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Old 12-28-2015, 06:39 PM   #1
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I Don't Understand Professional Chefs

I received the January 2016 issue of Bon Appétit and was reading an article: "In defense of simple food" featuring Chef Jeremy Fox.
"Fox is particular about how his cooks fold their side towels. 'If a cook's not folding his towel right, ' Fox says, 'he might be cutting corners elsewhere.' They're used as pot holders, to wipe cutting boards, to anchor a mixing bowl-and draped over the corner of a pan to signal that it's hot. This is how to earn his approval:"
And then there's a diagram on how to fold a towel.

REALLY?!

Who says that a towel HAS to be folded just so?
I get that it's "his kitchen" but come on man.
Just a little OCD, dontcha think?

And this is why I DO NOT work in a professional kitchen... thought about it, had my own "online bakery" for a time, but geez.

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Old 12-28-2015, 06:55 PM   #2
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I think it's silly but I don't think it's necessarily representative of all chefs. He seems to think of it as indicating a level of discipline he wants from his employees.

I don't work in a professional kitchen because it's stressful, hot, uncomfortable and you have to be on your feet for hours and hours
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Old 12-28-2015, 07:11 PM   #3
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you said it GG!
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Old 12-28-2015, 07:37 PM   #4
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... now don't get me wrong, I don't think that ALL CHEFS are jerks, one of DF's is Chef/Owner of a great place in Colorado and she is a HOOT! Love her, a real person and just goes with the flow, ya know?
One year, a bear got into her freezers and ate all of her desserts for the next week, she was, um, well you know what I mean. But she made it through without giving her staff rash.
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:01 PM   #5
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I Don't Understand Professional Chefs

Oh fer Pete's sake.

We have a few chef friends, no way they'd be bothered telling their staff how to fold a towel.

K-girl, I had a bear break in to the cabin where I was babysitting back in the day. I just let him/her help himself/herself to whatever he/she wanted...
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:24 PM   #6
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Oh fer Pete's sake.

We have a few chef friends, no way they'd be bothered telling their staff how to fold a towel.

K-girl, I had a bear break in to the cabin where I was babysitting back in the day. I just let him/her help himself/herself to whatever he/she wanted...
But did that bear have the towel folded just the right way?

Remember Julia? And even Jacques. They both just tuck the corner end in over their apron string. They never took the time to fold it just perfect. They tuck the corner in and whip it out when needed.
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:41 PM   #7
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But did that bear have the towel folded just the right way?



Remember Julia? And even Jacques. They both just tuck the corner end in over their apron string. They never took the time to fold it just perfect. They tuck the corner in and whip it out when needed.

That bear could fold the towel any way it wanted!
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:45 PM   #8
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... and see Addie that's what I do, and most the "chef" friends that I have,
just flip it over your apron strings, it's there, that's it!
WAY over the top dude!
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:47 PM   #9
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... and see Addie that's what I do, and most the "chef" friends that I have,
just flip it over your apron strings, it's there, that's it!
WAY over the top dude!
My first husband used to do it that way also. With just one hand (left) and it was just fine. I never saw it fall either.
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Old 12-28-2015, 08:50 PM   #10
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I'm going to take the chef's side on this one.

As the owner and head chef, he has every right to dictate what goes on in his kitchen. Maybe it reflects his background and training. You and I might find it a little anal and over the top, but I've worked many jobs over the years where the rules of conduct are clearly laid out. Even though some of these rules seem just plain silly, as an employee I'm still expected to follow them.

Does the way a towel is folded affect the quality of the food? Of course not. Nevertheless, as someone who occasionally enjoys eating at fine dining establishments, I really think there is something impressive about a kitchen and wait staff looking crisp and working with almost military precision.

Many years ago I worked a database job where all code had to be reviewed by the head DB administrator. This guy came from a military background, and had a 30-page written standard on how all code had to work and LOOK. Tabulation had to be fixed at four spaces, commands were capitalized, and variables followed a defined naming convention. If it didn't follow the format - even if it worked flawlessly - it was sent back to be rewritten. If you didn't want to follow the rules, you didn't have to work there. But the up side to this was that everything functioned well, and we had extremely few bugs and breakdowns with our team's code. To this day, I still follow a lot of those same conventions in my work.

I don't think I'm alone. I'd be willing to bet many of us have had to work jobs like this.
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Old 12-28-2015, 09:40 PM   #11
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I understand what you are saying Steve. In the event five years later a new employee came in, then there it was. Exactly as it was written. And that is very important.

When I worked at Wyeth Pharmaceutical my job was to make sure every single adverse event was filed in a timely manner and in the proper order. It was up to the Protocol Manager to read each and every report of each event. To miss one, or not to be able to find any certain report on a patient could mean the loss of lives for other patients in the trials.

A screw up by either one of us in our respected jobs could cost very large amounts of money for your company or a life lost and blamed on the company I was employed by.

But an unfolded towel sounds more like a "control" problem for the head chef. That unfolded towel is not going to cause food poisoning, foreign items in the food, etc. Added up at the end of the day, the times spent folding those towels of the kitchen staff add up lost time on the clock and thus lost money. I would rather, as the customer, have the kitchen staff use that time making sure my food gets to me while it is hot.

