A Piece of Advice

SO I haven’t written a post in awhile.  Fine, months- lots and lots of months.  Its not that I’d lost motivation, or creativity, or haven’t had fun anecdotal things to talk about- I’ve just been really effing busy.  Sorry folks- they never tell you that the life of a chef often includes food cost, getting on planes, re-training staff, learning how to re-wire an ice cream truck, work on new projects for chocolate companies, getting off planes, oh, and I bought a house. Time suckage.

But something happened today that I can’t seem to shake.  And like every good pastry chef does in that situation- I consulted with my pastry harem and we all agreed.  Something needed to be said.

Let’s get to the backstory:
No.1: no names will be mentioned
No.2: this isn’t a shaming
No.3: this is a conversation that we really need to have. 

I have ten cooks- I have ten different people working at South Congress Hotel with different backgrounds, different pastry experiences, different life choices, different life dreams, and different issues.  However- we are a team.  I decided a long time ago that I would not be like most of the chefs I worked for- not that it wasn’t effective.  I decided that I couldn’t be that kind of chef who yelled, guilted, or berated their team- and believe me, I started that way but I felt awful.  Not only did my staff not like working with me but they also never got better- never grew. Also, and this is important, I didn’t like working with me.  It wasn’t until I realized that if I promoted a learning environment in which we understand mistakes will be made and that it is okay to make them- so long as we learn from them, my staff learned more and was happier.  We talk about the “whys” instead of the “what the hell, you monkey!”; that personal boundaries and professionalism were ideas to be respected.  I am an adult and my staff are adults too.  Don’t get me wrong- we have hard talks and moments where there are disappointments, however, its always an open, honest conversation and in the end, I’m still boss.  

So, let’s get to the meat of this, shall we?
One of my cooks was out with friends and met up with another Chef in town who proceeded to talk disparagingly about their current Pastry Chef and the fact that they were leaving the restaurant.  I get it, when cooks leave its hard to not take it badly.  It truly becomes an art to not feel the sting.  Me- I repeat in my head “the show must go on” all while the cook explains why they have chosen to leave my little pastry nest.  I always think of the saying “People don’t leave jobs, they leave their bosses” and wonder to myself- was I not a good boss? Did I not teach and nurture them?  Then I get a grip and understand that they are on their own life journey and right now, my pastry shop, is not their last stop.  As a Chef and boss- I can’t control what my cooks ultimate desires are in life- however, I can give them an excellent working environment that promotes great technique, makes great product, gives sound advice, plays good music, has a Chef who is present in the kitchen, offers fair pay, gives a chance to be creative, oh, and we offer benefits (email resume to: Amanda.rockman@southcongresshotel.com) ;)  If that is not in their game plan- then yes, they have to go and find out what it is that they are looking for. But- I digress…  The Chef in question’s now former Pastry Chef’s choice was a personal matter that dealt with a need to explore other areas in their life. Mazel.
My pastry cook then asked the Chef about the pastry program- as they were perhaps interested in applying.  The Chef was not too open about them asking questions but, at the end of the night, presented them with a business card to set up a stage, to my cook’s surprise. The cook goes back home and reflects on the conversation that was had with the Chef and pondered if they thought they were a good fit for the program and management style that was discussed. 

Two days later, my cook emails the Chef to say thank you and then respectfully declines the stage but wished the chef best of luck.

The reply.

“No 1

 I told you explicity that email wasn’t active and told you to text or call

 No 2

 In our two years I’ve never had a stage decline.  We work vey hard out here to make this place unique and special.  That being said your ability to see the big picture, learn from others and see a restaurant that is truly unique doesn’t bode well for you and your generation.  Staging at restaurants better than the ones on your CS make us into the cooks we want to be.  I wish you the best but you should really digest this email, lose a little of your attitude, humble yourself, you graduated from a cooking school (a poor one so you know) 2 years ago.  Enjoy Austin, enjoy your PR pumped restaurant and learn from your mistakes and hubris.”

 Deep breath, Rockman.  Deep breath.

