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Swearing/cursing in professional kitchens


Chris Hennes
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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".

Intersting points about Chef Robuchon. Thank you. It may surprise some to hear me say thank you for sharing those examples, but it certainly opened my eyes and helped me gain a better understanding of this issue.

As you can tell from my postings in both the Top Chef topic and on these pages, my assumption, apparently not totally accurate, was that one should not hear foul language, or witness anger, in a Michelin-Star kitchen-a "Top Chef" kitchen so to speak. Of course, I would still like to hear more chefs respond to this query. It's interesting that Gordon, a disciple of the "F" school, may have been influenced by Robuchon when he was hit in the head by a flying ravioli. I wonder what was in that ravioli?

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As you can tell from my postings in both the Top Chef topic and on these pages, my assumption, apparently not totally accurate, was that one should not hear foul language, or witness anger, in a Michelin-Star kitchen-a "Top Chef" kitchen so to speak.  Of course, I would still like to hear more chefs respond to this query.

Certainly many famous chefs (Keller included) have a history of violence and profanity in the kitchen. But over the last decade or two we have seen chefs elevated from "misfits hiding in the kitchen" to being very visible public figures. This appears from the outside (where I am) to be influencing the culture inside the kitchen, but I have no personal experiences to back that up. Hence this topic, where I am hoping to hear from chefs/line cooks/dishwashers who have been in the business for a while. It sounds like there is probably no correlation between cursing in the kitchen and the number of Michelin stars. Nevertheless, I wonder if there has been an across-the-board decrease over the last decade as the public image of the chef changes, and places like the CIA put more emphasis on (their idea of) "professionalism," including a reduction in profanity.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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As you can tell from my postings in both the Top Chef topic and on these pages, my assumption, apparently not totally accurate, was that one should not hear foul language, or witness anger, in a Michelin-Star kitchen-a "Top Chef" kitchen so to speak.  Of course, I would still like to hear more chefs respond to this query.

Certainly many famous chefs (Keller included) have a history of violence and profanity in the kitchen. But over the last decade or two we have seen chefs elevated from "misfits hiding in the kitchen" to being very visible public figures. This appears from the outside (where I am) to be influencing the culture inside the kitchen, but I have no personal experiences to back that up. Hence this topic, where I am hoping to hear from chefs/line cooks/dishwashers who have been in the business for a while. It sounds like there is probably no correlation between cursing in the kitchen and the number of Michelin stars. Nevertheless, I wonder if there has been an across-the-board decrease over the last decade as the public image of the chef changes, and places like the CIA put more emphasis on (their idea of) "professionalism," including a reduction in profanity.

Interesting topic...........

I have been in the business for over 20 years and I have not noticed any reduction in profanities at all in the kitchen.

And yes, I work in a fine dining establishment with an open kitchen.

Chefs, by their very nature, are passionate people and are prone to, shall we say, emotional outbursts, from time to time.

And really, if you cut yourself or burnt yourself during a busy service, do you really think saying, "Oh Gee, I cut myself" is really going to suffice?

I have yet to work with a chef that doesn't swear, even the female ones.

I fail to see how this affects the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen and while it's nice that a school like the CIA wants to reduce the swearing, it is like herding cats. Pointless.

Schools don't have the pressure and stress of cooking on line and can cut down on it. However, a "real" kitchen doesn't really care as long as the guests aren't hearing you and the food keeps coming.

I mean, really, who gives a f--- anyways......... :laugh:

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

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Interesting topic...........

I have been in the business for over 20 years and I have not noticed any reduction in profanities at all in the kitchen.

And yes, I work in a fine dining establishment with an open kitchen.

Chefs, by their very nature, are passionate people and are prone to, shall we say, emotional outbursts, from time to time.

And really, if you cut yourself or burnt yourself during a busy service, do you really think saying, "Oh Gee, I cut myself" is really going to suffice?

I have yet to work with a chef that doesn't swear, even the female ones.

I fail to see how this affects the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen and while it's nice that a school like the CIA wants to reduce the swearing, it is like herding cats. Pointless.

