Life Lessons From Working in a Restaurant (and Writing About Food)


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Is this crow vegetarian?
  • "Is this crow vegetarian?"
The comments of this post have been bothering me for weeks now. I know, don’t read the comments. But I do. I read all the comments on all the posts. I try not to let the trolls get to me (to be fair, my trolls seem to be more decent as humans than some of the Pith trolls), but it wasn’t the trolls that got to me. It was a misunderstanding. The real downside of social media is that it’s difficult to have a real discussion, to discern meaning and intent and to make immediate corrections when you’re wrong.

The reason I bring this up today is I just read a fun piece at Thought Catalog, 23 Life Lessons You Get From Working at a Restaurant, and I was reminded of that post. Particularly Lesson No. 13, part of which reads, “The best friend anyone can have is a good chef.” Indeed.

I spent several years in the restaurant business when I was very young, starting as a hostess and moving on to server and later at the corporate office of a franchised fast-food restaurant. Though I didn’t work in a restaurant where anyone referred to themselves as a chef, I always knew how important it was to be particularly kind to the kitchen. You really have to be kind to everyone, though, because restaurants are tightly woven communities. Piss off the wrong person as a server, and you don’t make any money, whether it’s because your tables aren’t clean, your section doesn’t get seated, or you get terrible sections and/or shifts to begin with.

Anyway, one thing I didn’t learn was what exactly a chef is.

As I mention in the comments, but what may have been missed, is that somewhere along the line (maybe watching too much Top Chef), I got the idea that “chef” was a professional designation for someone who’d completed some type of official schooling or passed a test. Like “CPA” or “PMP.” I was certainly not trying to insult anyone who cooks professionally and hasn’t attended a culinary program.

If you’re paid to cook, you definitely deserve a level of respect, though I’ll reserve most of mine for people other than Paula Deen. In short, I apologize to any cook or chef I offended.

Cooking professionally at any level and in any kitchen is hard work, not for the weak at heart or foot or back. And coming up with your own recipes and cooking them on a massive scale with the precision to deliver consistency day in, day out? That takes skill and talent. Definitely worthy of respect.

On that note, thanks to the final two “life lessons” from the list — about that favorite item and going back to have it after you’ve left — reminds me of one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

When I worked at a meat-and-three (that is no longer in business), one of the cooks made a strawberry cobbler from her own recipe. She only made it when strawberries were in season locally, and it was so popular it usually sold out quickly. But I was able to have several servings myself, and I will never forget it. And I’ve never had anything as good.


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