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Advice from Chefs, for Chefs

anthony bourdain

Being a chef isn’t easy.  But is creative, passionate, and – for those at the top – a very lucrative game indeed.

Here are some words of advice from top chefs, to chefs everywhere.

Bobby Flay (Bobby Flay Restaurant Group): don’t cut corners

“A lot of times I will strip new cooks of their ‘tricks’ for getting food to the plate to make sure every step is taken to get it right.”

Daniel Holzman (The Meatball Shop): taste is king

“Always ask yourself why you’re doing something that particular way. We can all learn how to do things, but if you figure out why, you will be way ahead of the game. And remember, if it doesn’t taste good, nothing else matters. Taste is first.”

Michael Ferraro (Delicatessen): take your profession seriously

“It takes a similar amount of time to become a chef as it does to become a doctor. To get the executive title on your coat, you need to be prepared to train and study in the right establishments for eight to 10 years before being fully able to run your own show. I feel that recent culinary school graduates these days are too eager to prematurely run their own restaurants.”

Anthony Bourdain (Author/TV Host/Chef): be in shape

Am I too fat to be a chef? Another question you should probably ask yourself.

This is something they don’t tell you at admissions to culinary school, either—and they should. They’re happy to take your money if you’re five foot seven inches and two hundred fifty pounds, but what they don’t mention is that you will be at a terrible, terrible disadvantage when applying for a job in a busy kitchen. As chefs know (literally) in their bones (and joints), half the job for the first few years—if not the entirety of your career—involves running up and down stairs (quickly), carrying bus pans loaded with food, and making hundreds of deep-knee bends a night into low-boy refrigerators. In conditions of excruciatingly high heat and humidity of a kind that can cause young and superbly fit cooks to falter. There are the purely practical considerations as well: kitchen work areas—particularly behind the line— being necessarily tight and confined . . . Bluntly put, can the other cooks move easily around your fat ass? I’m only saying it. But any chef considering hiring you is thinking it. And you will have to live it.

If you think you might be too fat to hack it in a hot kitchen? You probably are too fat. You can get fat in a kitchen—over time, during a long and glorious career. But arriving fat from the get-go? That’s a hard—and narrow—row to hoe.

If you’re comforting yourself with the dictum “Never trust a thin chef,” don’t. Because no stupider thing has ever been said. Look at the crews of any really high-end restaurants and you’ll see a group of mostly whippet-thin, under-rested young pups with dark circles under their eyes: they look like escapees from a Japanese prison camp—and are expected to perform like the Green Berets.

If you’re not physically fit? Unless you’re planning on becoming a pastry chef, it is going to be very tough for you. Bad back? Flat feet? Respiratory problems? Eczema? Old knee injury from high school? It sure isn’t going to get any better in the kitchen.