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Aug 19, 2011 11:10 AM

Are some celebrity chefs difficult to work for?

I don't know about New York, Chicago, etc., but here in the Bay Area, we do have some restaurants owned by "celebrity chefs", and they seem to go through staff like water.

In particular, you see ads over and over and over again for BOH and FOH for Morimoto's in Napa, and for Tyler Florence's places in Napa and Mill Valley (not sure about his San Francisco spot).

Certainly there are other restaurants that have high turnover, but these seem to really work through staff. You've got to wonder just what's causing that kind of turnover - bad hiring choices, too much job stress, or who knows...

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  1. My guess would be the person hired has an inability to commit themselves. Its hard work and isn't all fun and games like on TV...which most just want to become famous, rather than learn the basics and expand their knowledge of the profession.
    There's a lot out there looking for a short stint or stage to beef up their resume and add these chef's names to seem like they've been around.

    Just watch out for applicants that show up still wearing a backpack! LOL

    1. Two words: Gordon Ramsey. Hell's Kitchen's prize is cooking in his restaurant--I wouldn't cook/work for him for all the foie gras he could shove down my throat. And before I get corrected, I don't even know if he's still really 'cheffing" or just plays one on TV.

      1. Lots of chefs are hard to work for. Successful chefs working under the spotlight are often even more so. That said, I'm not familiar with Tyler Florence's or Morimoto's restaurants, so who knows exactly what's going on there?

        Also though, a lot of ambitious young cooks tend to build their resumes by working short-ish stints for as many famous chefs as they can. That's the way the industry is. That's also one of the reasons you'll see many successful chefs opening new restaurants left and right, regardless of whether it seems like they're overextending themselves and setting themselves up for failure - it's one of the only ways to hold on to especially talented staff - offer em their own kitchen to run in your empire.

        ETA: it's also worth noting that many or even most celeb chefs are seldom present at their restaurants. Someone else is usually in charge of the day-to-day stuff.

        7 Replies
        1. re: cowboyardee

          Another factor is that Napa, despite being gorgeous and full of great wine, is a small town with high rent and not a lot of social scene (too many visitors, not enough locals). Mill Valley is a suburb. Both are places that people with talent probably leave once they come of age - go to SF, NY, LA, Chicago for better opportunity. And both are places that talent from elsewhere might consider moving to in order to work for a big name, but soon get tired of being in the 'burbs and quit to go back to the city where the scene is. If you moved to SF from Spokane or Eugene because you were excited about the vast restaurant scene and famous chefs there, then you want to be in SF, not in Napa or Mill Valley!

          And I am sure MOST celebrity chefs are difficult to work for. You don't get very far in this business without being a hardass, and once you have built your reputation you're not going to let some yahoo culinary student ruin it.

          1. re: babette feasts

            I think you're right, babette feasts: my friends who have worked for Mario Batali and Michael Chiarello tell me their egos are insufferable, but I wonder if that's universal or not - how about Jacques Pepin? I'd love to hear about some nice guys, if there are any.

            1. re: Claudette

              Plenty of em are nice guys, I'm sure. For example, I've heard nothing but good things about how nice and respectful Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal are. By any account I've seen Ferran Adria is a very sweet guy. But I'm absolutely certain that none of these guys would put up with an employee f*&^ing up their food. That's just the way industry is for the guys at the top.

              He's not on the same level of fame, but I've met and talked with Jose Garces (of Iron Chef America, lots of restaurants in Philly), and he was a heck of nice guy. But same deal - you can tell he cares intensely about food, so I'm sure he's a strict boss too.

              BTW, I've never heard ANYONE say anything bad about Pepin, but it's been several decades since he worked in a restaurant.

