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Feb 6, 2012 06:48 PM

Chefs and SMOKING

OK, so I'm watching Top Chef (we are a few episodes behind in Canada) and I've noticed that whenever the chef contestants are filmed during their off hours, they are all smoking.
I've noticed that with every season of Top Chef -- the majority of the contestant chefs smoke.
I've noticed that with pretty much every episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares -- the chefs/cooks in the kitchen smoke.
I've noticed that with every season of Hell's Kitchen -- the majority of the contestant chefs smoke.
If smoking kills your sense of taste and smell, why are these chefs smoking? And how do they know if something tastes good or is properly seasoned?
Is this common in the restaurant industry? And if so, what the heck! It would seem to me that this is something that would really impact your abilities as a chef -- after all, you taste for a living. And how can you pass off something as properly cooked and seasoned if you can't freaking taste it properly?

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  1. this comes up in discussions every so often - i dug up a few threads for you, though you'll have to read through the replies to find the sections that are specifically about your post:

    i'm with you - it DOES dull/alter your sense of taste...or at least it did mine. [hangs head]. yes, i was a heavy smoker for many years, and after i quit, my sense of smell (which is *essential* for taste) came back with a vengeance. i pretty much rediscovered food.

    many chefs have a very heavy hand with salt, and smoking may be one of the reasons.

    1. I smoke, and my sense of taste is, I think, pretty good. Maybe it would be better if I didn't smoke, but it certainly hasn't been "killed." I can easily taste the difference between uni from Maine and uni from Santa Barbara and uni from Hokkaido. I can also tell a peach from a plum, a tomato from an onion, and a grilled cheese sandwich from a stick of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum. So all in all, I don't think smoking has ruined my palate.

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        1. I had a former chef, now in a related business tell me that he used to smoke when he worked on the line because that was the only way he could get a break! 'Chef I need to sit for 10 minutes' while true makes you look like a slacker but say 'chef can I smoke a cigarette' and you get your break!

          lol. Sad but true.

          7 Replies
          1. re: AAQjr

            Same in the military. 10 minute smoke break meant exactly that. If you weren't smoking, Sarge would put you on police detail. And what would you be finding the most of? Cigarette butts!

            1. re: AAQjr

              I worked in restaurants/bars for about 6 years, and it's true. One of the reasons I kept smoking was so that I could get breaks. You didn't get breaks like that (except for a snack later if you had time). Well, that and the fact that the restaurants/bars were smoking, so I'd be inhaling about a pack of tobacco smoke a night ANYWAY. I've since quit (a year this time, woot!), and my senses of taste and smell are improved, but not all that much. But enough to notice is significant enough for me.

              1. re: kubasd

                My husband stopped involuntarily a year ago due to medical issues (severe stroke) and his tastes have definitely changed, whether it was the cigarettes no one can really tell. But his neurologist claims that tobacco kills your taste buds permanently. Sad if that is true, not sure if I believe it, based on anecdotal evidence. Glad to hear otherwise.

                1. re: kubasd

                  Darn slacker smokers!

                  I worked with one guy who would take a book with him on his smoke break and sit on the sidewalk reading and smoking. Most smokers at least have the courtesy to pretend they are going to suck down that cig as fast as possible and get back to work asap. IIRC, that guy got fired, probably not for reading and smoking, but I doubt that helped make a case for his work ethic.

                2. re: AAQjr

                  I was working at a hotel in the banquet kitchen during tour season. Each tour had a set time for dinner and set menus (you know, chicken, fish or beef). As soon as the pick ups for a time slot were done, the smokers (all men that particular summer) would scurry off, leaving us non-smokers to tidy the line and re-set for the next round. I once in passing commented on this to one of the sous-chefs and he said that it evened out for me (as a woman) because women take more bathroom breaks. I didn't bother to respond to that.

                  1. re: Sooeygun

                    ROFLMAO! You prolly did the right thing not to respond but that is ludicrous. I'm guessing he said that before he went to smoke?

                    I too have resorted to going to the bathroom to get a break, sit and think ;) I am a guy and a non smoker btw

                  2. re: AAQjr

                    This is SOOOO TRUE!!! Years ago I used to cook on the line for several different restaurants. I used to smoke, but had quit by this time. I was always joking that the only way you could get a break was if you DID smoke!!! I honestly think I was the only non-smoker on the line. Got "stuck" on the line all of the time being abandoned by the smokers. Glad to see I wasn't the only one!!!

                    On another note...Never noticed a difference in my ability to taste things better after I quit smoking, but there was a MAJOR difference in my ability to smell after quitting.

                  3. If that were the case, by your definition, most restaurant meals would be inedible -- either too salty / heavily seasoned, or too bland. Which I believe is not the case, at least in most restaurants I frequent.

                    I myself smoked for most of my life on and off, but my sense of smell as well as my taste buds have always been pretty sensitive (more a curse than a blessing). When I quit, the only thing I became more sensitive to was cigarette smoke. Go figure.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: linguafood

                      Perhaps we accept food at these restaurants that isn't done "right" but is cooked by the "right chef" -- one assumes that the food cooked by chef X is done correctly so if it tastes not seasoned enough perhaps I am the one who doesn't really know how this food "should" taste. And at the same time, salt and pepper shakers are pretty ubiquitous in restaurants, and if done properly, the food shouldn't require any extra seasoning.
                      It would be interesting to know if these chefs season their food differently for their own palate than for what they know to be acceptable in the industry -- i.e. this tastes bland to me, so it should be just right for our patrons -- as in a learned response kind of thing.
                      And its also interesting that seasoning is a huge issue on Top Chef, for example -- either the food needs seasoning or it is way too salty (Chris. C in the bbq challenge) -- and the chefs who have prepared the food indeed smoke.
                      Interesting thought, no?

                      1. re: freia

                        I think the definition of "properly seasoned" is subjective. Things I may find bland or not spicy enough might make other people's heads sweat.

                        Things I personally find too salty, others might enjoy with gusto -- no matter who the chef is. I also don't doubt my personal tastes, because... well, because they're personal, and I'm pretty hip to how I personally think some food *should* taste. I don't question myself just because chef X might think this is the "proper" way.

                        1. re: linguafood

                          True enough! Just thinking out loud, that's all. I know that some very VERY foodie friends of mine get quite upset when people ask for salt and pepper at the table season the food themselves. To them, one should trust the chef has seasoned the food appropriately and the diner is having it "the right way". And I know that if I went to a Michelin 3 Star and ordered something and it didn't taste the way I thought it should I'd be questioning my own taste.
                          Taste indeed is so personal!