“Political Correctness” in a Professional Kitchen
This article is NOT Politically Correct, (by today’s standards), there is very colorful language, off-color humor, and general teasing across a broad spectrum so if you’re a S.N.A.G., (Sensitive New Age Guy), a self-righteous, entitled Millennial, or just a stuffy prick with something uncomfortable lodged in your rectum, (like maybe your head?), then you should probably stop reading this now and run back to Mommy’s kitchen for a hug and a hot chocolate. For those of you adult and intelligent enough, and with a healthy sense of humor to continue on, (in my mind intelligence and a sense of humor go hand in hand), and also take personal responsibility for doing so, I’m going to delve into the question of, “How in the Fuck did we get to where are today regarding “Political Correctness?”; and specifically how does this relate to us in a professional kitchen environment.
Some may find this abrasive, obnoxious, disrespectful, or even ignorant but here we come to the crux of the matter; my INTENT is not any of those things. If you have issues with what I’m saying here then they are yours. My INTENT is to discover why it is, or at least illuminate that we have become so far removed from the secure, confident, open minded and funny people that we used to be 25 years ago; and to relate the impact in the kitchen environment. What happened? It boils down to a matter of perspective.
What is my perception of modern day “Political Correctness”? It is a defence mechanism concocted by an underdeveloped, overly sensitive generation that has lost touch with their sense of humor and refuses to take personal responsibility for being human; it is a defence mechanism against a fictional threat that will never materialize. What is out there for you to be so afraid of? It is an externalization of issues, of which we personally have no control of, as opposed to turning our attention inward and growing within ourselves. It is surrounding oneself in a protective bubble and living in denial. As childish as this sounds I was brought up with “Sticks and Stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” mentality; how do words hurt you? (Words have never hurt me, unless I allowed them to, but that was my choice, hence my problem). I honestly fear for my grandson growing up in this “bubble” causing him to be emotionally/intellectually/intelligently drastically underdeveloped translating to a real lack of a sense of humor. (Not if I can help it. )
Even saying “Merry Christmas” is now Politically Incorrect. WTF?? Ok, how’s this;
“Merry Fucking Christmas! Ho Ho Ho!”
Shit, that doesn’t even work because now I’m “disrespecting” the financially challenged young ladies that congregate on street corners late at night, (who happen to be very nice people too), you just can’t win.
I have a few theories and perspectives and was at risk of losing myself in a tangent of ranting regarding the whole premise of “Political Correctness” but there is more than enough debate/opinions out there so I will just get back to the point; How does this relate to us in a Professional Kitchen?
The one aspect I will mention is “A Sense of Humor”. First rule; you have to be able to laugh at yourself FIRST and FOREMOST! Without this first step you’re Fucked! You can’t go any further… Unable to do that your only recourse is to become “Politically Correct” and try to take away everyone else’s joy. I’m probably one of the biggest Goofs that you’ll ever meet and every morning when I look in the mirror that point is reaffirmed. It’s OK, I accept it and embrace it, I can carry on with my life happy, content, and laughing; your turn!
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun at what they are doing.” Finding fun in the often serious work we do, maintains perspective. To find hilarity in ourselves, we need to step out of ourselves.”
“Humor is something that thrives between man's aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth."
“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously."
Am I in denial that there actually is hate out there in the world; Racism, Bigotry, Sexism, Prejudice of all types, etc.? Not at all, it is out there and a part of our lives. All of these conditions stem from ignorance and they are real issues, especially for those who are burdened by such warped perceptions, their life must be miserable indeed. I can sympathize and try to enlighten them as best as I can.
I’m still amazed at some people’s assumptions about me just based on the way I look, again that is their problem, not mine. I’ve been referred to as a “Nazi” on more than one occasion, I have the typical, cliché look; tall, blonde hair, (although grey now), and blue eyes, part of my heritage is German although looking further back there is Viking as well, (and they weren’t too “Politically Correct” either). The point is those are my genes, my DNA, I was born that way and there’s nothing I can do about it, I accept it and embrace it. My personal ideas, beliefs, outlook on life is ALL me personally, my choice regardless of what my ancestors were. If someone really thinks I’m a Nazi well that’s their problem, not mine.
The kitchen is the “Great Equalizer”; the kitchen doesn’t give a shit what your heritage is, your gender, your sexual orientation, your age, etc. Neither do I; What I do care about is how you perform and fit in with the “team”. Once you’re on the team you’re a member of the family.
