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Swearing/cursing in professional kitchens


Chris Hennes
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In Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential Bourdain seems to relish the coarse language used in the kitchens he has worked in. In various television shows about cooking there always seem to be at least a few characters whose use of expletives borders on the ludicrous. But in Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef he speaks extensively about the CIA's attempt to make the professional kitchen more, well, more professional, reducing the rant-fests, the raging chefs, the constant cursing and harassment, etc.

My question is thus: is the constant cursing in the kitchen still common? Is it decreasing? Does it depend on the calibre of the restaurant? Would you hire "Andrew" from Top Chef Season 4, with his constant stream of expletives?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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At my restaurant (an "upscale casual bistro"), there is a good amount of coarse language...but only before and after service. Our chef leads by example - it's weird (for me, at least) to curse and swear around someone who doesn't. Of course, we have an open kitchen, but that's another story...

Bartender @ Balliceaux, Richmond, Va

"An Irish Lie is just as good as the truth."

- Egan Dean, Table 6 cook

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In Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential Bourdain seems to relish the coarse language used in the kitchens he has worked in. In various television shows about cooking there always seem to be at least a few characters whose use of expletives borders on the ludicrous. But in Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef he speaks extensively about the CIA's attempt to make the professional kitchen more, well, more professional, reducing the rant-fests, the raging chefs, the constant cursing and harassment, etc.

My question is thus: is the constant cursing in the kitchen still common? Is it decreasing? Does it depend on the calibre of the restaurant? Would you hire "Andrew" from Top Chef Season 4, with his constant stream of expletives?

Thanks Chris for starting a discussion of this topic.

As one who is in large part responsible for stoking the fires of this debate about profanity on Top Chef, I'm going to be interested to hear what everyone has to say.

Some of you may be interested to read through our posts on Top Chef Season 4--it will give you a perspective on the issue of foul language in the professional kitchen and our differing viewpoints. I've probably been the most vocal in expressing my distaste for the use of the "F" word in a restaurant kitchen.

Maybe it is a generational issue, but I'm in the over 50 traditional demographic that doesn't believe that there is a place for profanity in a "Top Chef" kitchen.

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I just got finished working in a open kitchen and there was a test of restraint from swearing and getting loud being that customers are two feet in front of you watching your every move. Needless to say i have learned to act more civil in that environment and it has carried over to my new place. It's kind of nice to act somewhat civil in this life as a cook and speak intelligently. However I do think that the English/Spanish influence does provoke more swearing, not so much in an angry way but as far as I have heard, every native spanish speaker knows english cuss words and every native english speaker know spanish swear words-its a common bond and just comes out of our mouths naturally. Also it is mostly guys who work in the kitchens and there is that locker room mentality. As for that Andrew guy, I blame rap music.

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People in every profession I've ever been involved in swear.  This isn't unique to restaurant kitchens.

I agree that it is not unique to restaurant kitchens: my current work environment is fairly tolerant of cursing as well, but previous office-type environments I have been in were much less so. I think if in any of them I had cursed as much as Andrew on Top Chef, for example, I would have been asked to tone it down, and "asked" to leave if I failed to do so. In light of the CIA's increased focus on professionalism, however, and the increasing number of "open" kitchens, I am wondering if that culture of profanity is changing in the restaurant industry.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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People in every profession I've ever been involved in swear.  This isn't unique to restaurant kitchens.

I think there is general agreement among us that profanity is a part of many restaurant kitchens. We get that part. But I see the heart of the discussion more a question of whether or not profanity should be accepted as appropriate in a top, professional kitchen. It seems as though we often accept the unacceptable as a normal course of business-in this case swearing in the kitchen-but do we stop long enough to ask whether or not that is what we should be accepting as the norm?

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People in every profession I've ever been involved in swear.  This isn't unique to restaurant kitchens.

I think there is general agreement among us that profanity is a part of many restaurant kitchens. We get that part. But I see the heart of the discussion more a question of whether or not profanity should be accepted as appropriate in a top, professional kitchen. It seems as though we often accept the unacceptable as a normal course of business-in this case swearing in the kitchen-but do we stop long enough to ask whether or not that is what we should be accepting as the norm?

As long as the customers can't hear it, I don't think profanity is going to leave any industry.

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DRoss, I don't believe it's generational, since I'm over sixty and still swear. Maybe more environmental than generation, which would allow me to blame it on the army.

Raoul

"I drink to make other people interesting".