Schools don't have the pressure and stress of cooking on line and can cut down on it. However, a "real" kitchen doesn't really care as long as the guests aren't hearing you and the food keeps coming.

I mean, really, who gives a f--- anyways......... :laugh:

Agree 100%. Honestly...I don't see why someone would even care? Would these same people care if their mechanics swore? Or contractors? How about if English was not the predominant language in the kitchen; would that affect professionalism? They're chefs not salesmen nor members of the clergy nor state representatives.

Just focus on what counts....the food, remember?

Eat Well,

-jbl

The Postmodern Soapbox - NominalTopic.blogspot.com

Twitter: jbzepol

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Agree 100%. Honestly...I don't see why someone would even care?

Idle curiosity :smile:. The discussion arose in our "Top Chef" thread because there is a contestant this season who swears like a sailor. I wanted to know if this was the norm in the past, and if it is still normal now, or if he was basically just a caricature out of one of Bourdain's books. I want to stress that my question is not "is it acceptable," but simply, how prevalent is it, and is it declining?

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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As you can tell from my postings in both the Top Chef topic and on these pages, my assumption, apparently not totally accurate, was that one should not hear foul language, or witness anger, in a Michelin-Star kitchen-a "Top Chef" kitchen so to speak.  Of course, I would still like to hear more chefs respond to this query.

Certainly many famous chefs (Keller included) have a history of violence and profanity in the kitchen. But over the last decade or two we have seen chefs elevated from "misfits hiding in the kitchen" to being very visible public figures. This appears from the outside (where I am) to be influencing the culture inside the kitchen, but I have no personal experiences to back that up. Hence this topic, where I am hoping to hear from chefs/line cooks/dishwashers who have been in the business for a while. It sounds like there is probably no correlation between cursing in the kitchen and the number of Michelin stars. Nevertheless, I wonder if there has been an across-the-board decrease over the last decade as the public image of the chef changes, and places like the CIA put more emphasis on (their idea of) "professionalism," including a reduction in profanity.

I am currently attending a culinary school (not the CIA) that also discourages profanity in the kitchen, however it is not strictly enforced. I find that the students who currently work in the industry are more prone to "let the f-bombs drop", justified or not (its true that we don't really get "in the weeds" in the classroom, although there is some level of pressure.)

It also seems to be infectious; as it spreads from one student to another. I assume this is because the newbies tend to look to the experienced students as leaders or examples of "how to act."

Edited by Tsulli1 (log)
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Haven't noticed a significant reduction in the last decade. I have worked in a high level kitchen where the chef was a yeller/swearer/thrower and another high end where the chef was more like a zen master and without words could express how he would like to throw you and your whole family into a deep fryer. Even the zen master would lose it out loud occasionally. I have never worked in a kitchen where the chef, myself included, didn't occasionally go postal. I think whether outbursts are constant or rare simply depends on the personality and management style of the individual chef. I don't think that because being a chef has been prettied up on television there has been a trickle down effect to the kitchen. I would further imagine that some chefs that we see on television in their show whites, full of smiles and good behaviour may well be quite different in their kitchens. If you met me outside of work you would find me quiet and pleasant, some of my ex-cooks would likely disagree. Furthermore, I don't think that the CIA telling a student to watch his/her mouth will have a lasting effect on someone otherwise prone to outbursts.

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I always had a rather good natured, hard to enforce rule, as the chef, that if I hadn't used a word, whether a swear word or just something derogatory, in the kitchen, then no one could use it. Kept the kitchen quite civil. Until I let something slip. Then I'd hear that word no end. But it made people think about what they said.

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As you can tell from my postings in both the Top Chef topic and on these pages, my assumption, apparently not totally accurate, was that one should not hear foul language, or witness anger, in a Michelin-Star kitchen-a "Top Chef" kitchen so to speak.  Of course, I would still like to hear more chefs respond to this query.

