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The Dreaded Female Boss

Although the stereotype of a woman being at home in the kitchen preparing beautiful meals for her husband exists, this does not carry over to the chef world. I’m a female chef who continually watches my husband (also a chef) get thanked for all the incredible food I just cooked.

Even the other night at home our friends were quick to thank my husband for the great meal. “Oh Snir, everything tastes wonderful.” What the hell? I just cooked everything on this table and Snir pulled the meat out of the oven, therefore he gets all the credit? It’s almost become comical to us. I swear my own mother will watch me cook something and still compliment my husband for it. Just the fact that he’s in the kitchen with me must have inspired me to greatness.

Although I am used to it at this point in my career, my husband (who knows what is good for him) is quick to direct the credit straight back to me. He is my biggest supporter and always claims that I have the best palate of anyone he’s met. In return, I think he is an amazing chef and teacher. We both have our strong points and work well together. Do we fight in the kitchen? Hell yes, we do! We are cooks, not poster children for marital bliss! We have an amazing ability to separate kitchen life from home life. We also prioritize humor in the kitchen. Have you ever heard of a politically correct chef? Me neither. The jokes are endless and the humor is slightly sadistic. We work long hours and tend to get a little punchy. I’m not exactly sure if it’s the profession that formed our brand of humor, or our humor that led us to the profession.

Let me start with the truth – I am always a bitch as the female boss, even when my husband comes down harder on the employees. He’s respected, I’m feared. My dad always said that you ‘ll never be able to be friends with your employees (no matter how hard you’d like to be.) You should aspire for respect, if you can’t be respected, then at least be feared. Although I never wanted this role (I swear), this somehow became my place. My husband and I became good cop/bad cop. This always amazed me as I was the one that listened to the hard luck stories, offered advice, and tried to fix everything. Regardless, I was somehow still deemed the bad cop. I tried to explain to everyone that I’m the nag and my husband is the axe. I nag people to get better, my husband fires them when they don’t. Although my husband did make me fire one employee, one that I hired. The man was unhinged, and he felt it only fair that I was the one to cut ties after I brought the psychopath into the organization.

Commanding men in my kitchen (often older) has proved to be the biggest challenge. I’ve learned to pretend that I don’t see the physiological differences between us. Ultimately, it’s my ability in the kitchen that commands respect. I guess that’s why most restaurant managers are mercilessly made fun of by cooks. No ability to cook equals no respect. Listen, I know that there are many other important functions in a restaurant, but for cooks, it always comes down to the food.

Very few have left as friends, but the ones that have, become family.

The Kitchen – the least politically correct place in the universe

There is something special about being a kitchen worker. Although it is one of the hardest jobs with the shittiest pay, there is something magical that happens in the kitchen. I’m not just talking about the food. The food is a bi-product of the camaraderie of a good kitchen staff. I often wonder if this is half of the reason why I was drawn to the profession. The ability to say what you want, when you want, and have the laugh of your life, mostly without consequence. My first lesson with this came in culinary school in Paris. You see, political correctness does not exist in France. I am so lucky to have been trained in France where I worked hard, developed a sense of humor, sucked up being yelled at, and tolerated sexual harassment. I look back now and think it was almost a test to see who would make it. I’ve had many cooks work for me that comment that they would ‘’punch Gordon Ramsay in the face.’’ When a cook says that to me, I know that they are not cut out to ultimately be a chef. They are of the ‘new school’ of culinary graduates, where everyone gets a $65,000 trophy.

I would cook with Gordon Ramsay screaming over my shoulder all day long for a chance to learn from him. Of course, Gordon Ramsay trained in France, we understand each other. There is a hierarchy in the kitchen that must be learned and respected. That is why being a chef in France requires a government certification, and there are multiple levels of achievement. Even a proper waiter in France must pass a government exam. Isn’t that awesome?

Restaurant workers become a family, albeit a dysfunctional family. The diversity of the staff is the best part of the kitchen where everyone is entitled to equal abuse. It’s like a badge of honor in a well-honed kitchen. The chef messes with the dishwasher, the cooks with the servers. Everyone screams at each other, talks shit, and then goes out for beers. It’s just the natural order of the kitchen. Can’t handle a racist joke? Don’t work in a kitchen. Don’t like profanity? Don’t work in a kitchen. Going to cry when you get yelled at? Don’t work in a kitchen.

What is my ultimate advice to young female chefs? Do the work. Do the SAME work. Volunteer on the line, ask questions, stay until late to learn from the chef. Clean the kitchen at the end of the shift. Learn to clean the griddle, empty the deep fryer, and take out the garbage. Do a few shifts on dish. Don’t be timid, don’t be pushed aside. Ask to learn about ordering and talk to the suppliers that walk through the door. Put your head down and don’t complain. Work hard, work fast, work meticulously….and above all, DON’T CRY! All of that, and you too may earn the title of boss bitch one day!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Steven C.

    Kierstin, this was incredibly well written and I have definite first hand experience to relate with you!

    I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I worked under you for about 2 years. Some of the best years in my career.

    Although I am no longer in the industry, I do still cook at home. I credit you and Snir for the discipline I learned in the kitchen, that so easily transfers to every aspect of my life. I’d love to get back in contact with you once I get to Arizona this winter.

    Thanks so much!

    Steven C.

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