May the Fourth Be With You, Y'All
An homage to the Kitchen Force, from Chef André Natera.
May 3, 2016
ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is." –Yoda
The line is at capacity, and orders are coming in faster than we can send them out. Steaks are on the grill, fish is in the pan, and the wheels are about to fall off the bus.
I shout to my grill cook to put the steak back on the grill: it’s not done yet. He argues that it is, it’s medium. I assure him it’s rare, so he gives it a second feel. He concedes: I was right, and the steak goes back. When he asks how I knew, all the way from where I stand at expo, I tell him it’s The Force. We all laugh, except I’m not joking.
I have no other way to describe the sixth sense that has inexplicably affixed itself to my awareness after years of grinding in the kitchen. It’s knowing exactly how long a steak takes without ever looking at a clock, a kinesthetic confidence. It’s smelling something and somehow knowing it needs more salt.
I don’t know how this sense is developed, but I know it exists, and I know it take years to manifest. Watching videos on YouTube, looking at pictures on Instagram, drooling over the latest cookbook doesn’t spontaneously generate your Force — but burning stuff definitely does. Make stock every day for year and you know the color of the bones, and how long they were roasted to get them there. You can feel the levels of bay leaf and thyme. When someone messes with your stock, you know exactly what’s different, because you and that stock are one.
The Dark Side is tempting. Skip a few positions, get promoted, and call the shots yourself — but there is no something for nothing in this world, and the kitchen is no exception. It’s better to pay your dues while you're still the one learning in a kitchen rather than the one at the helm. You must work every position in the kitchen at length to fully develop The Force, and make countless mistakes.
The Force saves me. I don’t know how many times I’ve almost burned an entire sheet pan of steaks, only to snap into action at the right second. It’s not a shadowy magic trick passed on to deserving chefs since the days of Escoffier — it’s a skill just like any other. There’s no Jedi formula for intuition, and when you have it, everyone knows it. You work differently, you can taste without tasting, and know when a dish wont work before ever even making it. You will become efficient in your movements, mentally sharp, and have the ability to see the future.