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People in every profession I've ever been involved in swear.  This isn't unique to restaurant kitchens.

It seems as though we often accept the unacceptable as a normal course of business-in this case swearing in the kitchen-...

I'm agreeing with melkor: there's been lots of profanity at every "top, professional" job I've ever worked, and I truly can't see how it's had any effect at all on actual performance or perceived professionalism to the customer. But that's me. I also enjoy the F-word a great deal, thus swearing in the kitchen is completely acceptable to me.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I believe that a lot of swearing does make one look less professional. Even though I know this, I have a terrible potty mouth, although I tone it down at work and around children. Otherwise, the F***s and SH**s fly, especially when I am doing something intricate like decorating a cake. But I have spent most of my life around cultures that do a lot of swearing. My DH is a mechanic, and I worked in several kitchens in college. Plenty of swearing there. And high school, fuggetaboudit.

When my dad asked me where I learned such language after I cursed in front of my parents, I lied and said "at school" but I really learned it from him. I've had a potty mouth since I was very young.

I don't think the phenomenon will go away anytime soon. Personally, though, I've been trying to swear less. Maybe I'm tempering with age :shock:.

AFA Top Chef, even I was put off by Andrew's swearing. But when someone is working in the kitchen and touches a hot pan, drops something, or screws up when plating, I don't find it offensive at all. In fact, I hardly notice it. It's when someone is just talking conversationally, as when Andrew was doing his interview, that it grates on me.

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I don't really have strong feelings about whether it is "right" or "wrong," but I am still curious about how prevalent it is, and if the CIA's attempts to project a more "professional" image have resulted in any decreases. Has anyone out there been in the industry over the last decade and noticed any change? I'd also love to know if it depends on the calibre of the kitchen, or the chef. Is there less swearing at The French Laundry than at Bob's Taco Shack?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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To me, taking the profanity out of the kitchen in the name of professionalism is the equivalent of neighborhood gentrification; it makes things pretty for everyone else at the cost of the people who actually reside there. There is a REASON why people gravitate towards the kitchen, the idea of freedom from conformist attitudes is one of them. If you take away profanity and vulgarity, all you're left with is an extremely stressful office job. Nobody wants that, it's the reason we do this in the first place.

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Again, I don't want to turn this into an argument about social norms, or whether swearing is acceptable or not. It seems from Ruhlman's descriptions in The Soul of a Chef that the CIA at least is making a concerted effort, for better or worse, to project a more "professional" image in the kitchen, and part of that seems to be cleaning up the language. Is this push making its way out of the CIA kitchens into the real world?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I don't really have strong feelings about whether it is "right" or "wrong," but I am still curious about how prevalent it is, and if the CIA's attempts to project a more "professional" image have resulted in any decreases. Has anyone out there been in the industry over the last decade and noticed any change? I'd also love to know if it depends on the calibre of the kitchen, or the chef. Is there less swearing at The French Laundry than at Bob's Taco Shack?

Chris you've presented an interesting comparison-is the tone in Keller's French Laundry kitchen different, quieter and more "professional" than the kitchen at Bob's Taco's? I can't provide anyone with a factual report that might answer your question, but based on my unscientific experiences, I have found that top, "Top Chef" level kitchens are a workplace that is efficient and professional without displays of anger or profanity. These are not kitchens that I would describe as calm or unhurried-stress and a sense of urgency is pretty much a given in the kitchen.

It would be interesting to pose your questions to Chef Keller or Chef Robuchon to see what their expectations are for decorum in their kitchens.

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The last 5 restaurants I worked in did not encourage swearing. Even when they were not open to the public. The work environment was such that people were concentrating on what they were doing. Plus, the Executive chefs didn't swear and that tended to percolate down the line to everyone else. And now, because of those work atmospheres, I have pretty much eleminated cussing from my own vocabulary, although there is an occasional lapse. When it happens, it just doesn't sound right anymore.

The only experience I can give is personal.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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As a diner, I could care less about whether or not my food has been exposed to profanities in the kitchen. The amount that a cook/chef swears has absoultely zero impact on what I think of them as a cook/chef.

As it realtes to Top Chef, the swearing hasn't bothered me one bit.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I don't really have strong feelings about whether it is "right" or "wrong," but I am still curious about how prevalent it is, and if the CIA's attempts to project a more "professional" image have resulted in any decreases. Has anyone out there been in the industry over the last decade and noticed any change? I'd also love to know if it depends on the calibre of the kitchen, or the chef. Is there less swearing at The French Laundry than at Bob's Taco Shack?