Now if it turns out someone is comfortable enough with me, and trusts me to the point where they are teasing, or “taking the piss”… Well, “let the Banter begin”;
Mr. Nugent; “You’re a fucking Nazi!”
Me; “Hey, I’m kind of sensitive about that topic… My grandfather died in the concentration camps”.
Mr. Nugent; (with a horrified look of remorse and regret on his face), “Oh sorry Bro, I had no idea…” “What happened?”
Me; (with as straight of a face as I can possibly maintain), “He was so drunk he fell off of the guard tower”
(I first heard this line from an Austrian colleague in the early 90’s, let’s call him Dick Yungblower. I’ve carried it with me since then and have used it more than several times when the occasion arises)
I’ve noticed lately though the biggest jeers and teases I get are, “Watch out here comes the OLD Fart”, hey, we ALL get old, doesn’t bother me, and I’ll tell you that their tune sure changes when we’re in the kitchen and I’m running circles around these “younger” guys, LMFAO!! (Seriously, no exaggeration).
There really is no room or time in the kitchen for bonafide “hate” behaviour, it occurs very rarely and when it does it’s dealt with quickly, and usually by “the Team”, before it even ends up on my desk. Here we have an important aspect, Trust, trust in the rest of “the Team”, that everyone has everyone else’s back, especially when hunkered down “in the trenches” during a busy service. This also includes mutual respect, the knowledge that we’re ALL working towards the same goal. The intensity of working in a kitchen, and working towards a Common Goal solidifies this mutual trust and respect, it supersedes any petty concerns over personal differences, actually negating them due to the necessity of having to perform at your peak. There’s really no room, or time for any bullshit to sneak in. I will elaborate on this shortly.
Is there anything in my personal opinion that I would classify as “politically incorrect”? Sure there is, but it doesn’t bother me. There are a lot more serious issues out in the world compared to whether my warped sense of humor, or someone else’s has inadvertently offended someone. Here’s an important point; Intent vs. Perception; when you perceive something as offensive are you sure that was the intent? Check out some comedians from the 80’s, Andrew Dice Clay, Rodney Dangerfield, Dennis Leary, George Carlin, just to name a few from that “pre-politically correct golden era”. As an example I think that everyone would consider Andrew Dice Clay as “politically incorrect” but I’ll still watch him and I’ll absolutely laugh my ass off because he’s hilarious. (He was very popular in the late 80’s but today he’d probably be arrested, LMAO!!! What a dismal “sign of the times”)
Admittedly “Dice” is not for everyone, if you happen to be one of those people do the adult thing, don’t watch it, just walk away. Simple. I’m reminded of an old saying;
“If you don’t like my attitude, quit talking to me”
Training; here’s something to ponder; Regardless of your feelings about war, would you rather be defended by an army of Marines trained by a traditional Drill Sergeant or an army trained by a “New Age Politically Correct” Drill Sergeant? I’ve worked under some Chefs that I swear had the ability to make a hardened Drill Sergeant cry.
Have I been brought up and trained in a “Politically Correct” environment? Absolutely not; and when I look back over the years I’m extremely thankful for that. I’m well balanced, secure enough in myself to be able to laugh at myself, be Respectful of those around me and confident enough in the mutual respect, and trust, of those others to let my defences down enough to enjoy life. Someone says something to piss me off? The majority of times that’s my problem, not theirs; It ALL comes down to perspective.
Swearing; here’s a perceived “Biggie”. WTF People? Refer to “Sticks and Stones…” Is there swearing in a kitchen? Yes, is it necessary? I will illustrate the answer to that shortly. Do I swear in the kitchen? Yes, but much less than I used to. Why? Am I mellowing in my old age? Am I becoming “Politically Correct”? Am I wimping out in my old age? No, it is simply a strategic move to better manage the kitchen.
I have worked with “Screamers” in the kitchen, there is the reputation of the screaming/swearing Chefs but that behaviour is diminishing; why? For the same reasons why my personal swearing is diminishing, it’s a strategic maneuver. If someone yells and swears ALL the time everyone becomes immune to it, they just tune it out as it is a constant; but by using the “F-bomb” sporadically and strategically it can be effective, as I will illustrate shortly.