Certainly many famous chefs (Keller included) have a history of violence and profanity in the kitchen. But over the last decade or two we have seen chefs elevated from "misfits hiding in the kitchen" to being very visible public figures. This appears from the outside (where I am) to be influencing the culture inside the kitchen, but I have no personal experiences to back that up. Hence this topic, where I am hoping to hear from chefs/line cooks/dishwashers who have been in the business for a while. It sounds like there is probably no correlation between cursing in the kitchen and the number of Michelin stars. Nevertheless, I wonder if there has been an across-the-board decrease over the last decade as the public image of the chef changes, and places like the CIA put more emphasis on (their idea of) "professionalism," including a reduction in profanity.

I've been in kitchens going on 9 years now. I've worked in a broad range of places, from local chains all the way to The French Laundry. In all my time in the wonderful world of this industry, profanity is always present. What differs is when it's used. It seems as thought most people want to know what its like in the top echelon of kitchens, TFL in particular, so I will gladly elaborate.

Chef de parties arrive around 10am. From 10am until the start of service, life is just like it is at Bobs Taco Shack. Its just cooks prepping their stations. Theres talk of last nights sexual conquests, or who is supposed to be getting canned, or who is the biggest f*ckbag commis or extern we currently have. It doesn't matter that we're cooking Michelin 3 star food... a chef is always a cook, first and foremost. Thats what makes us all family. That never changes. But, as soon as service starts, everything changes. We are now TFL chefs. TK's (Thomas Keller) brigade. There is no talking... much less profanity. The only sounds in the kitchen are the Chef de Cuisine/Sous Chef calling the orders, the chef de partie's calling it back, and the orchestra of the kitchen. If you screw up, you b*tch and moan in your head and take your scalding with a "yes chef". If you cut yourself, you wrap it up in the obligatory green painters tape, say nothing, and keep going. If you burn yourself, you ASK for a 6 pan of ice water from the commis. Again, you don't mutter a word.

I could go on for days about that kitchen, but to sum it up, IMO, cooks are cooks. No matter where you are. This is just "one of those things." I've had the privilege of working in some of the top kitchens here and in Europe and its all the same. Only the language changes.

-Chef Johnny

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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I miss working in kitchens....(sigh)

very quiet office with Light FM and a sappy sweet boss...I want to be able to figure out I have been insulted right away

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

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i work for an upscale casual dinning establishment whos owned by a world famous celeb chef, and we have an open kitchen with food bar. our layout is like this

n58212336_31472844_2215.jpg

thats the expo line and to the right is pastry and left is front line and all the way back is the wok/fry station. we all curse, just not loud. a kitchen is very noisey usually all you hear is the chef's calling tickets. we curse at a medium tone, never loud enough for patrons at the foodbar to hear.

Our chefs curse, but once again its not like its frowned upon in this industry. Unless you are doing it where patrons can hear you. We are very professional, but again we love what we do and are passionate. We tend to over embelish everything we do. Cursing just comes natural to cooks and chefs. When you are in the weeds on a 400 cover night and your pissed that you are running low on mise, you're going to curse. Just got burnt cause the dishwashers bumped into you without saying "behind", you're going to curse! Need saute pans to sell your dishes, your going to yell, and the chefs are going to curse.

Only if you are in a really high end kitchen doing 130 covers cause you seat only 70 people, and you are putting out food that takes time and multiple people to put together, and you're not in a rush to turn tables over, should there not be any cursing or yelling.

btw this is our dinning hall...

n58212336_31472843_7602.jpg

Edited by 317indy (log)
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I am amazed by a couple things on this site. I have a guy that has just started shadowing me that is really IN to food to see if he wants to make a career jump into it. I read others on here that by reading what many say you would sawear they were cooks and chefs or someody in the grind of a kitchen, but the strangest things come from people that do not work in a kitchen. The topic is opened by a non chef - I find that very interesting.

I am a CIA grad and yes I think the school is trying to project a more professional image and while it does in many things - as one poster above said - cooks are cooks and regardless of language everyone lets it out. I came into the food life by way of the white collar world - where no whistling at the girls, no comments, certainly no touching, no profanity for the most part like the kitchen. But here is my conclusion - people that work the lines remind me of the guys that go into war. They don't know each other to start and then become very very close. You say things to your family hat you would not say everyday - but a crew is different. I deeply care for my crew. As a Sous I take an interest and treat everyone as individuals and can see that horsing around talking smack puts everyone on the same page. Now I don't work a huge place so I am not speaking for those places. But my small crew where english is tough for some of them, letting out the F or saying it in many different languages eases tension and really we all pretty much laugh at whatever...it is very important to have that bond and laugh in a kitchen and if it means letting them go in whatever language then I say let em rip AS LONG AS IT IS NOT MEANT IN ANGER TOWARDS A PERSON! That is not acceptable - and throwing things - nope...

