About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Job Description for a Cook

I was recently reading an online discussion about various culinary job positions and I couldn't help notice the wide discrepancy between the public's romanticized impression of what a cook or chef does for a living and reality. This got me thinking about a time, early in my food service career, when I was asked to describe exactly what a cook's job is...

As part of my job as a Food & Beverage Director (F&B) with Holiday Inns (this was in the early 80’s) I was tasked with writing job descriptions for all the positions in my department.  The hotel where I was working had one bar and one restaurant so this included kitchen, dining room, and bar/lounge positions.  I was supposed to show the job descriptions  to all prospective employees to make sure they were able and willing to do the jobs for which they were applying. 

Talk about re-inventing the wheel!  This had been done so many times for the exact same positions by each of my predecessors (and every other F&B manager at every other inn in the chain).  I thought it was a complete waste of time so I asked the General Manager if I could just review and resubmit a previous version of each.

“No deal”, he told me.  “Start from scratch”. 
I had recently "graduated" from a 5-day exhaustive management workshop (i.e. paid vacation) at the illustrious Holiday Inn University in lovely Olive Branch Mississippi where I was introduced to the collective H.I. corporate mentality. Apparently this onerous  little task was supposed to be an exercise designed to make sure that every F&B was intimately familiar with each of the job positions in his department. Well, I was more than familiar, having done most of them first hand, so I went at it.
To be honest, I did a pretty half-assed job for all the service staff positions, and the bar positions and the dishwashers etc. My heart just wasn't in it.  But, when it came to the cooks, the job positions I knew most about, I had some fun.  I ended up sending the GM a 2-page, single-spaced typed (remember typewriters?) document.  I don’t remember it entirely, but it went something like this...
Job Description for a Cook
The primary job for a cook is preparing the food served in our restaurant. Cooks are required to work in widely variable physical environments for extended periods of time including sub-zero degrees F while working/cleaning/stocking/organizing/and -or inventorying in the walk-in freezers and 120 degrees F-plus temperatures on the hot cooking line. “If you can’t take the heat; stay out of the kitchen” is not just a cute saying.
The work environment for cooks is also usually slippery, often wet, can be very cramped and is always full of very sharp tools and extremely hot equipment.  Accidental burns and cuts to the cook’s person can be expected.  They are part of the job and should be tolerated with minimal interruption to the work flow.  (see below for more on non-accidental injuries)
Cooks must be able to stand on their feet working for 2 to 3 hours at a time under these conditions without a break during service periods.  Cooks can expect to do a great deal of physical heavy lifting on a daily basis with regular tasks involving moving 50 lb+ containers up and down stairs, along narrow hallways and through the above described wet/hot/cold environments.
Additionally, the kitchen work zone is a fast-paced, intense and testosterone-rich environment that is often adversarial in nature. “Colorful language”, “rich metaphors” and a certain amount of physical and mental stress (abuse) that would be considered out of place in most work environments is to be expected for cooks.
Cooks are also expected to be available to work all weekends and holidays as these are the restaurant's busiest times.  Normal work shifts for cooks either begin at 5am or end at midnight (sometimes both). Cooks shifts will theoretically include the periodic meal and shift breaks as mandated by applicable labor laws but in reality they will rarely be available to take (but don’t worry, a member of management will be assigned to punch your time card in and out at appropriate intervals).
We are required by law at this point to also inform you that cooks and chefs have the highest suicide and divorce rates of any profession with the exception of law enforcement.
I went on to break down each of the individual positions (breakfast cook, dinner cook, prep cook, etc) in ridiculous detail, highlighting each and every difficult or unpleasant task they might face.
Management apparently didn't like my work very much and told me not to use my descriptions for my interviews.  Imagine that.  Probably a good thing or I’d never have been able to get anybody to fill job openings.
The following year I was handed a packet of generic F&B job descriptions to begin using.  It was sent down from the corporate headquarters and was obviously written by, or at least with the oversight of the company lawyers. The job descriptions were vanilla, vague and effectively useless as a hiring tool but I guess they kept guys like me from getting the company in trouble.
But times have changed.  Commercial kitchens are not at all the same places they were 30 years ago. I'm happy to report that this type of job description is COMPLETELY outdated and totally inapplicable in today's sensitive, modern restaurant paradigm.  <wink, wink> (pssst, Hey buddy, Wanna job?...)

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