Control

It’s the indispensable need that courses through a chef’s veins.

If the chef seems snarky, it could mean he’s tired, irritable, or just hungover. But if you want my advice to understand what’s going on, my starting point would be that he is feeling a need for control. The job description of a head chef feels like an endless list of prep items, tasks and duties that need to be accomplished, all at the same time, and all them before dinner guests start to arrive in the next ten minutes. When he checked off number 43 on the list, with 42 more things to go, and the host announces an early 12 top arriving any minute, the control gland begins secreting with Pavlovian response. When this happens, either stay out of the way or start helping transform the chaos into order.

In his mind, the chef understands that he cannot do it alone, even though sometimes he wishes he could, because he could be far more in control than he currently feels. The notion of cooking simple food in a low stress, relaxed and well equipped kitchen for a few guests each night, each of whom will pay you exorbitant amounts of money for your services, which allows you to take a month off at a time to travel and sample the cuisines of the world, sounds idyllic, but it ain’t gonna happen. So you have to come up with another plan.

An old proverb states that the barn is clean that has no ox. And the same is true of a kitchen. I wish for anything that my place could look like a glimmering photo in the pages of an Architectural Digest, but you and I know that the only way to make that happen is to have no one work in it. I remember as a kid going to a friend’s house that had one of those living rooms off to the side that was never used. It looked perfect, well appointed and for good reason. No one ever set foot in that room, especially us kids who were looking for a place to go during hide and seek. No one would find you, because you wouldn’t be found dead in there.

It’s ironic how the quest to have it all does not lead to the envisioned promise of reward. Instead, a choice is generally required, not a choice of right or wrong, but rather one that is based on value, or what I deem more important.

I dream of walking into a spotless kitchen every day and of serving 100 covers a night. Back in the early days of opening our place, it stayed much cleaner, but that was because we didn’t have much business, and the staff had nothing else to do but scrub something or get yelled at.

So which do I want more? If push comes to shove, which one is most important to me? I’m obviously going to take the latter. I’ll take the dirty barn, full of oxen. The field can get plowed and planted much easier that way.

I was not born with the need for speed. Instead, I enjoy taking control and being in control. It explains why I was never very reckless as a kid. I’ve only gotten one speeding ticket in my life, and it was for 10mph over the 35mph limit coming into a small Oklahoma town. I like order, precision, and neatness. I prefer quiet over noise and order over chaos.

So what was I thinking in becoming a chef? On the other hand, I love hospitality. I enjoy making you smile. I like serving you and your guests and making you happy. I love hearing you say how much you love the sense of community at my restaurant. I love seeing the line of people wait for their turn for the bread&cup experience on a busy Friday night. That’s why.

And therein lies the dilemma. To gain one, I may have to trade it for the other. It all comes down to what I want most.

Boy, he sure seems grumpy today…