Foodie Friday again, thank goodness.
As we end the week, let’s talk about the professional kitchen, which may be one of the last great bastions of the apprenticeship system. Escoffier invented the notion of the “Kitchen Brigade.” This system is still used in many restaurants and kitchens and forms the basis of the hierarchy in which people learn. Typically, aspiring chefs take on the most menial tasks like peeling and prepping vegetables before they’re allowed to have a “real” station. What’s going on in that world is a business point as well.
Culinary schools have changed the apprenticeship dynamic. Now applicants come to kitchens feeling as if they’ve been through the grind of the line. Putting aside having never been under the stress of a real dinner service for days at a time, the reality is that they are “book-smart” and the real world is a very different place. They want to run before they really know how to walk. This from a respected chef, Mark Vetri:
I once had a young cook who used to bring in modern Spanish cookbooks because he wanted to make things like mango caviar eggs and chocolate soil. I told him, “Hey, how about you learn how to blanch a goddamn carrot first, cook meat to a correct temperature, clarify a broth and truss a chicken? Once you can do these things then, and only then, should you try to learn these other techniques.” Trust me when I tell you that José Andrés is a master of the basics. You should strive to be one too.
This isn’t limited to the professional kitchen. If you’ve ever managed younger people, many of them think they know the business thoroughly because they have an MBA or a couple of years in an office. The reality is that much of what we teach as managers are basic skills that either aren’t taught at all in schools or are given a week’s worth of attention. Listening, politicking, presentation skills, office culture, and the knowledge specific to an industry are generally not areas in which young folks come prepared. Try to tell them that!
I was managing people (some older than me) when I was 23. I was a department head by 25. In retrospect, I was lucky not to have screwed up more often than I did because I was learning as I went and much of what I was learning were basic skills. As in the kitchen, learning the building blocks of the industry and business frees you up later on to be able to do anything. Walk first!