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Bartenders vs. Cooks


eje
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I was reading the excellent online blog of a gentleman who bartends.

Advice for a High School Senior

He had given a young man who was interested in bartending the advice to attend a cooking school.

I was dubious.

I guess, as dubious as a bartender would be about sending a person interested in bartending to bartending school.

Certainly, attending a cooking school will give the person valuable experience. Many people, bartenders and civilians, don't know how to cook. It can't be a bad thing to know how to feed yourself.

Plus, it is an additional skill set if you are out of work or looking for work in a new town.

On the other hand, most bartenders I know, don't come from the back of the house. They come from the front of the house. And most cooks I've known, including myself, would not be comfortable talking to customers or handling money.

On the other hand, many bartenders and cooks are beginning to take cocktails much more seriously, as both a source of profit, and a cuisine unto themselves. We're seeing people like Scott Beattie at Cyrus in Healdsburg and Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin of Absinthe in San Francisco using a much wider palette of ingredients than are traditionally used in a bar.

Do you know of any bartenders or cooks who have made the transition from kitchen to bar or bar to kitchen?

Or are cooks and bartenders really different kinds of people?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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To tell you the truth, cooks and bartenders form a symbiotic relationship.

Both have what the other has the most.

Bartenders are hungry and the only thing higher than a cook's wage is his bar tab.

They tend to get over whatever problems they might have quite quickly.

If a bartender wants to eat, he makes with the "special" drinks for certain cooks and is generous with the rest of the kitchen crew, overpours and the such.

A bartender doing this is sure never to go hungry.

Just my experience and I have worked in both positions.

Keep on shucking

Oyster Guy

"Why then, the world is mine oyster, which I with sword, shall open."

William Shakespeare-The Merry Wives of Windsor

"An oyster is a French Kiss that goes all the way." Rodney Clark

"Oyster shuckers are the rock stars of the shellfish industry." Jason Woodside

"Obviously, if you don't love life, you can't enjoy an oyster."

Eleanor Clark

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Hmm...

Maybe I should have named the topic differently, "Bartending vs. Cooking" rather than "Bartenders vs. Cooks".

Yeah, Oyster Guy, bartenders and cooks do tend to get on like matches and gasoline.

But, as someone who has done both, do you think the skill sets of the two jobs are complementary?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Bartending is actually closer to cooking than serving is. I've cooked (at a very high level) and tended bar (very occasionally) BTW.

Anyhow, when it comes to bartending, you're making drinks for servers to bring to their tables, much as a cook provides the food. Bartenders actually work with product, they need to manage their bills, they get swamped with orders the same as the kitchen does. They're mixing up drinks, as a cook would mix up incredients in a dish. And they need to know how to make stuff taste good. All these things cooks and bartenders share in common, and servers don't.

Bartenders and cooks share a special relationship, not only of their love of food and alcohol, but also because the jobs are much more similar than they seem.

BTW, I've also known a few very serious bartenders who have made the leap into cooking.

Edited by Mikeb19 (log)
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I will say that I have never worked witha *shallow* cook. Mind you, some have been dumb as a bag of hammers, and either more or less violent (as the case may be). But all of the cooks I've worked with were involved, aware, present.

I can't say that about all the bartenders I've worked with.

This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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I am opening a high end cocktail bar in Chicago, and I am going after bartenders that have serious food knowledge and culinary experience. I have been looking for culinary school AND years on the line. I’m doing it because cooks have:

- The concept of balancing flavors.

- Lightning fast prioritization.

- Respect for Mise.

- Passion for ingredients.

- Finely tuned palates.

- The ability to put EVERYTHING back where it belongs.

- Great knife skills.

- The experience of working as a team or unit.

- The ability to follow a recipe exactly.

- The ability to tweak a recipe when needed.

- An eye for presentation/garnish.

- A Superhuman ability to work through the pain.

- No problem working cruel/unusual hours.

O.K. The last two are somewhat of a joke, but opening a bar requires Herculean effort. I am also going to have over 20 each of gin, rums, and ryes. The bartenders will have to know the flavor profile of every one, plus hundreds of other ingredients. The 3 vodkas will be easy. There will be 40 cocktails on the menu, plus the standard classic cocktails that will memorized during a 10 day cocktail course. Cooks understand the concept of a Stage.

I will keep you appraised of how it goes in the windy city.

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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That sounds really fantastic, Alchemist, I can't wait to read about the experience. How long before our nation's cooking schools start requiring mixology coursework and treating it as a subset of cooking, like pastries or charcuterie?

To get a job as a line cook in a high-end restaurant, you need to know how to make some very simple classic items. No chef wants to have to teach you how to make beurre blanc.