Chris you've presented an interesting comparison-is the tone in Keller's French Laundry kitchen different, quieter and more "professional" than the kitchen at Bob's Taco's? I can't provide anyone with a factual report that might answer your question, but based on my unscientific experiences, I have found that top, "Top Chef" level kitchens are a workplace that is efficient and professional without displays of anger or profanity. These are not kitchens that I would describe as calm or unhurried-stress and a sense of urgency is pretty much a given in the kitchen.

It would be interesting to pose your questions to Chef Keller or Chef Robuchon to see what their expectations are for decorum in their kitchens.

When Robuchon was actually cooking he epitomized most of what you say doesn't belong in top level kitchens.

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When Robuchon was actually cooking he epitomized most of what you say doesn't belong in top level kitchens.

I think Keller is the same way these days (assuming the above means that Robuchon discouraged profanity), but I'm not certain, that's just the way Ruhlman presented him in Reach of a Chef (can you tell I've been reading a lot of Ruhlman recently? :smile:) I'm trying to avoid making any value judgements in this thread: I'm really looking for "reports from the field" about whether swearing has decreased at all over the last decade, and how (if at all) the level of swearing changes from Michelin 3-stars to neighborhood bistros. So joiei, thanks for the report. Anyone else got a report from the trenches?

Edited to clarify.

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Sorry for not being clear. I actually mean that Robuchon at Jamin had a reputation for losing his temper and throwing/slamming things and swearing. So in that case at least, 'professionalism' is not necessarily higher at higher level restaurants. I don't have time right now to figure out egullets rules for posting snippets from published information, but off the top of my head I know there are discussions of Robuchons anger/temper issues in Ripert/Ruhlman-A Return to Cooking and also Gordon Ramsay's autobiography. I think they also talk about it on some of the old Japanese Iron Chef episodes.

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I think that we're not talking about anger but about swearing, which are distinct. Everyone gets mightily pissed in the kitchen (or workplace, for that matter), whether professional or amateur; the question of how you manage that frustration is another matter.

I've heard tell of two very different kitchens around here, for example. One place tends to get pretty hairy as the owner/chef finishes off the first bottle of wine of the night, whereas the other tends to be very business-like: if you screw up, you're likely to get a disapproving look from the boss that night but no f-bombs. Next afternoon, however, the chef who dropped the cuss words would toss an arm over the shoulder and say all is forgiven; the other chef might hand you a pink slip. Different management styles, and not the sort of thing you'd see in the FOH.

Talking to cooks who have been in both kitchens I've seen distinct preferences. Some like to know where they stand right away, swears or no, and they want an high-quality environment with immediate feedback. The more corporate approach might appeal to others.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I think that we're not talking about anger but about swearing, which are distinct. Everyone gets mightily pissed in the kitchen (or workplace, for that matter), whether professional or amateur; the question of how you manage that frustration is another matter.

The topic seemed to somewhat move towards 'professionalism' and I was responding to David Ross's comments below. Though anger and swearing may be distinct, they are similar enough responses that they can be grouped together in this conversation, and I would venture to guess often accompany each other.

"Chris you've presented an interesting comparison-is the tone in Keller's French Laundry kitchen different, quieter and more "professional" than the kitchen at Bob's Taco's? I can't provide anyone with a factual report that might answer your question, but based on my unscientific experiences, I have found that top, "Top Chef" level kitchens are a workplace that is efficient and professional without displays of anger or profanity. These are not kitchens that I would describe as calm or unhurried-stress and a sense of urgency is pretty much a given in the kitchen.

It would be interesting to pose your questions to Chef Keller or Chef Robuchon to see what their expectations are for decorum in their kitchens."

I won't directly quote it, but in the Ramsay biography I mentioned, there is a story where Robuchon throws a plate of ravioli and hits Ramsay in the head, and another Robuchon throws a roasting pan at someone and breaks the front of an oven over a messed up meat dish. He also talks about the bollockings that follow and I believe Ripert talks about Robuchon taking a liking to him and not cursing him out like he did to the other cooks. So I was just bringing this as an example of how a 3-star kitchen isn't necessarily " efficient and professional without displays of anger or profanity".

Edited by AEK (log)
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I think this whole topic is hilarious. There are plenty of F-bombs in the regular workforce , even at the high end (don't believe me? ask an I-Banker or trader). Why would a testosterone charged kitchen be any different?

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