#ChefColumns: Matthew Gaudet, West Bridge

The Domino Effect, and old-school rage in the new-school.

August 18, 2015 ● 3 min read

It’s 8:30 in the morning and the restaurant is calling. You’ve got to be fucking kidding.  

Do I ignore it, joining the leagues of gutless assholes who would let it ring, because it’s my precious day off? Or do I do the right thing, and answer? I know why they’re calling—someone didn’t show.  

Your fellow cooks are your family, and the honor of working amongst them sometimes comes with a price. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve come in on my day off, even as a line cook, in an effort to rescue the lives of an overextended and equally exhausted kitchen brigade. We don’t have “extra” employees in the restaurant business. Back-ups, stand-ins, human mulligans—those don’t exist, so when someone inevitably grabs hold of the meat slicer and hacks half their thumb off, everyone else picks up the slack. That’s the beauty of kitchen life: there is no “no.” It all gets done.  

From dish to prep to line cook and from busser to server, we lean on each other like a house of cards; pull one out and everyone works double time to hold it together. Morale takes a hit. There are the chronic call-out characters, whose standing within the kitchen clubhouse diminishes at exponentially dangerous speeds. That’s why you will never see a line cook worth a grain a salt, call out sick, ever, and why the breed of human that evolves from the morass of the restaurant gene pool has a tougher constitution than the typical citizen.  

The domino effect of losing one of your staff puts a strain every other individual left behind. It can either cause a ripple or collateral fucking damage, but either way, the team is only as strong as its numbers.
Quality suffers as cooks rush through their newly acquired, unfamiliar prep. Saturday afternoon, no dishwasher? There goes any hope of mising out that lamb special I was hoping to move; those thirty minutes will now be used to make repeated phone calls to other restaurants hoping they have an extra guy or a daytime worker looking to pick up some cash tonight. The guests are coming in, whether or not random cook #2 decides that this job isn’t for him and strolls out into the sunset.  

It’s an unwritten law that cooks have each other’s backs. But here’s the thing: these days, we are a widely-respected industry, media darlings exposed in open kitchens, and it’s no secret that we “old guard” chefs battle with the fundamental differences in the character of the younger generation of cooks.

Fifteen years ago, cooks lived an under-the-radar, counterculture existence. Now, we’re expected to be role models, not the dirge of society. Now I find myself as more of a motivational coach, a soothing psychiatrist attempting to foster teaching moments, not the stereotypical manic, screaming, perfectionist chef I once was. The image of the embattled, chef-as-starving-artist has made way for the upstanding trendsetter, and the need to persevere is no longer as great as the need to set an example for a culture based upon hospitality, service and integrity.  

Yeah, I miss those days of battling away in the trenches when I was a cook, but as a manager and business owner, the true heroes are the ones that are dependable and durable, not the broken ones that barely find a way to make it through service every other night. For over a year now, we’ve been stitch and skin graft free amongst all the cooks.  

A little loyalty goes a long way. The real victories are when the team as a whole comes together to provide, to the best of their abilities, the food and the service each other and the guests are expecting. We need to place a value on being there for each other. The crew holds their own together, keeping each other motivated and out of the shits.  

Everyone from dish to busser, cook to server needs to receive the same respect in order to protect the collective. Disappointing your equals by being that lone shitbag that left everyone hanging, is equal to flicking over that first domino. Keep that from happening and everyone stays happy, proud and productive.  

By Matthew Gaudet | Photo via Galdones Photography