To avoid some traps for young players I feel compelled to offer some advice observed from way too many hours in the rough and tumble of professional kitchens. Call it Chefs, and how to spot them in their natural habitat.

Genus: Michelinus starribus; classification: Cursus maximus

Points are given (out of ten) for each species that you may have inhabiting your kitchen, a low score is excellent, a high score should have the alarm bells ringing.

The Pedigreed Slouch, also known as the Know–all, or Mr Europe: First thing that you notice is its casual air of superiority. Its CV is long and littered with all the right names. Once working it makes repeated and ill-timed references to previous methods in other, better kitchens. Like some sort of defense mechanism, the Slouch will, when under the pump, start a frenzied monologue of how things were done at Le Manoir Quat Saisons whilst getting deeper and deeper in the shit. Usually this ends with the Slouch being rescued by an apprentice and then promptly walking out shamefaced.
Score 8

The Meringue Chef: This one is easy to spot. When the mayo and custard is being made, the Meringue Chef will proudly display its plumage. It starts by asking anyone within hearing distance, especially apprentices: ‘What do you do with the egg whites?’ When the customary answer of ‘Oh, just chuck ‘em out’ is heard, the M.C. ‘Tut, Tuts’ loudly and then follows with, ‘What about making a meringue, or something?’

At this point anyone hearing this must gather every egg white in the building and let it make meringue. This will last until the M.C. learns that everyone else is about to go on a break except the M.C. itself. This scenario lasts for about two days when the M.C. either morphs into a common garden variety chef or leaves.
Score 7

The Burn-Out: Usually lean, wiry and slump shouldered with recessed bulging eyes ringed by dark black lines, five-day growth bristling over skin of a deathly grey pallor. Its uniforms are usually grimy, jaundiced and putrid smelling. The Burn Out infects all who come in contact with it with the fetid aroma of defeat, malice and cynicism. Should anyone thus be infected, remove them immediately from the kitchen and make them watch chirpy Jamie Oliver videos.
Score 9

The Job-Hopper: Can be confusing to spot as initially it can appear to be an incredible find. Sadly cracks start to appear usually when you are busy/short staffed/under pressure etc. the Job Hopper will take offence very quickly and start to find fault with the position and or business and once it digs up a nugget of justification, whoosh! Its off!
Score 5

The Gold Nugget or, common Garden Variety Chef. These are EXTREMELY RARE. Once spotted it is to be protected at all costs. It will always understand you, be there in the tough as well as the good times, work hard and has the best demeanor. Importantly they have a real passion and talent for cooking and are genuinely interested in what they do. They make up for all the other
species’ shortcomings.
Score 0

The Hack, also once known as The Cowboy: It has the potential to do irreversible damage your kitchen. The Hack has a way to cut even the sharpest of corners. It will never set up adequately, order properly, execute the dishes as intended or keep the place clean. It has learned a cunning and canny way of saying what Owners want to hear in order to stay in the shadows. It usually gets found out when the other chefs tired of carrying it, revolt in a nasty show of solidarity.
Score 9

The Eager-Beaver: It is like a breath of fresh air. Always chipper and enthusiastic, the Eager-Beaver has an at times manic display of good cheer. This can be a little disconcerting and wear you down at times but its sunny presence in the kitchen balances the scales nicely.
Score 2

The Calamity Jane: This species is quite tricky to uncover. Firstly busies itself by making itself indispensable, as if making a nest. Then when securely embedded it reveals its true self. It starts by asking for time off due to an unforeseeable event, then moving on to leaving early on a regular basis because of a crisis at home. Just when this behavior becomes intolerable it has a major calamity requiring yet more time off. Whilst you are sympathetic, the excuses become more and more fantastic until it no longer resembles what you had originally employed.
Score 7

The Substance abuser: This species can actually cut the mustard which makes it even more disappointing that they frequently let the side down. Often when they are needed most, say a busy night, will be the exact time it chooses to get utterly munted the night before. The Substance Abuser has an innate ability to determine when they are needed the most before succumbing to a drug fuelled bender.
Score 9

The Bully: Foul tempered and nasty, The Bully stomps around generally miserable in any environment. It loves to bait and attack waiters. It has to be constantly monitored and another person must always be present when observing it to witness its frequent tirades of belligerence. Probably the nastiest of then entire species and to be avoided at all costs.
Score 9

