“Use a F**kin Whisk, Wouldja?” or Why Chefs Cuss

By on Monday, July 19th, 2010

Chef Paul Bocuse expresses himself. Photo: Getty Images

If you’ve ever been really busy in a kitchen trying to juggle dishes with cooking times ticking away in your head as yet another four top comes in, then this is nothing but a rhetorical subhead.

Or another scenario: Without thinking, since there’s enough going in your head as it is, you grab the fry basket that is conveniently living over the grill, only to brand yourself like Kwai Chang Caine with his “Dragon Brazier.” Way too busy to stop and having the discipline of a professional cook, you don’t drop the basket but a string of the bluest words ever to be uttered in human history flies from your mouth like startled pigeons in the piazza.

Amidst the call and response from various cooking stations, it’s business as usual in a professional kitchen and no one bats an eye as they continue to prepare and serve food, lost in their own time lines and details. It happens dozens of times through the busy Friday or Saturday night and even if you haven’t been the one to be verbally lashing the air then you’ve probably heard someone else doing it.

It’s even gotten to prime time television with shows like “The F-Word” with Gordon Ramsay or Anthony Bourdain, who has no reservations about launching an “F-bomb” or two…. or three…. Cussing has become so widespread in our society that even our Vice President was recently caught out with a “hot” mic explaining how big a #$%&ing deal that health care reform is to the President.

Don’t Like It? Move to Boulder

I’ve never worked in a kitchen where there weren’t expletives peppering our ears pretty much constantly. Such places do exist, though. Restaurant owner Martin Hammer of Restaurant 4580 refuses to let his staff sink to those levels of vulgarity and every one seems to be doing fine without it. So if the comrades of the Peoples Republic of Boulder can get by without colorful language why can’t those of us who work in normal kitchens everywhere else do it, too?

The reason is multi-faceted and according to the head shrinkers, really breaks down to only three solid reasons. A kind of holy trinity of swearing. The first is one we can all relate too: frustration. This one is a biggie. It can take the most saintly, patient, mild-mannered nun and turn her into a frothing dockworker in the blink of an eye. A kitchen is a hidden environment all its own with a thousand little things going on at the same time—kinda like a circus, but with a purpose. If any single detail gets over looked or messed up… well…. that’s where the frustration comes in. Timetables get knocked out of whack, orders start backing up and it seems that you never quite get caught up. It can be enough to piss off the Good Humor Man. You will feel the need to release some tension… cussing seems to be the most harmless and the least disruptive.

The next is in the specific case of the Diva Chef: ego. These guys have their own self-image on the line. Everything has to have their seal of approval before it hits the door or it might very well end up hitting the floor. They tend to see their staff as objects and they vent their spleen on those objects. I’ve worked in a kitchen like that, briefly, and it’s no fun at all. The common response to complaints about blistering language is “If you can’t stand the heat….”

The reason (chefs cuss) is multi-faceted and according to the head shrinkers, really breaks down to only three solid reasons. A kind of holy trinity of swearing.

The last is the most ambiguous and to many it won’t make sense: anger. I was once an Army NCO, and we were actually trained to use anger as a motivator. The theory goes that if someone gets pissed off then they tend to work harder. They also make more mistakes, which is counter-productive, and leads us back to reason #1. That being said, it is used in kitchens by chefs and lead line cooks everywhere, many who happen to be military veterans. Another funny thing about that: Those of us who are vets often cuss in pressure situations basically out of habit. Hell, you won’t even be taken seriously in most military situations unless you cuss.

Whatever the reason for the cussing and shenanigans in the kitchen, the question is “Does it effect our performance as cooks? Does a lamb chop feel offended or outraged? Will a lobster hop out of the pot and crawl away in disgust?” Nope. Usually, our fellow cooks are swearing right alongside of us.

Watch Your Mouth

It all boils down to one thing: being human. We’ve all cussed at one time or another and by and large the world continues to turn. Cooks enjoy the dubious honor of generally being hidden away in a kitchen, away from the customers. So if we can get away with it, we cuss. If not…. most can, and do, curb themselves as they do in Boulder.

So if you get a little French with those fries, don’t be surprised. Plug your kids’ ears and keep eating.

Written by Matt Hemmer

Matt Hemmer has a degree in Anthropology, a thousand jobs, three careers and multiple hobbies. One of the few constants in his life has been eating, having becoming addicted to it very early in life. Matt is chasing degrees in Journalism and English so he can be a very well educated poor person.

2 Comments

  1. Why Chefs Cuss and the holy trinity of swearing–new on Toque: http://tinyurl.com/25cbmcz

  2. Rieva says:

    I can sure relate RT @toquemag: Why Chefs Cuss and the holy trinity of swearing–new on Toque: http://tinyurl.com/25cbmcz

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