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Wait a second now - regarding Top Chef II - kitchen manners? are you kidding?

I've read the thoughts... but where does every one seem to get this idea that a professional attitude is the rule in restaurant kitchens?

Back-stabbing, nasty, ugly, churlish, sometimes even homicidal behavior happens behind the doors you never travel through... nor would want to. I say this from personal experience. It's nasty in there. So people are ganging up on someone? So what? That's nothing. I knew a chef who had to leave his previous job and move to another state because of getting pissed off at a waiter and dousing him with hot soup.

Just because you feel things should go a certain way, does not mean they're going to. Expecting some kind of manners in a kitchen is just naive. It's a zoo. A crazy, effing, mess of a sometimes wonderful, sometimes suicide inducing, mostly crazy-making place to be.

These people are kittens compared to some of the people I worked with. Honestly. Spend a week back there. See if you don't feel the same way.

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  1. Amen. My most vivid memory is watching a grill chef - armed with a carving knife - chase the sous chef through the kitchen immediately before lunch service (lovers tiff).

    Any time you introduce a group of creatively driven humans to a high-pressure, time-compressed environment you're going to see some pretty interesting psychology.

    1 Reply
    1. re: artgeek

      I've worked in a kitchen and the chef where I worked would never have put up with stupid behavior like someone chasing someone with a knife. If we were caught walking around without the knife pointing down, it was bad. Yes, there was backbiting and personality issues..and yes, a dishwasher did hit a line cook once, but the chef wasn't there at the time. :)

      My mom always owned restaurants, and believe me, none of that crap went on there. I doubt Thomas Keller would put up with it.

    2. So its a good thing that the show is perpetuating the Kitchen Confidential stereotype, sans the coke? I think people were hoping that it was not such a cliche.

      Also, Harold, the winner from Season 1, never once laid into anyone, nor got into a hissy fit during his rise to his season's win. Maybe he's different when working the hot plate, but he was classy on the show.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Rocknrope

        I see your point but I sincerely doubt you've ever worked in a kitchen. Some things are cliche simply because they're true.

        1. re: bryan

          Actually I have, in my parents restaurant which they owned for 25 years, but not as a cook. And I did observe alot of the behavior you describe and others have experienced. I wasn't so much disputing what you said, I think it's just always disappointing when people use their profession as an excuse to act like a jackass, particularly when they're being viewed by millions.

          1. re: Rocknrope

            My dad owned a restaurant when I was growing up, too, but I don't ever remember seeing this kind of drama in the kitchen. Maybe it was the kind of place it was--definitely not "fine dining"--but folks just didn't act this way. I worked in the kitchen for awhile, myself (granted, it was at 5:30 a.m., so maybe folks just didn't have the energy for drama then), and was in & out of the kitchen when I worked in other parts of the place. I never remember seeing such bad behavior, or hearing such language.

            But I was talking to my dad about this at Christmas time, and he said the cliche and what we're seeing on TC with the chefs drinking a lot was true to his experience. He had to get at least a couple of folks into rehab while they worked for him.

        2. re: Rocknrope

          I don't think they are perpetuating a steretype, I think this type of acting out is fodder for die in the wool reality show lovers. Let's face it conflict sells.

          1. re: Rocknrope

            Also, Harold, the winner from Season 1, never once laid into anyone, nor got into a hissy fit during his rise to his season's win. Maybe he's different when working the hot plate, but he was classy on the show.

            At least not on the air.

          2. And yes, too much unnecessary drama, but otherwise, no one would tune in. Cat fights and rudeness are what make ratings.

            Us personal chefs have been contacted numerous times by the scouts for these different shows. Myself only twice, others maybe more. The first time, I was interested because the payoff was $50K, so when I responded, they sent me a questionnaire to fill out.

            What they WANT to see is turmoil and disagreement in your household. This is not only desired, but mandatory. My husband was going to file divorce papers if I pursued it any further. At what price integrity, or lack thereof.