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Yeah, I think there really is a disconnect between what people think professional means. I know many, many people in other walks of life that curse just as much or more than anyone I've met in the kitchen.

Nevertheless, I wonder if there has been an across-the-board decrease over the last decade as the public image of the chef changes, and places like the CIA put more emphasis on (their idea of) "professionalism," including a reduction in profanity.

I don't see how cursing or not cursing is professional or not professional. I mean, do people really think coarse language is relegated to "blue collar" type jobs? So, doctors, lawyers, businessmen/women, teachers, real estate brokers, computer programmers, etc. don't curse? Lol.

Seriously, will you please explain to me how not cursing equals professionalism?

Now, I can see wanting to raise the level of certain behaviors to appear more professional...things like showing up on time, organization, focus, drive, efficiency, etc. But I don't think cursing has anything to do with being professional or not.

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Yeah, I think there really is a disconnect between what people think professional means. I know many, many people in other walks of life that curse just as much or more than anyone I've met in the kitchen.

Nevertheless, I wonder if there has been an across-the-board decrease over the last decade as the public image of the chef changes, and places like the CIA put more emphasis on (their idea of) "professionalism," including a reduction in profanity.

I don't see how cursing or not cursing is professional or not professional. I mean, do people really think coarse language is relegated to "blue collar" type jobs? So, doctors, lawyers, businessmen/women, teachers, real estate brokers, computer programmers, etc. don't curse? Lol.

Seriously, will you please explain to me how not cursing equals professionalism?

Now, I can see wanting to raise the level of certain behaviors to appear more professional...things like showing up on time, organization, focus, drive, efficiency, etc. But I don't think cursing has anything to do with being professional or not.

It also seems like there might be a somewhat misguided equation hinted at somewhere upthread that correlates swearing with aggression or anger, when for me and my co-profaners it's levity- or affection-based 9 times out of 10.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Aw c'mon guys, are you telling me that if you call up your stockbroker and he responds "Whaddya want, you little shit?" in an affectionate tone you wouldn't raise an eyebrow? Obviously swearing profusely is usually considered unprofessional. Sure your doctor/lawyer/boss etc.. might drop an f-bomb once in a while, but he/she usually apologizes afterward.

Note in 317indy's post upthread:

Our chefs curse, but once again its not like its frowned upon in this industry. Unless you are doing it where patrons can hear you.

Why this exception, if it's not generally considered unprofessional?

From Jakea222:

But my small crew where english is tough for some of them, letting out the F or saying it in many different languages eases tension and really we all pretty much laugh at whatever...it is very important to have that bond and laugh in a kitchen and if it means letting them go in whatever language then I say let em rip

Why do you think that swearing with everyone around eases tension and builds cohesiveness as opposed to, say, exclaiming loudly that one really likes flowers or respects his/her linemates? Could it be that watered-down outbursts of aggression followed by resolution, even if in these environments it's largely ritualized, is a more-or-less universal bonding mechanism? Or that flirting the edge of accepted social norms together builds intimacy?

Steven Pinker has thought a lot about swearing:

link

link

Edited by Mallet (log)

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Agree 100%. Honestly...I don't see why someone would even care?

... I want to stress that my question...is... how prevalent is it, and is it declining?

Rampant and No.

Another issue here is how much extraneous dna splats in my food from all the ebullient expletive bursts. Hhmmm?

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Aw c'mon guys, are you telling me that if you call up your stockbroker and he responds "Whaddya want, you little shit?" in an affectionate tone you wouldn't raise an eyebrow? Obviously swearing profusely is usually considered unprofessional. Sure your doctor/lawyer/boss etc.. might drop an f-bomb once in a while, but he/she usually apologizes afterward.

