I watched this documentary called Michelin Stars: The Madness Of Perfection. William Sitwell is a food writer and critic who delves into the world of Michelin stars, talking to Marcus Wareing, up and coming chefs, Marco Pierre White, Jean-Luc Naret (ex president of Michelin guide), a real Michelin inspector and Jeremy King, a man who has a few restaurants, all without stars. One of the focal points is Bernard Loiseau, who is alleged to have killed himself apparently because he worried he would lose a star.

I think one of my favourite bits was a candid chat with Raymond Blanc, who didn’t mince any words when he said that drug use is high in professional restaurants. You don’t get to see or hear this shit ever. That’s the reality of working in starred or hatted restaurants. Blanc mentioned how a good kitchen is one with a great energy and vibe but he also stressed that the ones where young chefs get screamed at shouldn’t be the case. Myself, I worked with this German dude who was sometimes jovial and sometimes a swearing nutter. Schiesser schiesser schiesser. I currently work with a dude who’s pretty damn chilled and great fun. I can tell you which is better.

I have never actually worked for a famous mad pan tossing, swearing mofo like some of my friends. The stories we tell over beers and soju are about dickheads and egos and clashes between the front (management) and back (kitchen) and people getting stabbed and shit. There’s a shitload of effort that goes into a good plate of food. Where I work might not have 3 hats at the moment but we push hard. I work on average a 52 hour workweek, on paper. In truth, it’s about 20% more than that and only because my place is quite nice and people tell me to go home when I’m done. But in many top kitchens, it’s not unusual to do 70 or 80 hour weeks for something like $600 a week. Or less, particularly when you just start out.

I know a guy who had a hot pan thrown at his face. He dodged it. There are like a zillion kitchens where the guy on top is basically mouthing off at your face, worse than Gordon Ramsay, who’s actually a pretty nice guy considering. I dined at Pier on it’s final day and as I traipsed past the kitchen door, two dudes were in fisticuffs. There’s plenty of places where you’ll see adverts all year for chefs of all positions, revolving doors where chefs get used and abused and another poor sod who doesn’t know any better comes in. And the drug use? I haven’t seen it personally other than a spliff or a pill or a line out of work but people use or have used drugs. I work/worked with dudes who have/had problems.

Why the hell do chefs do it to themselves though? I understand the pressure and all but to kill yourself like Loiseau is madness for sure. For the recognition? I think Marco Pierre White put it best in the doco. He said “What chefs should accept, is that the people who are judging them, have less knowledge than they have.” I definitely subscribe to that philosophy, even if it comes across a little arrogant, it also happens to be 100% true.

Which is why it sucks that a restaurant’s livelihood is summed up in a few lines in a paper or worse still a 400 pixel wide image on a blog written by someone who has no professional or insider understanding whatsoever. I’m not saying there’s no good food blogs, there’s plenty and they’re informative but I never bother about their opinions, it’s just another angle of information aside from a restaurant website but often I’ll read some shit that makes me roll my eyes back into my sockets. Bloggers do need to understand that they have a responsibility to real businesses and real people who can have off days from time to time.

I think chefs have a hard enough life as is. Long hours, physically demanding labour, intense environmental conditions, so many fears out of your full control (hairs dropping, bugs in the salad, plastic wrap/paper/foil stuck on food…), constantly getting injured… It’s really no help at all when you just wanna do something that will brighten up someone else’s day. In today’s instagramming, twittering, facebook enabled society, you’re judged the moment you mention to someone that you’re gonna open doors, before the first plate of food goes out. You’re judged on where you’ve worked before (Tetsuya’s great, roast chicken shop less so) and your background (exotic culture/ethnicity, training in a foreign land…) or your looks even. As much as I like to go out to eat and write about my experiences, I tend to prefer not to mention places I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and I don’t really openly criticize too much. I abhor articles that mention that somewhere else is better. I think comparing the stuff from one place to another as a point of reference is perfectly fine but in one recent review for a ramen store in Sydney printed in a major newspaper, the author went onto recommend another place instead, which I think is highly unprofessional.

Chefs definitely belong in the work hard play hard category of people. Not everyone’s cut out for it either and just too many people do it because, well, what else would they do? Chefs are mostly either stupid or naive. Stupid because they should’ve studied harder in school to land that white collar. Naive because they think they’re doing something they’re passionate about and hoping to share that passion with other like minded people. Sure there’s plenty of peeps who love and know great food and what it can do but there’s just loads and loads of people you will never please.

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