But to get a job bartending in the same establishment these days, you just have to know that Q stands for quinine water and T stands for Tom Collins.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler | Eugene, Oregon

w: www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com

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Likewise, I think that's great, Alchemist.

Especially, since I usually get through Chicago at least once a year.

While it is a big drinking city, I've not found cocktail culture to be particularly well represented there. (If you drink beer, be sure to check out Hop Leaf! A very nice bar.)

I look forward to hearing more.

Anyhow, when it comes to bartending, you're making drinks for servers to bring to their tables, much as a cook provides the food. Bartenders actually work with product, they need to manage their bills, they get swamped with orders the same as the kitchen does. They're mixing up drinks, as a cook would mix up incredients in a dish. And they need to know how to make stuff taste good. All these things cooks and bartenders share in common, and servers don't.

Well, fair enough. There are actually some bartenders who do care enough about what they are serving to try to make a good tasting drink. On the other hand, there are an awful lot who are on auto pilot. Simply following the recipe on the cheat sheet.

Bartending, and waiting, though, involve a certain amount of what I will charitably call "acting". A less charitable ex-bartender I was talking to the other night, called it a "hustle". Presenting yourself in a certain manner, with the hopes of creating a desired experience for the customer and a larger tip for yourself.

Can you train cooks to do this part of the job?

Of all the jobs I've done, cooking was the most blissfully free of any concerns beyond working with your co-workers to get the job done quickly and well. Your co-workers might be "dumb as a bag of hammers"; but, if they rocked the grill, got the job done, and came through when the going was tough, you didn't care.

And, we would occasionally get a wait or barstaff who would show some interest in cooking. But, really, they were not interested in the tough stuff. They'd want to know how to cut an onion or bone a chicken. But, when they saw a 50# bag of onions or a case of whole chickens, they would not be so enthusiastic.

Also, maybe it is different now, and the quality of cooking school graduates has improved; but, then, I didn't relish getting stuck with some green cooking school graduate, as a manager, or as a co-worker.

Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Having spent a wee bit of time in both positions, I can say that being in the weeds while cooking in the back affords one ample opportunity for anti-social (and especially anti-customer) behavior, whereas being in the weeds while bartending in the front requires significant, even increased, people management skills.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Keep on shucking

Oyster Guy

Speaking of which, an oyster shucker is something like a combination of the two. His work is more along the lines of a prep cook but often works behind the bar and interacts with customers.

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It seems to me (as a bar and restaurant patron with no professional cooking or bartending experience) that a bartender's job can vary quite a bit. If it's a neighborhood bar without table service or food, then I think the bartender's job has a lot of front-of-house aspects -- interacting with the patrons and making sure they have a positive experience. If it's a service bar, then the job seems more like a cook's job -- getting the orders right and getting them out quickly.

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When I posted that advice for the high school senior on my website, I was hoping to avoid the whole "But cooks can't deal with the damn customers!" argument that I knew would surely ensue.

My whole point in recommending culinary school to a young person considering bartending as a career was this: there are enough bad drinks being made in the world today, why not start this young lady off on a different track, a track oriented toward food, flavors and pairings rather than vodka, juggling and energy drinks?

Jeffrey Morgenthaler | Eugene, Oregon

w: www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com

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When I posted that advice for the high school senior on my website, I was hoping to avoid the whole "But cooks can't deal with the damn customers!" argument that I knew would surely ensue.

My whole point in recommending culinary school to a young person considering bartending as a career was this: there are enough bad drinks being made in the world today, why not start this young lady off on a different track, a track oriented toward food, flavors and pairings rather than vodka, juggling and energy drinks?

Yeah, well, I was painting with a fairly broad brush. I'm sorry if I'm re-hashing the old FOH vs. BOH debate.

As JAZ pointed out, there are a wide variety of bartender jobs, as there are a wide variety of back of house jobs. From Prep Cooks to Line Cooks, Salad Station to Executive Chef.

There are also a variety of schools offering training to aspiring chefs and aspiring bartenders. Depending on the school, and depending on your goals, it might be better to start as a dish washer or prep cook, rather than attend a culinary school. Just as it might be better to work your ass off as a bar back or waiter, instead of attending a bar tending school.

For anyone who works in food service, you are better off having a wider understanding of the various roles. Getting some experience in FOH, or understanding something of the economics of running a restaurant, is a good idea if you want to make a career out of it, if for no other reason than to understand why some decisions might be imposed on you. Why you can't garnish your $10 entree with Caviar or use 4 oz of Sazerac 18 in your special cocktail.

I'm just speaking from my experience.

