If the movies are to be believed, a life in hospitality is equal parts grit and glamour.
They’ll show that spark of brilliance in the first act where our protagonist seems to possess an almost virtuoso-like relationship with their ingredients and glory is all but assured.
They’ll pepper in a little discontent so that the inevitable second act dip doesn’t catch everyone off guard, but we all know that our hero will rise from the ashes and book that fairytale, Hollywood ending that makes everyone in the theatre begin thinking about a career change and checking their local restaurants for job openings.
And (with the exception of the movie ‘Chef’ which gets its tiny bit of drama out of the way in the first twenty minutes) that’s how every single movie portrays a life in this industry.
But is it accurate?
As you might suspect, it is not.
Okay, so in the movies there is always some starry-eyed kid who’s moved to the big city and, with almost zero experience, lands themselves a job in a Michelin starred, fine-dining restaurant kitchen.
This does not happen.
These kitchens can’t have somebody running around in there who has never stepped foot into a commercial kitchen before. It would be chaos. They would, at best, be getting in the way of the seasoned chefs and cooks that are trying to do their jobs, and at worst, be making so many crucial mistakes that it would almost look like sabotage.
Your job for the first little while is to wash the dishes and prep the stuff that the line cooks don’t like prepping. That’s it.
But let’s suspend reality for a minute, and accept that they somehow landed the gig, and they’re working their first shift.
Can anybody tell me why the new guy is suddenly working with the actual food during service? How has he landed a spot on the line so quickly? And is he cooking a steak? Who told him he could do that?
And then, after somehow pulling through the service without getting into a fistfight with half of the team, they have the time to grab a bunch of beers with their new workmates at the restaurant bar. They wouldn’t be stuck cleaning an unfamiliar kitchen for two hours (they would), they would definitely get accepted into a tight-knit team on day one (they wouldn’t), and they would leave with their hair perfect and enough energy to hit the town until sunrise (no, they wouldn’t. They’d be the walking dead).But as act one continues, so too does our hero’s lucky streak.
You see, the head chef called in sick one night and from a team of vastly more experienced, and more talented chefs, it’s the new guy who gets thrust into the big game and is tasked with running the pass and handling the attitudes of the rest of the line.
And in this time, wouldn’t you know it, our hero has created a new dish and the dining room is going crazy about it! This leads to the head chef getting fired and a rank rookie being given the reins to a now-hostile kitchen who are all more than a little upset that their leader has been let go because some kid managed to get one of their dishes onto the menu before they had.
The media loves our hero and hails them as the next big thing in the restaurant world. Magazine headlines spin in and out of shot, red carpets will be walked, and our hero will seem to have it all figured out as they calmly sip a glass of claret at the restaurant bar, mid-service, whilst they research their next recipe.
But don’t worry, the newfound fame goes right to their heads, the team fully turns on them and they fall hard down to rock bottom which in this case is still being employed full-time at a Michelin starred restaurant as the head chef, and still with enough spare time on their hands to drink themselves into oblivion whilst not once looking inwards to find the problem.
About the only thing real here is the team turning, except their hostility would likely be aimed mostly towards the owner who is making all of these terrible decisions, not the kid who’s just had way too much thrust into their arms against their will.
I can say that act two is about as close as it gets to reality though.
The hospo world is cliquey and if an outsider upsets the balance then they can quickly find themselves very lonely indeed. These people have likely risen through the ranks together and will have very similar experiences, and that creates a very strong bond amongst you and your workmates.
Also, the drinking part of this might be a bit accurate. Chefs like a tipple or two, so too bar staff, and floor staff, and dishwashers, and management. Everybody likes to decompress after a gruelling shift and odds are that you know the people who are making the drinks, so you get looked after (much the same as you would look after them, should they pay you a visit at your work).
This again is one of the reasons why this industry is so tight-knit: we take care of our own. It’s like a secret handshake and hospo is the new Freemasons. That weathered look in our eye is just begging for a complimentary shot with the staff, and our people are only too eager to oblige.
Anyway, back to our hero.
He’s down, he’s out, but he’s still got a job to do.
He suddenly matures mentally about fifty years and now is as captivating and wise as Sam Elliott in any movie starring Sam Elliott.
Where his voice was unwelcome and unheard just a scene ago, now it commands the kitchen and inspires a team of people who openly hate him to pull together and work harder than ever before, because that’s what their usurped predecessor would have wanted (maybe, who cares, right?).
And this works, somehow. Don’t ask me, I’m as confused as you are right now.
The team that was actively trying to get our hero fired is now behind him, 100% of the way. They’d die for him, and for some reason one of them is now in love with him? Where did that come from?
Anyway, they manage to do it: a perfect shift (much like the hundreds/thousands under the previous head chef) and they get that elusive third star. Our boy is a national treasure, his career effortlessly eclipsing the more talented people who he’s leapfrogged to get here. And all because this was his dream, ever since about a year ago.
Except it doesn’t really end there, in real life I mean.
The pressure will only continue to rise in pursuit of maintaining both the standards of the food, and the constant development of those dishes too. Your restaurant will become a hive for insufferable foodies from all across the world and there might even be a target on your back.
The only thing you can do is not give the new guy a start on the line on their first day, and then you might be safe.