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The most important thing youll ever learn


JFrillman24
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The first day of culinary school the very first thing that we were taught was the most important phrase youll ever learn is "Yes Chef". The chef is always right, and this is true, no matter who you work for or what you disagree with ultimatly, that chef is right. But recently my favorite phrase has become "Why Chef?". Mainly due to the fact that Ive been doing alot of reading of late, about the scientific reasons behind the methods and preperations of why certain things happen to dif foods and such, and have been answering some of the questions I have. So many cooks and even Chefs in the industry dont know why certain things happen, or why its done this way, and when you ask them, they say because I said so, or because this is what my chef taught me. The current place that I work at the Chefs are extremly knowledable, and will do everything to explain the Why's, and if they honestly dont know, theyll tell you they dont know, and will research it themselves, or encourage you to. (every night my sous chef would say for example "this is your homework, come in tommorow with 5 variations on such and such"). But this is the only restaurant Ive been at where that has been the case. Basically, after rambling on, my question is this.

1.) Is it a problem that you come across head chefs that do things just because theyre taught a certain way, and dont know the real reasons, and 2.) Could it become a problem that Ive become such a "why guy" (even though from my standpoint Im not questioning the athority, Im just naturally curious and want to expand my knowledge.)

Is yes Chef really the most important thing to know in a kitchen?

"Its never to late to be what you might have been" - George Elliot

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Wow, that sounds like a great environment to work in. About a year and a half ago I started educating myself on food because I didn't feel like I was getting it where I was. I read McGee's On Food, Culinary Artistry, and a bunch of other top cookbooks, Art Culinare and magazines, etc, etc because I felt that if I was going to try to get to the top, it was all essential knowledge...well, maybe not all the minutiae in On Food..there's a lot of info packed in there. It seems to me that a Chef would have difficulty innovating without knowing a bit of what's going on, but if it is more traditional food I can't see why learning by example wouldn't be ok.

As far as asking questions, I think as long as the Chefs are receptive, they can be a great resource for you. I wouldn't be asking what au poivre means when the chef has three food orders running in his head, has to set up four specials for the evening and the lead line cook is MIA, however, but that's just common sense.

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I agree that the Why Chef is the most important thing in the kitchen. Then when you are chef to pass on all the information in your head to some budding little line sponge so they will become a better chef than you. That is the most important thing to learn is you are just a link in a very long chain that if you do your job right becomes stronger with each generation.

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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It all depends on the chef and the restaurant. I happen to be the same way as you. I am always curious about everything and constantly try to figure things out, whether its what makes hollandaise stable or why it takes a long time to make the perfect torchon of foie gras? When I was at The French Laundry, you didnt ask questions. The way they did things was the right way. The only way. What came to be called "The French Laundry way." You dont walk up to Thomas Keller and ask him why you are supposed to ice any green vegetable before you blanch them.

On the other hand, when I left TFL with a Sous Chef to open El Dorado Kitchen, he was the exact opposite. He was my mentor, I was his student. He would sometimes get annoyed with all my questions and wanting to come in on my day off to watch him break down an entire pig or to work with our pastry chef just to learn.

So you really have to test the waters, so to speak, with every kitchen and every chef. And definitely learn to read situations well. I wouldn't want to be around when the chef is pissed off because his fish guy hasn't shown up and you ask him if he knows what lecithin is.

-Chef Johnny

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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The question "WHY?", or "WHY NOT?", is how things are improved and evolved. That being said, everything has its limit. Asking so many questions to the point of becoming annoying or asking questions at the wrong time can get you in trouble with certain chefs. When things are slow in the kitchen, this is the time to pick the brains of your coworkers. As for myself, I love when my cooks ask why things are the way they are. If I don't know the answer I will not stop looking for it until I find it. This is a way that I continue to improve and evolve as a chef.

Another thing to remember is, the answers to your questions are in front of your face. You obviously have internet access. Every culinary question can be answered right here. With a little extra effort you can gain a wealth of knowledge. I prefer to learn things by doing my own research. I feel that by putting the extra effort into it makes it more likley that I will remember it and it feels good to accomplish things on your own.

Finally, when it is busy, and your kitchen is in the shit, "Yes Chef!" is always the right answer, no matter who you work with.

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The way they did things was the right way. The only way. What came to be called "The French Laundry way." You dont walk up to Thomas Keller and ask him why you are supposed to ice any green vegetable before you blanch them.

-Chef Johnny

I totally get that but in my head id still be thinking hmmm why do you "ice" any green vegetable before you blanch them (and seriously, why do you ice any green vegetable before you blanch them????)

"Its never to late to be what you might have been" - George Elliot

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