Rene Redzepi of Noma fame wonders if it's possible to for restaurant kitchens to be something other than terrifying dictatorships.
I started cooking in a time when it was common to see my fellow cooks get slapped across the face for making simple mistakes, to see plates fly across a room, crashing into someone who was doing his job too slowly. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be called a worthless cunt or worse. It wasn’t uncommon to reach for a pan only to find that someone had stuck the handle in the fire and then put it back on my station just to mess with me.
I watched chefs—mine and others—use bullying and humiliation to wring results out of their cooks. I would think to myself: Why is that necessary? I’ll never be like that.
But then I became a chef. I had my own restaurant, with my own money invested, with the weight of all the expectation in the world. And within a few months I started to feel something rumbling inside of me. I could feel it bubbling, bubbling, bubbling. And then one day the lid came flying off. The smallest transgressions sent me into an absolute rage: Why the hell have you not picked the thyme correctly? Why have you overcooked the fish? What is wrong with you? Suddenly I was going crazy about someone’s mise en place or some small thing they said wrong.
I've never worked in a restaurant kitchen, but I know many people who have, and I've always been struck by the horrifying stories of chefs dressing down their staff in front of everyone else,ten bordering on physical abuse. How did that become the norm? Is it just an inherited playbook with just one strategy in it? Are the staff not trained properly before getting into the kitchen? Are the expectations unreasonable?
What of other professions where screaming and throwing objects at underlings is the norm? I can think of some technology CEOs and movie directors, many TV show runners, coaches in certain sports...perhaps the popularity of such a management style across all these disparate areas has common roots.