Why do we have such crass, irreverent, rude, vulgar humor in the kitchen? It’s the Yin & Yang of life; it balances out the Terror of working in the kitchen. (Ponder that statement…). If you can’t take a joke, or hand one out once in a while, how do you expect to survive in “the trenches” on a hot, busy Saturday Night? You need a thick skin; it is not for the faint of heart. I could say that the “Nature of the Beast” of a kitchen is the antithesis of “Politically Correct”. Having said that though there is nowhere else I’d rather be, it’s in my blood.
Let’s start with some light comedy from the kitchen to warm up with; a few years ago these examples would not have raised eyebrows. I’ve researched and consulted with our HR dept. and discovered that ALL of these are technically NOT politically correct. People can get reprimanded, disciplined, terminated for partaking in such insensitive, embarrassing, and possibly insulting trains of thought, discussions, and actions. Although the details of this article were not disclosed to the HR dept. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that any connection or reference to the “company”, with this article, would be grounds for termination. Oh I’m so tempted…
“I’m in the Shit!”
No one wants to admit to this and everyone hates to hear it, especially the chef, as this is often the predecessor “of the excrement hitting the air recirculation unit”. I will expand on this shortly but the “Domino effect” is looming nearby… It’s also alerting the rest of the “Team”, and the Chef, as to your status so they can prepare or assist if able.
“I need a Flexible boner”…
…Because a stiff boner isn’t the best tool to clean a bone-in leg of lamb, or veal. Now I could have started this point out using a “stiff boner” but that’s just too easy. When I started looking through knife catalogues at 18 years old searching for my first knife purchase what do you think my reaction was when I came across the “8” curved stiff boner”? Just for “shits & giggles” I Googled knife catalogues today, to see if they had changed the wording to make it more “politically correct” and noticed that many of the large producers had changed; renaming the blade to “boning knife”. There was one exception that I came across that still used the old language, “curved stiff boner”, and that was from well-respected knife producer F.Dick. And with the new composite handles it features the patented “Dick ErgoGrip”. LMFAO!!! I can’t believe that the “Politically Correct Police Squad” hasn’t jumped all over that yet. (Seriously they are very good knives)
My usual response to this comment is, “Well Thank You for noticing…” Seriously this is a common term used to notify someone that you’re passing behind them with something hot, like a tray of product right out of the oven.
“Hey Ashley, can I put my sausage in your hotbox”
This occurred recently and my impromptu comment was referring to the tray of Hot Italian Sausage I had just removed from the oven and I needed to rest them in the Broiler Cook’s hotbox. As risky as this comment sounds both Ashley and I did giggle about it due to the fact that it is so NOT “Politically Correct”. I guess that’s one thing about “Political Correctness”, it does make a lot of things even funnier. You have to look at it in the right perspective.
“Wow Ashley, Nice Breasts!”
Hey! Get your mind out of the gutter; I’m talking about the chicken on the grill…
"Hey Surly Baker, nice looking croissants", "Light and Fluffy...Just the way I like my women".
“That’s what she told me last night…”
People that know me are going to cringe when they read this because I have to admit it is one of my favorites, as stupid as it is, but it is a great tension breaker in the middle of the rush. There are so many comments that this can respond to like;
- Wow, that was fast!
- You’re the best
- I need 5 more minutes
- “C’mon! Push it! Push it!”
And so many more… (I could go on ALL day…)
This is just a small example of the mindset in the kitchen, No it is not “Politically Correct”. Why should it be?
There are the usual pranks to be played on Newbies;
- “Go find a left handed spatula, stove plane, lobster gun, bacon stretcher, etc. etc….
- Or how about, “Our special Fine Pastry Flour didn’t arrive, I need you to chop some all-purpose for me please.”
(That can provide hours of fun J)
Just to mention a few.
I want to culminate all of this with a “snapshot”, a glimpse into a small moment of a very long and busy day that will hopefully give some insight for those not familiar with the kitchen, and a reminder to those that are.
Saturday Night, 8:37 P.M. Full Dining room, we’re riding the wave, (and depending on how “in the shit” you are it could feel like a tsunami), towards the peak of your 3rd and main rush of the night.
Politically correct version;
Chef/Expediter; “Excuse me Mr. Nugent, sorry to interrupt but I seem to be lagging a Scallops for table #69”
Mr. Nugent, (Sauté Cook); “Oh hang on Chef, just on the phone with the wife, she’s having a bit of a dilemma I’m afraid”
Chef; “Oh, I see, very sorry to hear that, I sure hope it’s not serious”
Mr. Nugent; “Well we’re hosting a dinner party next Thursday and I’ld like the Jones to come but the wife wants the Smiths, unfortunately Mrs. Smith doesn’t get along with Mr. Jones due to the “incident” between Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones that happened a couple of months back. Not sure who we should invite”
Chef; “Well that is a conundrum indeed, why not tell the wife to flip a coin to decide and then you can join us back here so we can carry on with our night. What do you think?”
