Another Day in Poe's Kitchen at The Rattlesnake

Chef Brian Poe shows you the world in the back of the house.

Speed Dating at the Stove

After a while, the interview process for cooks begins to seem a lot like speed dating.

from Impactlab.com

from Impactlab.com

You know, where groups of men and women meet at a bar to go on mini-dates, making small talk in five-minute shifts until the bell rings, then moving on to the next person. It’s basically adult musical chairs—a stressful game even when you’re a kid.

The questions are quick and direct.

“What’s your favorite cookbook?”

“I don’t read cookbooks.”

Ding, ding, ding…Next!

***

The next one explains to me that he doesn’t read cookbooks; he uses the Internet as a reference. Interesting, I say, because he has a point. While I still reference my copies of

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Jasper White’s Lobster at Home, Jody Adams’s In The Hands of a Chef, Eric Ripert’s A Return to Cooking, Gordon Hamersley’s Bistro Cooking at Home, and everything Charlie Trotter’s ever written, I too constantly surf sites like Star Chefs, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and BostonChefs. So hey, let’s see what this kid’s got!

“OK, what’s your favorite website?”  

“Ummm, you know, the stuff I find on the Web.”

Ding, ding, ding…Next!

***

“How did you develop an interest in cooking?”

Bachelor #1: “God told me to.” Ding!

Bachelor #2 (a muscle-bound, tattooed guy with a shaved head and a fu manchu): “I have just always loved cooking ever since I started watching the Food Network. I saw that blonde lady with the big bosoms and I just knew, chef, I really knew that I could be that lady, but better.” Ding! Ding!

Bachelor #3: “I knew I wanted to cook when I watched my mother make jellies from all of the different berries we had while I was growing up on the farm.  I found it fascinating to watch her clean the chickens, using every part in a different sauce or casserole.”  

“Interesting,” I say, “because in your cover letter you state that you are proud to have grown up under the tutelage of your single father, an autoworker, in downtown Detroit…” Umm, ding ding ding! Next…

***

“My friend John Gorham taught me as a young man that, with the long hours we work in the food and beverage business, we can truly have the best and worst moments of our careers in a single day. Tell me about your worst day that turned into your best.”

“I was once Tasered by a chef.”

“Are you kidding me?”  

“No, my chef had a really good sense of humor and he thought it would be funny if he Tasered me when I messed up. I found it to help me create some of my most interesting cuisine.”

Dear God, my friend, I want to hire you just to show you that not all chefs are like that! We do like young cooks who want to learn, and we do like to teach. But with a stun gun? Ding!

***

“So your resume reads: Tremont 647, KO Prime, Scampo, and Sel de la Terre. Wow! Tell me about your experiences working for such great chefs.”

“Absolutely amazing. They really know how to cook.”  

Good answer, I tell him, and offer to bring him in for a day. I’ll pay him, show him what we do, and then he can tell me if he’d like to work with me.

It’s the middle of lunch on Friday when he comes in to stage. I’m excited—I’ve got great expectations from someone with a background like his. So here we go: this is how we plate this dish, I say, this is how we prepare the next one. This is every secret to everything we know.

He says, I’ve got this, and I’m filled with confidence.

The first plate he prepares is returned to the kitchen. Then the second. I make quick phone calls to the chefs the kid name-dropped in the interview. “Oh, yeah,” they say, “that kid. He worked for me for like two days.” Ugh!

***

It’s finally time for dinner service when one of my dishwashers walks in and says, “Chef, this is my brother, and he wants to cook.” He points to a kid with an Atlanta Braves ballcap on backwards. But at this point, what have I got to lose? Let’s get him in whites and give him a try, I figure.

An hour later, it’s just me and him, delivering food out the window like we had cooked together for years. I turn to him mid-rush and ask, “What got you into this biz?”

“I don’t know, chef, I just like to cook.”

“OK, kid, you’re hired.”

***

And so it goes, just like the dating game. Just like a real-life love affair. I’d been looking everywhere for my perfect match, going on date after date to find that one person, accepting no less than perfection while the rest of my staff worked extra hours and met extra demands. Then one day, when I’d just about given up—wham! Out of the blue, here’s my new line cook!

The morals to this story? One is for me to take to heart: the best things come when you least expect them. And the other’s for you young cooks out there: when you go in for an interview, don’t tell the chef what you think he wants to hear. Because in cooking, as in love and in life, all any of us want to hear is the truth.

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1 Comment»

  Speed Dating at the Stove « Great Chefs wrote @

[…] Dating at the Stove Syndicated from Speed Dating at the Stove.Jasper White’s Lobster at Home, Jody Adams’s In The Hands of a Chef, Eric Ripert’s A Return […]


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