We have all heard the question “is it better to be respected or feared” and have all heard arguments for both sides. I am not sure how such a questioned could be debated to such depth when these scenarios are being played out right in front of us every single day and the results can easily be observed. When working in a Kitchen
, there is an opportunity to cut corners in every five minutes worth of work. The te
mptations are all around you, especially when there is a 4 o’clock deadline to be finished with your prep work. When a chef rules his kitchen with an iron fist, obviously nobody is going to slack off when the chance of being caught is present. Nobody likes getting reamed out by the chef in front of the whole kitchen staff. The truth is, though, no chef is capable of monitoring every little task of every cook. Every cook knows this. When the focus is elsewhere and the fear trickles away, in comes the half steppers. A kitchen that is fueled by fear always has a glass ceiling that could never be penetrated.
David Chang is a chef that marches to his own beat. We went to the same culinary school, however, he is 10 years older than myself. When I was in school, he was just beginning to kick down the doors of culinary greatness. At first, everybody wanted to work for him. He was unconventional, trendy, and rebellious. Then, the stories of him making line cooks (grown men) cry started making their way into our naive circles and the desire to work for him was quickly gone. Those who are not familiar with the dynamics of a kitchen see this guy as a total psycho. I can understand why, but it is really not the case. Yes, David Chang
is a little more aggressive than some chefs. There is a reason why his restaurants are so highly regarded, though. This is for the extreme attention to detail he has always placed into every dish he has sent out of his kitchen doors. This requires a tremendous amount of discipline. When he has broke his back for so many years building this empire, one could imagine why he would have minimal patients for some line cook who is not committed to greatness. He’s from the school of “Do it right – or do it twice”. A good percentage of people aren’t like that and that is where all of the horror stories come from.
Now, it is not as if he sits on an elevated chair in his kitchen with a whip and is screaming commands from the throne. This would be a kitchen rooted in fear. David Chang is right there next to his line cooks everyday in the trenches. His line cooks do not fear him. They respect him. And with respect, comes spiritual investment – the x factor of great kitchens. When a chef has line cooks that respect him/her, they have a culinary army willing to go to any lengths for them. When a chef is in the kitchen before his line cooks, there after they leave, maintains a consistent devotion to the highest standards, and continuously fights through the exhaustion that is so clearly visible in their eyes, the rest of the kitchen will do everything that they can do to back them up. This means doing the right thing, even when there is not anybody looking. This means working harder than they have probably ever worked before. This is a great price to pay but the rewards are priceless. In return, they get to be part of a kitchen that is truly doing what very few kitchens in the world are doing.
Working at Momofuku is not for the faint of heart. It is difficult and it is stressful. But much like everything else in life, the rewards are equivalent to the sacrifices.
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