significantly less trained than myself and my roommate. The corporate state of minds is difference from the private owner state of mind. They focus a lot more on not getting sued than any amount of quality or speed. They will call it safety but you know they are just covering their asses from being sued.

They also care less about their employees. At “Edge” my chef may have had a temper, but he and the owners above him always did little things to make us feel wanted. We got a small Christmas bonus, they would go out and buy us pizza or doughnuts if it was an early or late or both day. The company that holds the contract in Lafayette has done nothing but piss their employees off.

Q: What is the best part of working at Layfette? And the worst?

A: Currently the best thing is the students. The students appreciate the food far more than my bosses do. I talk to the students while I make them food. Some don’t want to carry conversation but a few talk to me. It makes the day go by. Many of them come to my station simply because I’m cooking, they have no idea why I am cooking. You don’t have enough room on your paper for me to start listing the bad things so let’s just go with incompetency and ignorance.

Q: Do you know where you get the food that you make? Is it all made from scratch or do you get anything frozen in?

A: I have no clue where we get the food. It comes off a truck a few times a week, that is all I know on that front. My station is mostly from scratch, same with the pizza and the salad stations. The other stations use frozen food, prepared food and such. It is a lot more from scratch than it used to be but we aren’t making food like they claim we make food.

Q: How important is healthy food in the kitchen?

A: I would say healthy food is thought of but not the most important thing. We have a salad station and a pure station which consists of food that is gluten food, meat free, etc. There are options for those that are more health conscious.

Q: Does the college make a conscious effort to make healthier food for the students or do they mostly get unhealthy food because it’s cheaper?

A: It’s not so much that we make unhealthy food because it’s cheaper but because students will eat it. For example, if on the main dinner station we serves Tzatziki Chicken with Cous-cous, nobody would eat it. It could be the best thing you have ever eaten in your entire life but because college kids are so deathly afraid of something different they will outright avoid it like the plague and go right to where the burgers are being made. They will eat it if they know what it is and that is it. So we would wind up having to throw away perfectly food good because 98% of college students are too picky to eat anything but fried chicken and meatloaf. So many cooks have adopted the thinking of “If they demand dog shit, feed them dog shit.”

 

That is where we left off for the evening. We had a lot of conversation in between the questions and it was going on 10 pm by the time we finally decided it was time to leave. I learned a lot about Logan and what he does at his job in this interview. It is very clear to see that he is very passionate about cooking as a whole, and knows a lot about it after being fairly new to the culinary industry. He is very honest about his job and his opinions about what goes on there. He made some very interesting points about why colleges don’t make healthier or fancier dishes for the students that I understand and can agree with. Overall, learning more about the food that colleges serve is always interesting because it affects students that choose to eat campus food on a regular basis.

Blog Post by: Emily Fenstermaker

 

 

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