            1. Tracy L and personalcheffie are right on- this is a reality show first and last, and somewhere in between there is a little creativity and execution in the kitchen.

              1. There's a real difference between on-the-job quirkiness, or even bad behavior, and behaving badly and humiliating others in front of television cameras. I worked in a business where people often lost their tempers, used all sorts of colorful language and sometimes tortured others, presumably because of pressure or personality quirks. This is quite different from contestants on a reality show, who claim to be accomplished or professional, tormenting others (or worse, one selected scapegoat) in front of a film crew and, ultimately, a national audience. And, as others have said, all this while performing what appears to be some mediocre feats in the fake kitchen.

                1. That kind of behavior would get you thrown out of any one of Chef Tom C's kitchens, instantly. Every show need a little Jerry Springer or America would be instantly bored.

                  1. The drama on Top Chef & most other restaurant reality shows is instigated by producers who need that drama for the show to work & simply does not happen in more respectable restaurants. I've worked in some of the best here in the bay area & in Chicago where I started & yes the backstabbing & the petty fights happen. Sex in the wine cellar,broom closet & storage area has happened, petty fighting among the line cooks & yes, even the chef berating some naive young cook happens. But when it does happen..most people don't even know about it because most people keep quiet about it.

                    But the behavior I saw on Top Chef where they simply refuse to help Marcel or the teasing of Marcel in the kitchen about his virginity would NOT happen. No chef would allow that. Sure there is the joking about stuff like that but all in good fun where the person being teased knows we don't mean it. It's not done in such a mean & mob mentality sort of way.
                    If Sam had done that to some line cook you can bet your ass that that line cook & all the others would walk out. That has happened before & that chef learned a good lesson about controling his temper.

                    It's shows like this(although I do enjoy it fot the entertainment) & the crap on Food network that makes kids want to be a chef & then they enroll in school, spend 30-40k on tuition, come out & expect to start having a ball with all the drama & having fun making elaborate sugar work. Then they realize they make crap pay,work long hours & there really isn't all that much drama going on. They start smoking too much, drinking too much red bull during work & too much alcohol after work, they can't stand living with 4 other people they hardly know because they can't afford to live on their own & they end up moving back home with mom & dad trying to figure out what they really want to do.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sugarbuzz

                      The real problem here is that eveyone wants to be a chef and no one wants to be a cook. The schools sell themselves as Chef school. I could sear and braise these kids that want to be called Chef because they graduated from some glorified vocational school. I had an extern not long ago that turned down the job we offered her because she wasn't inspired by our kitchen. Even if that was an excuse for the low pay... who the hell asked you to be inspired days out of culinary school? Go peel something!

                    2. This is why you don't need to spend $40K on school to go to work making $10 an hour. You can start at the bottom and work your way up.

                      1. I think it was in Michael Ruhlman's latest book where, while interviewing Tim Ryan (now head of the CIA), Ryan explained that the CIA is careful to let prospective students know that they won't be all Food Network/reality show/la-di-dah upon graduation -- they WILL earn low pay and put in A LOT of hours, etc. That is to say that they won't accept someone who has media designs; the CIA just wants it known as to what the student will truly be getting into.

                        My culinary alma mater is the same way. Sure, FN has filmed a couple of specials there, the owner/founder has a lot of media contacts, but she's cognizant of the chef fantasy. She stressed to my class (and probably to everyone else) that one must pay their dues foremost. If you don't like it, then do yourself and the school a favor and quit.

                        1. That attitude isn't unque to the restaurant business. I find the same thing to be true in my line of work (advertising). When I started out, I was happy to get ANY assignment at any pay. I just wanted to be in my chosen line of work. I realized that by paying my dues and working hard, I'd eventually see the big (or at least adequate) money. Kids out of the "portfolio schools" these days expect to be getting multi-million dollar TV budgets right off the bat, and senior salaries to boot.