Friday, September 28, 2012

the last book I ever read (Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef, excerpt three)

from Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson:

I kept my head down and did what was asked of me, knowing that if I did a good job, someone would notice and I would be moved to the kitchen. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement: I was there to learn, but I knew they were also sifting through the stream of commis, looking for whom to pluck out of the group and add to their team. A friendly American I worked alongside, a big boulder of a guy named Jeremy, didn't see this same big picture. He'd been stuck in the boulangerie for more than a month and still wasn't cooking. He was pissed.

"Why won't they let me go on the line?" he'd say. "It's bullshit. I'm going to ask them why."

"Don't," I said. "Don't draw attention to yourself. I know it sucks, but try to be as small as possible."

He would never get on the line, I could tell. He wasn't going to last. A lot of Americans had this problem in the European kitchens. It wasn't that they didn't love cooking, it wasn't that they didn't have the skills. They'd done their research and paid their dues and worked just as hard as I had to get to restaurants like Victoria Jungfrau and Georges Blanc. But to get ahead in that culture, you have to completely give yourself up to the place. Your time, your ego, your relationships, your social life, they are all sacrificed. It's a daily dose of humility that a lot of Americans find difficult to swallow. Guys like Jeremy could never fully tamp down the desire to be seen and heard, to stand out and make his mark, to go up to the chef and get noticed by chatting: "I just want to say hi and thank you."

The thing is, small talk with a commis is the last thing on a chef's to-do list.

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