How to Talk to the Kitchen Without Getting Hurt

In twenty years of working in the bar and restaurant industry I have to say that cooks, hands down, are the crabbiest, most volatile members of this business.  Don’t get me wrong, there a lot of cooks that I adore and respect, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t berate me at the drop of a dime and make me cry for asking if we could please substitute something else for the octopus infused scallion glaze.

All cooks, from short order cooks to Michelin starred chefs, are a different breed of humans.  How else could they spend countless hours over a hot grill for a laughable sum of money?  Key West line cooks tend to be cranky because it’s hot in that kitchen and they are tired and broke because they party too much.  Key West chefs tend to be cranky too because it’s hot in that kitchen, they are tired and broke because they party too much plus, despite years of culinary expertise, they receive very little recognition.

Feuds with the kitchen are common, namely because they see the job of a bartender or  server as an overpaid cake walk while we see them as slow, temperamental, sweaty people who like to give us a hard time.  Discerning which side is right or wrong is a slippery slope because we do indeed hawk their creations.  When customers gush that the food is great, we say “Thank you, I know!” and proceed to take all the credit and the handsome tip money.  But when something out of the same kitchen is amiss, we take none of the blame and throw our dear kitchen under the proverbial bus.

Cooks can get away with being angry and crabby because

  1. They carry knives,
  2. They work in a hot, sweaty kitchen with flames, burners and steam all damn day,
  3. They are constantly reminded how much more everyone else is making by selling their concoctions, and most importantly,
  4. They do not deal with the public.

Developing Détente between the kitchen and bar staff is crucial to ensuring a peaceful (ie non-homicidal) work environment and to keeping your customers happy.  Many of us know that an unhappy, maniac cook can literally ruin your income during a shift.  I’ve always found that going out of my way to be nice to the cooks works to my advantage.  Buy them a drink at the end of their shift, pay them a compliment, tell them you appreciate their work or even tip them out.  Sure it’s a form of ass kissing, but more than that it’s “self-ass-saving.”

Before I say anything further that may incriminate me, I am going to allow my dear friend, Chef Martha Hubbard to plead the case of the cooks:

CHEF MARTHA’S Rules for Kitchen Diplomacy:

“Pissing off the kitchen is the easiest thing to do on the planet!  “How Not To Piss Off the Kitchen” could be an entire book on its own. We are, as a whole, the most insecure egomaniacs alive!  You see, the Back of the House will ALWAYS have a grudge against the Front of the House based on the premise that despite making less money, if we, the Back of the House, did not make the food, then the Front, aka “the messengers,” would NOT have a JOB!

I took a vow of poverty 20 plus years ago to cook well thought-out, tasty food for people and the last thing any cook wants to hear is how much cash any waiter or bartender has made that shift!  Whenever some snotty little waiter walks into the hot, sweaty, balls to the wall kitchen and bitches that they have only walked with a couple hundred dollars that night, well then they deserve to lose a digit or two!  The best à la mode to that would be then asking for any “snacks” or if there is any extra food for them to eat because they are soooooo hungry!!  Poor souls!  So when I ask if they have any extra tips they don’t need to act as if I am the one who’s fucking nuts!!

Cooks are like dogs, feed us a bone and we will do anything for the Front of the House!  The number one rule with the kitchen is be respectful.  Being nice and polite will get you what you want from us especially if you can avoid making stupid requests.  People are stupid and diners for the most part do not know how to dine anymore!  Kitchen people put their heart and soul into every plate and when people want to rewrite a menu, I just want to go out there and ask these people where they live and go rearrange their house for them so that it suits me better!  Oh, and FUCKING VEGAN’S!  Seriously, Do not let them into a place that serves meat!”

Thank you Chef Martha!

(Martha Hubbard is a world renown chef whose culinary talents have been experienced in San Francisco, Maui, Bangkok, Portland and right here in Key West.   Many people rave about her scrumptious creations like domes made from Ahi Tuna and truffle laced soups but most folks don’t know that her breakfast hash browns are to die for!  Martha can still ride a long board and out-cook any cocky punk newbie fresh out of culinary school!   Her pet peeve is witnessing a waiter serve a bottle of Opus One from their sweaty armpit with their tongue sticking out.  For more than a decade, Chef Martha has blissfully cohabited with a bartender.  Martha will be on loan to Key West from Portland this season, cooking up spectacular things at Louie’s Backyard through May 2011.)


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