The Rock Star: Works at all the new hip places, knows all the movers and shakers in the industry, the photographers and the foodie journos. Never lasts long in any kitchen as it has a tendency to avoid any kind of kitchen work at all costs. It is sharply dressed, well kitted out with all the right hand forged knives but sadly never lives up to its hype. Suffers from the culinary equivalent of “difficult second album syndrome”.
Score 7

The Mad Professor: Always wanting to add a foam this or an emulsion that, particularly to a recognizable dish like bacon and eggs. Does not know when to leave food alone. Always tinkering with dishes and adding things that frankly will not go together. Gets super annoyed when overwhelmingly intricate specials get overlooked by customers just wanting a nice steak please.
Score 6

The Jamie Wannabe or the Ben O Donahue minor: Come into kitchens with the specific aim to become a celebrity chef at all costs. Surprising to see them in a kitchen at all as they are usually found at casting calls for the next reality TV cooking show, ready to sob at a moment’s notice and plea to stay on to fulfill their dream of becoming a celebrity, I mean chef
Score 5

The Provenance monk: Can be tricky as they will not cook anything that has come from beyond a self imposed radius of their kitchen. This could be difficult should their kitchen be located in any CBD. Note: the smaller the radius the more hard core they appear to be.
Score 5

The chef farmer: Like its Provenance monk cousin, it will bore everyone to death by recounting how it saved a rare breed from extinction, made its own mangy smallgoods, grew its own edible weeds from seed and hand churned its own butter from milk from its own cow. Deluded in thinking this stuff has never been done before. Yawn.
Score 5

The Owner’s relative: Dangerous. Will observe every move you make, copy every recipe you write and report it all back to the owner. When they feel they have gleaned enough information to get rid of you and save a bucket load of cash in your wage, you’ll be summoned hence forth. If they show up at all, it’s best to gather your things and move on.
Score 10

If your kitchen has an average score of 6 and above I’m afraid you are out of you depth and must seek immediate help or you might already be in the throes of despair.

Should your score fall between 3 and 5 you are on the right track but work is still needed to help spot potential hazards in the future.

If you have attained a mark of 2 or below, you are a skilled chef watcher, a true master and are sitting comfortably, knowing everything is under control in your kitchen.

Most commented


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    • D says:

      10:40am | 25/11/09

      Brilliant article!
      My partner is a chef in a big hotel kitchen and the stories of all the characters in her kitchen are just hilarious. Forget “The Office” we need “The Kitchen”.

    • H of SA says:

      02:49pm | 25/11/09

      Thanks Mr. Cumper. Any thing you can tell us about what actually happens to your food if you send it back? I have always decided rather than send it back and risk nefarious things being put in my meal, I will simply shut up-eat my meal and not eat there again. But how reasonable is it knock back a bothced meal?

    • T.Chong says:

      03:01pm | 25/11/09

      Wheres the “Saucier” like Chef from New Orleans?
      A tough together dude with a thing for mangoes and Rachel Welch
      Never get out the boat, folks

    • Damo says:

      03:19pm | 25/11/09

      i’m a chef and nothing gets done to food that gets sent back except recooked from scratch….. people who think that’s what chefs do shouldn’t go out for dinner…. it’s about trust… the majority of chefs only want to make customers happy!!! that’s our job.
      and people like the ones explained above exist in every kind of business and industry not just cooking. i’m sure you’ll find a few of them in your industries and workplaces…

      Steve- very funny and true, can i ask which chef you are in your list?

    • Rita says:

      09:58pm | 25/11/09

      I believe Steve would say “Well of course I think I’m the gold nugget however if I’m being honest, at different times of my life I have been quite a few on that list & then some others as well!”

      I actually agree with him about his being the Gold Nugget, having observed him more than once or twice in his kitchen!

    • Peter Thornton says:

      04:44am | 26/11/09

      Chefs are an annoying and cowardly species. I’ve worked with enough of them to form this (accurate) opinion. In my day, any chef who continually acted got-up and precious received a well deserved clip ‘round the ear. Why, these day, more waiting staff don’t maintain this excellent adjunct to a chef’s training program I have no idea. It always resulted in immediate short and long term benefits and a chef who knows his/her place is a chef who will deliver the goods.

      Enough of this ‘chef as rockstar’ rubbish. Cooking is as simple as adding heat. How hard is that?

      Carry on.


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