              1. re: Claudette

                I'm sure there are a a few nice guys out there, I would have a hard time believing anything awful about Jacques! I think some of those chefs with big egos have earned it, and high turnover can be part disillusionment and part young cocky cook's ego getting in his own way. What I meant about being a hardass was being focused and disciplined, not settling for less than perfection. This may be perceived as mean or big ego but is not necessarily. There are so many people fresh out of culinary school who think they know everything already who might want the big name on their resume but still don't want to be told what to do, or that their brunoise isn't good enough.

                Another factor is chefs not understanding regional differences. A NY chef opened a 2 or 300 seat place in Bellevue, east of Seattle in a new high end project that made sense before everything crashed - it opened fall 2009. Oops. I heard from someone who worked there that the chef would fly out every 6 weeks and yell at everyone, and not understand their not wanting to work 14 hour days, because that's how they do it in NY. Well, Bellevue is not Seattle, much less NY. People from here who have the drive to work like that go to NY or SF etc. We're not lazy, we just want to have energy left to go hiking on our days off - 12 hour days are fine and 14's tolerable on occasion but no need to make it a way of life. NY chef also did not understand that Seattleites don't go to Bellevue for dinner that often, why cross the lake when there is likely so much in your own neighborhood. The place lasted 9 months, I believe.

                The closest to celebrity chef I've worked for is Thierry Rautureau. Quite the local celebrity, and was on Top Chef Masters last year. Great guy, hilarious, loves to party but does not suffer fools or mistakes in the kitchen. If something is not to his liking, he will tell you, and there might be cussing involved, but then he will show you how to fix it and you will thank him for it because his way really was better than yours. His kitchen is high stress because he has high standards, and nobody wants to disappoint Chef. There may be people out there who think he's an asshole, but they just don't understand.

                1. re: babette feasts

                  Wow, I completely agree with you in many aspects you mentioned here. Many losers think their boss is an asshole without realizing the fact that they simply cannot keep up with their boos's high standards.

                2. re: Claudette

                  I never worked for Jacques, nor am I in the profession. But he was my neighbor in CT so I did know him. Nicest guy in the world. With the nicest family to boot! Lovely and unpretentious.

                  1. re: madisoneats

                    I worked with Chef Pepin a few times back in the 80's at Restaurant du Village in Chester; he was friends with the then owners and would pop in sometimes to talk and cook. I have to agree, he was/is a very pleasant person.

                    Aside from that, many chefs can very difficult to work for, celebrity or no name. The food biz is a rough one, careers are made and lost in a heartbeat of a single bad meal. Long hours, a less than pleasant working environment, the stress of being creative 24/7; the bigger the reputation you have, the farther you could fall. That can make anyone pretty cranky.

                    The difference between being "difficult to work for", as in exacting, perfection-driven, with very high standards, a strong work ethic, a sense of fair play and the ability to show respect for other team members, who can lead and teach under often impossible situations with demanding deadlines, and a complete, cruel and utterly insufferable ego driven jerk with a bone to pick with everyone and a genuine lack of respect for other employees, skill level notwithstanding, is just personality. I'd chose the former any day.

                    Restaurant staff turnover has always been very mobile, BOH or FOH, whether diner or high end establishment; it's the nature of the beast. Matter of fact, I was always suspect of cooks who stuck around one spot for more than a few years. Restaurant turnover is not necessarily driven by a hard to work for chef; it's often a matter of pay, environment, the manager, the owner; or just a simple as reaching a point of skill level no return and the desire to move up the position ladder; that generally means moving on.

            2. I'd say the pot calling a new kettle black, too. If you read the resumes of some of the most popular celebrity chefs you see they all list the "celebrity chefs" they worked for. It's part of the culture, absolutely attention grabbing to the next employeer and a feather in the (temporary) cap of the new hire. Difficult to work there or not, turnover is a separate issue/discussion from why individuals are attracted to apply to restaurants owned by chef celebs in the first place.

              1. The terms "staff turnover" and "restaurant" go together like "peanut butter" and "jelly".

                Matters not if the restaurant is owned or run by a celebrity chef.