The Five Cooks Every Chef Knows

The good, the bad, the ugly.

January 14, 2016 ● 3 min read

Whether you've worked with one or all of them (or hell, maybe you ARE one of them), everybody in a kitchen recognizes these cooks. Chef Richie Nakano explains.   

The 40-Year-Old Bitter Line Cook

Line cooking is for the young, and yet here is Jared, the angry 40-year-old dude on sauté. Jared is always mad and always talking about how great cooking in New York was in the 90s, and he's very sweaty. Jared mutters to himself when his station gets busy, and despite having never been a sous chef, he believes he should be next in line to become chef de cuisine. He works sloppily, and makes tons of mistakes, yet somehow has snaked his way into getting paid $19 an hour. Eventually he will get fired for cussing out a food runner, but as he tells it, he was going to quit anyway.

The Cook Who’s Staged Everywhere

“Well, when I staged at Osteria Francescana we would make the risotto to order, Massimo said there was no other way to eat risotto.”

“Well, when I staged at McCrady’s we would just keep all of the sauces in the alto-shaam and work froths using an aquarium pump…it's really a better system than you guys have here.”

“Well, when I staged at Nihonryori RyuGin I wasn't actually allowed to look anyone in the eye but…”

Everyone has met this person: they have staged everywhere and worked nowhere. They're always telling you about some “better” way to do things yet only have a vague idea of how to execute it. They are the worst, and when tasked with making family meal, they make a hateful Thai curry. Avoid at all costs.

The Career Changer With Regrets

No sane chef would wish the rigors and brutality of a professional kitchen on their parents, and yet the new mid-life crisis seems to have less to do with buying a fancy sports car and more to do with getting into a mountain of debt and learning to make velouté. Every kitchen has seen it; the much older, super green pantry cook with the gaunt look on their face. The dreams of creating and playing chef have been traded for long nights being elbows deep in salads and desserts, and before long there's a minor meltdown, and a switch to a catering company.

The Cook Who Takes All of Their Breaks/Is Too Friendly With The HR Person

Labor laws are complex and very necessary, and often completely overlooked by cooks. The general rule is “pay me for my hours and I will give zero fucks about taking my breaks.” Except for that one dude that takes his 30 minute break to sit down and eat family meal every day (despite how weeded the kitchen may be) and takes his 15 minutes at the end of the night (despite all of the other cooks starting to break down the kitchen in a desperate attempt to make it to the bar before midnight.) He's on a first name basis with the HR lady, and often refers to specific points laid out in the employee handbook. Everyone hates him.

The Insanely Talented Cook Who Only Kinda Likes Cooking

There's always that one cook that absolutely crushes service overnight, puts out the best plates, keeps the cleanest station, and generally makes the kitchen a lovely place to be. And yet this is only a temporary station for them…they're thinking about maybe becoming a paralegal, or traveling in Southeast Asia, or possibly doing some yoga teacher training. Chefs will try to talk them into staying, into being promoted, offering more money, better hours, ANYTHING. And yet six months down the road they are gone, popping back in here and there to cover shifts when they need some funds. They are the best and then the worst and every kitchen has one.

By Richie Nakano | Illustrations by May Parsey