Ok, I get it.  Maybe its my mamma bear instinct and I want to protect my kids. Or could it be that I just watched an episode of “Girls” and I feel the need- no want- to stand up for my cooks “generation” because hey, we all had our 20’s and believe you me- we were all Hannahs at some point. Perhaps, its recalling being treated similarly as a young cook so many years ago and just eating it because it I thought it was acceptable.  But guess what?  This behavior is not acceptable. We are professionals, teaching these new cooks how to cook, how to be a part of the hospitality industry, and how to treat each other…among a million other things!  For a Chef to berate and belittle a cook for not wanting to stage at their restaurant because the cook took the time to actually think about whether or not this was a good move for them, and ultimately, for the restaurant, means that the Chef missed the entire reason the cook declined the offer and perhaps the Chef missed the ‘bigger picture’ completely.

I could pick apart this email and make note of all the manipulative, misogynistic, and egotistical rhetoric – but again, this is not a shaming (red pencil OUT!).  We need to talk about what the effects are on the individuals that come across this behavior in our business.

My cook was visibly upset.  They thought they did something wrong.  And this is what pained me the most because I could see that they felt devalued.  The thing is, they didn’t do anything wrong- they were treated unprofessionally and I let them know that there are many Chefs who do not approach their staff like that, or potential staff for that matter.  Many believe that the staff they work with day in and day out are family- and you protect your family, you love your family (of course professionally, folks), and you are honest with them (especially when they ef up a massive batch of banana chocolate cake).  I did my best to explain to them that they always have a choice as to where they want to work and who they want to work for.  You can work for the best and still have self respect and expect to be treated like a human being from your co-workers.  I know there are Chefs out there who create that environment on top of making kick ass food.  For the Chefs who don’t feel the need to give anyone a shred of decency- I’m sorry for that.  Once you let go of that big ball of anger and your need to control people with fear- you and your staff will be better for it.

So where do I end this story?  Its really up to us.  The industry- the cooks, chefs, owners, servers, dishwashers, sales managers, bussers, baristas- we need to agree that we treat each other with hospitality and refuse to see this behavior as “part of the job”.  We, collectively, can agree and act with a certain moral compass and professional code that states “we are not immature fools who emotionally manage our lives with anger and hate and throw baby tantrums!!”  We are intelligent, creative forces that truly believe in the word hospitality and the humble nature of our craft, at the end of day- we serve people.   With all the research, studies, and books about channeling your energy to motivate, inspire, and think outside the box you think we would have this down by now (while you are here, may I suggest Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table- its on Prime, people!  https://www.amazon.com/Setting-Table-Transforming-Hospitality-Business/dp/0060742763/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492148073&sr=8-1&keywords=danny+meyer)

I mean, its 2017 for christ's sake.  I know we can do better. 


**Because, yet again, I have written on my soap box-  I leave you with a wonderful recipe for Orange Brioche into which we fold-in little nuggets of pearl sugar and once slightly cooled, we brush with butter and roll in cinnamon sugar.  Truly a delight!
Just a little recipe from this PR pumped pastry chef. **

Those sweet sweet brioche rolls. 

Those sweet sweet brioche rolls. 

Yield: 12 mini loaves

476g bread flour- we use King Arthur
7.7g dry yeast
190g eggs
95g room temp whole milk
48g sugar
9g kosher salt
63g pearl sugar
2 each orange zest
286g plugra butter- cubed and slightly chilled


1. Place all dries and orange zest (NO PEARL SUGAR) in the bowl with the hook attachment
slowly add eggs/milk so that flour has ability to hydrate
2. Once incorporated mix on medium/high speed till shiny and elastic
3. Blitz in butter in a few additions and mix till combine
4. mix in pearl sugar till disperse within
5. Place in pan sprayed container and cover with plastic so that it does not develop a skin
6. Allow to chill and rest overnight
7. Make 1oz balls and place three into sprayed mini loaf pan
8. Cover with plastic wrap
9. Allow to proof at 90F till double in size
10. Bake at 350F till golden brown (inside temp at 200F)
11. Take out of pan and allow to cool on rack
12. Once cooled for 10 minutes brush with melted butter and roll in cinnamon sugar