Mr. Nugent; “That’s a brilliant idea! I guess that’s why you’re the Chef, just let me say goodbye and I’ll be right with you.”
Now I know that anyone in HR and “corporate” are smiling and agreeing with this scenario as this is the way they see, and think that it should be dealt with. LMFAO!!! (Not that this would ever happen in a real kitchen). What they don’t understand is at this point the night is over, no chance of recuperating now, EVERYONE is in the shit from the bus person to the dishwasher to the Chef and to the G.M., in the Shit until next week! What you have here is a 20 car pile-up on a railroad crossing during rush hour with the 5:15 express commuter train arriving in 4 minutes; it’s a disaster. It’s ugly, everyone is going to have to bend over, spread wide, take it like professionals and I forgot to bring any Vaseline.
Time is of the essence in a kitchen, every second counts, and the “Domino effect” is an ever-present threat. The slightest hiccup at the wrong time can throw a wrench into the gears and your night is literally fucked! Regardless of the agony that the staff will experience it is the damage to the client’s perceptions that are most devastating, it could take months to recover from a “bad night” like that; Murphy’s Law states that that’s the night the most read food critic in the city, or even Michelin Star reviewers, are in your Dining Room. One night like that could send the “Faint of heart” spiraling down “Suicide Lane”, seriously. All it takes is a lagging order of Scallops for an 8 Top that will put the kitchen behind at the wrong time, and the dominos start falling faster than you can recuperate.
Question; would you consider this “reality” as “Politically Correct”, or not?
Let’s look at a more realistic Scenario, same circumstances;
Chef; “Where’s the Fucking Scallops for table #69?!”
Contrary to some people’s reaction of, “OMG! The Chef is persecuting me because I’m a single, heterosexual W.A.S.P., (White Anglo Saxon Protestant), between the ages of 24 and 37.” Before we go down that road let’s analyze this. Important note; The Chef is NOT yelling for the purposes of reprimanding anyone nor is he expressing anger; he’s raising his voice to be heard and to emphasize the priority.
- The Chef is competent, level headed, has trained his team well, and swears very sparingly and strategically. The Team is on the ball, focused, ALL on the same wave length and pro-active, (Yes there really are kitchens like this out there, and how do you find them? You’re the Chef? You make them! Through training, coaching, mentoring, disciplining, and LAUGHING!)
- By uttering that “F-Bomb” the first thing the Chef has done is gotten everyone’s attention, the team knows that it’s rare for him to bellow it so when he does they pay attention, they KNOW that this is a priority and they ALL want to avert disaster
- Mr. Nugent, (Sauté Station), knows he’s “under the gun”, the team is relying on him to keep them ALL out of the shit, he checks his oven, 2 orders of scallops in, checks his bills, 3 orders “all day”. “FUCK!!!” he silently says in his mind…(he also has anywhere from 12 to 20 other orders pending including Risotto, pasta, sauteed fish/seafood, scallopini, etc.)
- The Sous-Chef, over in the Pastry area working on a V.I.P. dessert platter for a 6-top looks down the line and makes eye contact with the broiler Cook who responds with a nod, Sous-Chef nods to Chef in turn. No words spoken.
- 7 seconds after initial query.
- Mr. Nugent, “80 seconds Chef!”
- Chef, “Thank You”
- Broiler Cook, who has fewer orders, and is under control, jumps onto the stoves to assist Mr. Nugent who’s only priority at the moment is pushing that one order of Scallops out, he’s taken an order from another table that is closest to being ready. The broiler Cook has a hot pan and is starting another scallops to replace it, noticing a new order has just come in for another scallops he puts 2 on nods to Mr. Nugent who glances over and comprehends exactly what is going on nods back, no words are spoken, There’s NO time for talk.
- Chef is expediting apps and desserts going out, he was aware of the shortage and called for the scallops 45 seconds prematurely knowing already what the status was but needed to light a firecracker under someone’s butt to get back in line.