I have an enormous amount of respect and awe for those that are good at both waiting and bar tending. I couldn't do either job, not because I can't balance trays or mix drinks; but, because of the interpersonal skills required.

You know, when you go into a bar or restaurant, you've had a crap day, and the service person can read that, and somehow intuit the right thing to do or say. Whether it is to tell a joke and be cheery, or leave you alone with your whiskey. I'm sure it's not brain surgery; but, it takes a certain kind of person.

Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I wish more bartenders started out in the kitchen. Any position would do, even dishwasher, but even a little time as a prep-cook or garde manger would make a huge difference. The skills learned in the kitchen that are most useful for the barman aren't even the one's Alchemist points up, though he's right on.

There's something about the discipline learned in the kitchen that gets missed when we train the inexperienced to stand behind a bar. Maybe it's the crucible-like atmosphere in the kitchen or the sense of teamwork (and the consequences of letting that team down) that makes more good linecooks per dozen than a bar makes bartenders. Stupid little things that I assumed were simple common sense, I realized were attitudes I gleaned from my years as a Kitchen Dog. Attitudes like: Fresh things that have passed their prime should be thrown out; products should be rotated; clean as you go; mis en place; prep today for tomorrow; stay stocked; keep a clean stock area; there's always one more thing to do; every thing has only 1 place where it belongs and every place has only 1 thing that belongs there...I could go on and on.

These are the things that separate the bartenders you like working with and the bartenders you want by your side.

myers

Edited by fatdeko (log)
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Can we call this thread cooks turning into bartenders for the right reason?

Ok the big thing between a hack and a bartender is that a hack will make a drink and NOT TASTE IT. A cook will ALLWAYS taste a dish at least a couple of times between the the sautee pan and the plate.

I want my bartend's to taste my Manhattan at least twice before it is served. And before that I want them to smell the vermouth and know the proper dashes of bitters going into it. A quick aside, I hate the way Ang. bitters comes out of the bottle, if it is full the bitters are a dribble. When the bottle is half way down it is an avalanch of flavor. A cook feels the difference. I put my Ang bitters in a tinksure bottle, better delivery.

A cook will always have the Mise. They will system 9 when the going get's ruff. They wiil use bitters of Midori if needed. We get sh%t done in the best way we can.

I want cooks to be behind my bar for now and the forsseeable future.

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I am in Chicago, and the bar is shaping up for a mid June opening. I have found the bartenders, all of them have cooked, two went to Culinary school. And they all said yes to a ten day training course which was quite a relief. We realized that we were going to need to put the cocktail waitress through the same course so the know the 150 spirits, EVERYTHING that goes in EVERY cocktail, and the allmost overwelming amount of little details that every one should know. It has been harder finding the cocktail waitresses. I am willing to cross train them as bartenders, but the 10 day training scares most of them off. If anyone has Ideas on where to look PM me.

I will post again when the training gets underway and keep you updated.

Toby

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Now I am having a hard time finding Barbacks. Is there anywhere I can find a young cook in Chicago that will be trained to slide into a bartender gig? I know that this is not Creigs list but the people here are so much more in tune with what I am trying to do.

Thanks Toby

Edited by Alchemist (log)

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Now I am having a hard time finding Barbacks.  Is there anywhere I can find a young cook in Chicago that will be trained to slide into a bartender gig?  I know that this is not Creigs list but the people here are so much more in tune with what I am trying to do.

Thanks Toby

What are your expectations of them on the job and what are you offering for compansation. The start as X and we will permote you to Z is a worn out ploy in this market and most people get hinkey over it.

Living hard will take its toll...
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We realized that we were going to need to put the cocktail waitress through the same course so the know the 150 spirits, EVERYTHING that goes in EVERY cocktail, and the allmost overwelming amount of little details that every one should know. 

It sounds like you are expecting too much for too little in return. plenty of places want you to take accurate orders, deliver product quickly, be friendly and keep accurate bank. If you happen to know about drinks and spirits it helps from a personal selling point as being better than an order taker. Anything over knowing the drink specials and draft beers is good.

As the law in this state provides for training is a paid event and most people know that. What incentive other than a job do you offer as most places could care less about the depth of a servers knowlage?

I am not trying to be a jerk but from what you posted it sounds like you expect more than what you are willing to pay for.

Living hard will take its toll...
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I have been a barback, server, and bartender for many years. I of course would pay people for the training. I ALLWAYS promote from within. So the barbacks will become bartenders or servers.

But the best education is working your way up. The chef system has worked for many, many years. Until there is a Masters in Bartending Where else is one to turn.

If you ask a waiter at a high end resturant about part of a dish would you not expect a concise answer? I would hate for them to go running back to the kitchen to ask what roux is.

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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