Sous Chef, A Walk Down Memory Lane

When I was in college I worked in an institutional kitchen in a very large hospital. In addition to feeding all the patients it had a very large cafeteria that feed a lot of people. During meal times the kitchen was chaotic but it was an organized chaos. I have many memories of those days. For example, one day I was assigned to soups and sides. Soups were made in these large vats called steam jacketed kettles. Let me just say soup got extremely hot in those babies. My job was to get the soup out to the cafeteria. I was five feet tall and weighed about 110 pounds, the kettles were at least three feet high maybe four feet. The “ladle” for lack of a better word looked like a big metal pitcher. I remember reaching down into the kettle unable to accurately gauge the level of the soup and hearing in my head my brain screaming in agony. The pain was so overwhelming I could not even verbally express myself. Luckily one of the cooks saw what was going on and grabbed me to administer first aid. I don’t know if I ever thanked her enough. I think this is when I began to formulate my thinking that food was not my friend. Despite this little mishap I had a lot of good times and enjoyed working with my colleagues.

As if my brain hadn’t warned me enough that day, my first job out of college was as an assistant manager of you guessed it a kitchen. This is where I got my experience as a sous chef. Ah but I said I was the assistant manager. The job description of assistant manager in the kitchen I worked in was, you are responsible for every job. This kitchen was not a top notch kitchen, far from it. In fact when I first started there the cook made lasagna with American cheese. I can all hear you gagging. I know I did. That changed in short order.

Here is where I got some great sous chef experience, although calling myself a sous chef is really stretching it.  Some of the Head Cooks I worked with liked to drink just a wee bit too much.  My favorite head cook who was assigned to catering which was my special love handled his liquor very well.  It amazed me how well the prime rib was prepared considering he was toasted.  Another head cook did not hold his liquor well at all.  Luckily I did not have to deal with him much.  Not on my shift.  And one assistant cook forgot he had a job and either did not show up or showed up late all the time. Unfortunately that made me assistant cook too many times  I fired his ass but I did learn a lot.  I also realized the wonderful world of food was a nice hobby but I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life.  I went back to school and got a degree in computers.  I love computers they are so logical and they don’t wave knives in your face.  Did I mention that happened to me as well.

The book the Sous Chef is written almost like a documentary.  It details how the kitchen works in a fine dining establishment.  The hierarchy of the kitchen is almost like the class system in England.  Everyone has a place and a function.  When the staff gets along the kitchen runs like a well oiled machine.  It might look like chaos to the outsider but it all works. Sometimes in my head I compare a well run kitchen with a well run orchestra. The Chef is the conductor and while he or she is not conducting the 1812 overture, there is a melodic feel to the atmosphere.   If you really want to know what it is like to work in a professional kitchen than you need to read this book.

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