- The rest of the team now know that they have 80 seconds “grace” to work with, the salad station runs to the walk-in to restock some product they were running low on. The appetizer station, on the verge of being “in the shit” now is quickly regrouping, re-organizing to get back on their game. The broiler cook flips a couple of steaks, checks his oven and is back on the stove to help plate the scallops. (Chef is also aware of the status of other stations and observes to make sure that everyone is using their 80 second reprieve wisely)
- 50 seconds after initial query
- Chef, “Service for Table #69 Please!”
- (Although only 1 server serves the 8 top at least 2 servers are required to serve the entrees, and the FOH Manager will jump in as well to serve the “Head” or assist in other ways, insure the service goes smoothly, etc.)
- Plates are now arriving on the pass to be picked up, broiler Cook is helping plate scallops
- Sous-Chef makes eye contact with Chef, Chef signals for the Sous to stay where his at the moment, everything is under control, again no words spoken
- 95 seconds after initial query
- Last plate is picked up and out the door, the next 3 tables, a 4-top and 2 deuces, are already arriving on the pass with 3 more "on deck" to be put up in 1 1/2 minutes, Mr. Nugent is caught up and plating the next table, the Sous Chef is over in the app section, helping out, the V.I.P. dessert platter on its way out, salads are cranking out, as usual, the kitchen running smoothly at a good pace again, until the next hiccup arrives, probably in about 5 minutes.
Timing is of the absolute essence in the kitchen, and every second does count. The Chef, (or expediter), is the same as a Maestro for an orchestra, he’s directing everyone to work in unison. There is very little “chatter” but loud short “commands”, there is no time for nicety’s. Direct, loud and clear communication is the key, and it is Blunt.
Going back to this scenario;
Was there any emotion in the Chef’s query using the “F-bomb”? No
Was anyone looking to lay blame or give anyone “shit” for “fucking up”? No
Did any one of the team get upset or pissed off? No
Will there be repercussions or disciplinary action after service? No
All of these points are waste of time, time is precious.
“Shit Happens”, everyone on the team has faith and mutual respect for everyone else, including the Chef. The point is to rectify the “hiccup” ASAP and carry on with the service; everyone is aware of “The Domino Effect” and No One wants to end up in a car wreck. That’s not to say that after work over a couple of beers that Mr. Nugent is going to get the piss taken out of him by his peers for being a silly WASP but it’s all in good fun and camaraderie. Tomorrow night might be the Broiler Cook’s turn to take a fall, and the rest of the team will be there to support him, and then harass him after work.
Throughout the busy night the Chef may have to utter the “F-Bomb” twice, possibly 3 times and there is always the occasion at the end of a good night to bellow, “Great Fucking night! Good job EVERYONE! The first round of beer for everyone is on me. Thank You!”
I challenge ANYONE to try and convince me that “Fuck” is “politically incorrect”. It’s just a word, a sound coming out of my mouth; it’s also an effective tool in my arsenal to manage a kitchen.
Any outside observer, not familiar with kitchens, looking in on this “snapshot” would probably interpret the scenario as “Politically In-Correct”. That is their Perception, but that is Not the Intent of the Chef or the kitchen in general.
I think that’s the biggest issue with “Political correctness”; it allows Perceptions to twist Intent out of its original Perspective and Context. And then it’s taken as “Gospel” and any questioning of it is suspect and frowned upon.
While going through my old files yesterday I came across this administrative form that I had from over 20 years ago, yes actual “hard copies”, it brought a smile to my face. I’m thinking it’s time to resurrect it. I’m debating forwarding it to our corporate HR proposing that we incorporate it in our HR/Admin systems, just for “shits & giggles”. Can you imagine their reaction? Please feel free to copy and use or share, the more of these circulating out there the merrier.
Society has become so constipated with its “Political Correctness” that the resulting cramping and bloating is clouding our awareness and judgement. We are in dire need of a cosmic enema of joy, humor, abandonment, and common sense. The psychological toxins unable to evacuate our bodies due to the blockage are poisoning our perceptions, confidence, and self-assurance beyond recognition. The answer may just be as simple as pulling our heads out of our asses.
That’s just my opinion…
“Political Correctness” in a Professional Kitchen is NOT Politically Correct.
That’s a fact…
The events depicted in this article are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental. Regarding references to events based on true accounts names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent. The author takes NO responsibility for offence, difference of opinions or hurt feelings. Any concerns, complaints or hurt feelings can be forwarded to the Complaints Dept. with the completed “Hurt Feelings Report” included in this article.
To see more articles on the psychology/philosophy of the kitchen go to;
Happy Cooking Everyone!