Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of Bulls and Ballerinas

There are two type of cooks in the world, bulls and ballerinas. Each has their place and individual roles in the kitchen, and every kitchen needs a healthy mixture of each type. The mix is entirely dependent on the kind of kitchen, for instance, if the kitchen is pumping out buffets or banquets for 100's or even 1000's of people on a regular basis, then it will have the need for more bulls. However, if it is a high end restaurant that is producing world class cuisine where the average guest bill is above the $100 per person mark, then it will have a fair amount of ballerinas dancing around. Get the picture? Bulls are the producers of the bunch. You need 1000 of something made? Give it to a bull, they love these kinds of challenges. You'll get 1000, no guarantee what the place will look like when they are done, but you'll have 1000. Give a ballerina the task of producing 1000 of something and it will take a while, and they may even have a nervous break down in the process, but tell them you need to put tiny drops of vegetable puree around the rim of a dish, all the same distance apart, and in thirty seconds, and they will produce. Give the bull the same task and you will end up with a mess. Bulls cannot be ballerinas and ballerinas cannot be bulls. I have tried to convert each type with no success, but I am convinced that each can learn from the other, and every cook should strive for a happy medium between the two. Let me give you two example of each extreme. I had this kid working for me that was a mess on the line. No matter how hard he tried he could not get the food on the plate the way I wanted it. Tell him I wanted a dollop and he would plop. He had absolutely no grace in his movements and his plates looked like it, but when I moved him to prep he really came out. This kid was amazing when it came to defeating prep lists. We would leave him prep lists that were epic in proportions and I be damned if he wouldn't have them complete every time we came for the shift. It got to a point where we would put anything we could think of on his lists just to see if he could get them done and he did, each and every time. His speed was truly amazing. He not only completed his lists, he did so without screwing anything up. OK, contrast him with this little ballerina who worked for me. I'll call her Jane. Jane was painfully slow at everything, but what she did do, she did well. She had a certain grace when she worked. She worked for me as an intern for a couple months during our slow period. We would do 20 people and it would feel like we did 100. It took her forever to plate anything. I don't know how many times I would pound the table screaming at her that I needed HER dish to sell the order. Oh, she would buzz around the kitchen busy as a bee. She was always doing something at 100 mph but getting nothing done. She would come in 2 hours early to start her prep and not be ready when we opened. Sure, she could make beautiful food, but my god, plate tectonics move quicker than she did. So, what you want to aim for is that happy medium in between the two examples above. The two most important characteristics in a line cook are speed and accuracy. Speed is the bull. Accuracy is the ballerina. A well balanced cook, no matter which side of the line he/she may fall, will have both characteristics, while one will always out shine the other. Discover which one you are and play to your strengths. What am I? I'm a ballerina, which is good because I look FABULOUS in a tutu.

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