Note in 317indy's post upthread:

Our chefs curse, but once again its not like its frowned upon in this industry. Unless you are doing it where patrons can hear you.

Why this exception, if it's not generally considered unprofessional?

Not to split hairs, but your stockbroker example is one where "the patron can hear", you being the patron of your stockbrokers' services...right?

But sure, I think your two rhetorical "could it be" questions deserve an unspoken "yes"...

And thanks a lot for the great Pinker article (the second one, the first puff piece kind of just makes me want to swear)...

+++

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I've worked in a large number of fields because, believe it or not, the performing classical arts aren't exactly a huge moneymaker. What I have observed is that most every field has its own expectations. For example, people working in advertising at a certain salary level expect a large lavishly appointed and "designed" office whereas a banker at he same salary level might be working out of a cubicle. These industry-specific expectations extend to acceptable modes of behavior. For example, in law firms I've seen partners throw temper tantrums, yell at or belittle associates and display any number of behaviors that would have resulted in immediate suspension or termination if they were working at, say, Citibank.

It seems that there is a certain culture of profanity in certain professional kitchens, and this is deemed an acceptable mode of behavior in the business so long as the chef allows it. Certain BOH workers clearly relish and even glorify this culture (viz. Tony Bourdain). On the other hand, I've been in any number of professional kitchens, and plenty of them have quiet and polite.

--

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Swearing is only unprofessional in contexts where swearing is considered unprofessional. I would consider swearing unprofessional for, say, an elementary school librarian. Whether or not it's unprofessional in the restaurant kitchen depends on the kitchen.

--

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Sam, you've got me chuckling about that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode in which a restaurant that Larry and friends open installs a hot-tempered chef in the open kitchen facing the dining room. When the chef first lets loose a barrage of expletives, the investors and diners all freeze; Larry, thinking quickly, starts swearing himself at the top of his lungs. And thus the context shifts, as all the investors and then the diners revel in their foul-mouthed, uninhibited dining experience.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I think the word shi- is international. I think F--k is becoming international. I also think that people that work in a kitchen on the line, 100+ degrees, working non stop for hours can muster a good - oh shi- they just keep coming, after 4 hours non stop. As i said earlier in a post I come from a white colar industry and while loud profanity was non common as it is in the kitchen, it is still there. As far as you guys that have not been in a kitchen to see the dynamic, go in one and watch the symetry between the line guys oh sorry and gals. I don't think I have seen it in anger in my kitchen directed towards one another - we all cuss at the ticket machine and wonder if any of our members eat anywhere else with profain jestures. Hell I am even teaching it to my spanish speaking employees as they are teaching me in whatever language they have! So give it a rest....if you don't like Gordon or cussing - go into another profession - say a library!

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I've worked in a large number of fields because, believe it or not, the performing classical arts aren't exactly a huge moneymaker.  What I have observed is that most every field has its own expectations.  For example, people working in advertising at a certain salary level expect a large lavishly appointed and "designed" office whereas a banker at he same salary level might be working out of a cubicle.  These industry-specific expectations extend to acceptable modes of behavior.  For example, in law firms I've seen partners throw temper tantrums, yell at or belittle associates and display any number of behaviors that would have resulted in immediate suspension or termination if they were working at, say, Citibank.

It seems that there is a certain culture of profanity in certain professional kitchens, and this is deemed an acceptable mode of behavior in the business so long as the chef allows it.  Certain BOH workers clearly relish and even glorify this culture (viz. Tony Bourdain).  On the other hand, I've been in any number of professional kitchens, and plenty of them have quiet and polite.

I knew a lawyer who was fired, in part, because of his inappropriate use of profanity. He used to rail at his opponents or regale his friends with stories with a booming voice that carried everywhere, including the reception area. Ultimately, his boss, a state attorney general, got rid of him for that and other reasons. It was a shame, too, because his use of profanity was quite colorful and articulate, unlike so many people today who use the same small handful of words, whether in English or some other language. The only time I ever worked in a kitchen(decades ago), my co-workers didn't sound much different from Gordon Ramsey today.

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