Mistakes and Failures – Can You Handle the Heat? Blog by Frank Davie

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th May 2016

I’ve found that in the kitchen you’ve got to be like an onion. Sure, you’re reasonably fragile and can be diced up and thrown into the bottom of a pan faster than you can say the phrase “Tuesday is stew day”, or vice versa…but like an onion, you’ve got to have layers. Layers that can’t be penetrated by the sharp blades of taunt, abuse and failure. You’ve got to thrive off the mistakes, slip-ups, fuck-ups, misdemeanors and hardships. If not, you’ll crumble like a digestive in a robo-coupe.

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Failure and learning go together like garlic and thyme and as a commis chef myself, I am no stranger to the common careless mistakes and failures that can eat you alive in the kitchen. It’s purely about attitude. Failure is the most demoralising entity on the planet – but face it head on and identify the cause of the mishap and you will overcome it.

For me it’s almost second nature, a process I’ve been enduring since I first stepped foot into the kitchen two years ago. It’s also a process that has without dispute made me the stronger and unquestionably more versatile chef that I am today. Abuse and failure in the kitchen, even if personally destructive, just isn’t capable of peeling away the layers of passion and motivation to succeed that I grip more firmly than my own knife.

I’ve also persevered through my fair share of more serious, life issues. I’ve been beaten, robbed, financially screwed, socially deprived and hopelessly lost in my own personal realm at times but no matter what the external circumstances, the kitchen has always been a place for me to pick up the knife and channel my anguish towards my ultimate goal of becoming a better chef.

Without making the kitchen sound like a primitive game of survival, it really is easy to compare the four grey walls of this place to that of prison, or similarly, the military – the comparison  being that they both hold a prominent survival of the fittest theme to them. If you can’t handle the heat and pressure of the kitchen, you quite simply won’t survive. You’ve got to thrive off the mistakes and hardships and grow into something slightly more menacing each time or permanent failure will be imminent.

tumblr_mo98t2p6xj1r36jpso1_500.gifI’ve walked into a fourteen hour shift as a junior chef with a banging headache, exhaustion, no money, no friends, an out of touch family and a passionate hatred towards me from every other chef in the kitchen. I was a plastic carrier bag in a hurricane.

But classically, when you have nothing, you also have nothing to lose. For many, when the wall of impending failure looms, they run in the opposite direction. This is the easiest way to solve the problem but it’s also crucial to understand that the most convenient route in this industry is almost certainly not exclusively the best one.

In fact, the harder the better. The kitchen boasts the timeless motto: what you put in, you get out. I understand completely that the harder things get, the stronger I will self-evidently become. Failure is merely the key to the door of improvement.

However, the key can also be used to open the exit. It’s entirely up to the character of the chef to decide which path to take. Speaking of which, character is another trait that must be glued to the chef’s personality upon every moment. A sense of humility, mortification and responsibility to every action you make or mistake, must be deployed against the syndromes of delusion, pretentiousness and arrogance.

giphy.gifOne of the most tripwire mistakes I fell over in the kitchen early on was that of trying to excuse or lie through the mistakes I made. Who was I really lying to? Probably myself. Run around the wall and you’ll reach the other side with no knowledge of how to climb it.

Face the wall head on and you’ll drop down on the other side with something a little more valuable. Excuses and corner-cutting will only halt your progression as a chef and the trust you share with your chef teammates.

 

The moral of the story is clear but harsh. To succeed, you must be impenetrable to the temptations of dishonesty, relinquishment and adversity. The harder you slide the blade along the steel, the sharper it will become. Success is the goal, failure is the solution. These are the fragments of advice that keep the heat on in my journey for success in this unforgiving trade.

A blog from an erratically ambitious chef with one foot in the hospitality industry and the other desperately trying to run away. You can read more of Frank's blog posts here

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th May 2016

Mistakes and Failures – Can You Handle the Heat? Blog by Frank Davie