You have to know which battles to pick and fight. A folded towel is not worth the battle. Because in the end, you might lose a very good cook and have to hire and train a new one, once again.
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Old 12-28-2015, 10:26 PM   #12
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I Don't Understand Professional Chefs

Steve Kroll, no argument here, yes, I too have worked at jobs were the rules were, sorry, over the top and I didn't last very long either.

If we're talking about codes for launching the next Space Shuttle, yes, that's how it should be, but... we're talking about just food.

Granted, a well run kitchen, both front and back of the house, are key to success, but come on man, a side towel?

Yes, it is his kitchen, as I did make mention in my original post, and yes, one doesn't HAVE to work there... but I'd be willing to wager that his turn over is pretty high.
Think about it for a minute, low pay, long hours, deplorable conditions, an over bearing Executive Chef with a HUGE ego (which many of them have, not all, but a large number of them), over the top standards that have to be met or you will be cast aside like yesterdays fish, and then there's his underlings... over achievers trying desperately to please the boss and get sent up the ladder and eventually run their own kitchen... all a vicious circle with a very small hamster-wheel for far too many, um, people shall we say.

I guess why I brought this magazine article to the forum is that this, um, person grants his "approval" to those in his brigade who fold their side towel the way he dictates... that has NOTHING to do with FOOD, which this publication is about, not a, um, person ... you know what did LIKE to say
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Old 12-28-2015, 10:52 PM   #13
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K-Girl, apparently this is not uncommon in the restaurant business. I read a different article in the December issue of "Cooking Light". Different chef, different victim, but the same theme. The article talks about now-editor Hunter Lewis wanting to kill his chef-mentor Justin Smillie. Article here: Facing My Tormentor: Going Back in the Kitchen with Upland's Justin Smillie.

I think this portion speaks to why some chefs do what they do - some might call it extreme, others view it as a necessary means of separating those who CAN stand the heat in a kitchen vs those who's presence will only slow down the flow of work.
"I didn’t understand how to control heat, much less fold a side towel correctly to clean my station. Smillie taught me these things and much more. He broke me down and built me back up as a professional cook"

I guess highlighting cruel taskmaster chefs is the "thing" in cooking magazines this month. Me, I just happy to be the only one yelling at me when I don't do things the way the "chef de cuisine" wants them done because...I'm, you know, the chef de cuisine.
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Old 12-28-2015, 11:01 PM   #14
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So.. how does he fold the towels?
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Old 12-28-2015, 11:10 PM   #15
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so.. How does he fold the towels?
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Old 12-29-2015, 12:02 AM   #16
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I've been thinking about this and I've reconsidered. It may not seem like this is a big deal, or would directly affect the food, but this kind of training builds muscle memory. When you're busy, you need to do things automatically and efficiently.

I was not taught this in the two months I spent in culinary school (withdrew for medical reasons) and I'll tell you, I never did understand why side towels were used as pot holders. A large stockpot full of simmering stock is not easy to pick up with an unfolded towel

And if you're doing it right, I don't think you have to keep refolding it all day
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Old 12-29-2015, 12:11 AM   #17
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i've been thinking about this and i've reconsidered. It may not seem like this is a big deal, or would directly affect the food, but this kind of training builds muscle memory. When you're busy, you need to do things automatically and efficiently.

I was not taught this in the two months i spent in culinary school (withdrew for medical reasons) and i'll tell you, i never did understand why side towels were used as pot holders. A large stockpot full of simmering stock is not easy to pick up with an unfolded towel

And if you're doing it right, i don't think you have to keep refolding it all day

oh my gosh gg!! Right?!
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Old 12-29-2015, 12:14 AM   #18
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I, myself have never been to any formal culinary training, but with so many friend/chefs that I've cooked with, there's never mention of HOW YOU FOLD YOUR FREAKIN SIDE TOWEL!!!
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Old 12-29-2015, 09:03 AM   #19
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I've been thinking about this and I've reconsidered. It may not seem like this is a big deal, or would directly affect the food, but this kind of training builds muscle memory. When you're busy, you need to do things automatically and efficiently.

I was not taught this in the two months I spent in culinary school (withdrew for medical reasons) and I'll tell you, I never did understand why side towels were used as pot holders. A large stockpot full of simmering stock is not easy to pick up with an unfolded towel

And if you're doing it right, I don't think you have to keep refolding it all day
I think I agree with you. I feel that this is less about how to fold a towel and more about setting a level of discipline and efficiency. People that follow these strict rules are much less likely to go off and do things "their way"
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Old 12-29-2015, 09:47 AM   #20
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I agree entirely with Steve Kroll.

Jeremy Fox is a pretty big deal chef. He has a Michelin star.

He sets standards for his brigade that he, his employees and his customers benefit from. He expects the people to work for him to do even the little things like properly folding a towel correctly. If his line cooks don't bother to fold their towels right then what other things are they doing wrong?

In return, his brigade has the opportunity to learn from him. Young chefs stage for no pay at restaurants run by well known chefs who will teach and mentor them -- and recommend them to others.

This is how much of the fine dining world works. Chef Fox's viewpoint is not uncommon.
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