In kitchens you will run into a great many personalities. Many times in my life I have heard the term a Type A personality. This is in reference to an anxious and sometimes irritable or overbearing personality type. They are very amiable folks, very good with conversation and public interaction, and they are often very lovable and memorable. The danger in a Type A personality is that they are, in the eyes of the medical community, prone to heart attacks. In kitchens we are all Type C; C standing for chef. While there are a myriad of personalities that fall under Type C, you’ll know one when you bump into them. They each bring their own great traits to the table and they are all loveable and memorable in a myriad of different ways. But with each, comes the caveat emptor that sometimes there is danger there. This month I will list some of the Type C personalities that one finds in the kitchens of the world.
Type C 1: The pirate captain.
The pirate captain sees themselves as the leader of a ragtag bunch of brigands who will burn the town to the ground and cook sausages over the embers. They look to shock and amaze with culinary feats. They want to astound you and have you begging for more; mainly because they want your approval. The pirate captain usually takes the recipes of other chefs, past and present, and changes the ingredients to define the dish as their own, seeing this as a sort of plunder approach but also with great reverence for the fore bearers. The pirate captain chefs are debonair and have a bravado about them that makes the public swoon. Everybody loves to wait for the next round of cannon fire from the pirate chef. The danger of this personality type is in sinking one’s own ship.
Type C 2: The artist.
The artist sees the kitchen as their studio and the plate as the canvas. The artist puts in long hours diligently creating. And each creation is held near and dear to them as a mother sees a child. They remember their first dish just as fondly as they remember their last. Subtle nuances, lines and dots, plates that look like they came out of a magazine, this is the medium of the artist chef. Their work is so near and dear to them that they almost have a hard time giving it to the adoring public, for fear they simply will not understand the finished product. The dishes of the artist chef are just as beautiful to look at as they are to eat. Each bite takes your eye to a different part of the plate just as each brushstroke takes your eye to a different part of the painting. All the world loves an artist, and because of this they are frequently riddled with depression from the pressure to create the next great plate. The danger of this personality type is the consuming nature of creation which leads one to consider cutting off their own ear in the name of art.
Type C 3: The teacher.
The teacher is there to train others in the craft of cooking. The teacher has generally gone to culinary arts school at some point in their life, and then refined what school taught them by working in great kitchens under great men and women who also work hard to teach the craft. The teacher generally reads a lot of cookbooks, which requires more than just looking through the pictures and salivating, and they usually stay up on new food processes and movements that the world finds itself trending towards. The teacher is descriptive and able to explain, demonstrate, or discuss a wide range of culinary terms and techniques. They love their work because the more they know the more than can teach others. And all teachers want to have the best students they can. The danger of this personality type is becoming too stuck in the thought of food and forgetting the meat of cooking; which is doing as well as learning.
Type C 4: The war dog.
The war dog sees each night as a battle. Us against them, and be damned if we’re going to lose! The war dog has generally done this for years and there isn’t a grill, broiler, oven, or pasta pot they haven’t handled at some point and wrestled under their own command. Experts at barking orders and swearing the war dog is probably the best line cook you’ll ever work with and even if they are years away from the front of a stove, if the day comes where they have to take the position again, they’ll astound you with the fluid grace with which the memory recall comes back to them. To the war dog, all lines are the same; you make the best food possible, you send it out to guests in the greatest presentation you have, and you wait for them to answer back with a “Thank you chef.” The war dog has done this forever, and will likely do it for a lot longer. Battered and bruised, scarred and burned, there’s no stopping a war dog. The danger of this personality type is their desire to push everyone else out of the way because they’ve got it handled and can do it better. In those final moments, you suddenly realize you stand alone on the battlefield, and the next wave is just cresting the hill.
Type C 5: The monk.
The monk sees the craft as a religion. They treat it like a chosen path, one that they were called to walk, whether they wanted the life or not. The monk has quiet reverence for everything they do and the work of all those who do it under them as well. They are gentle and kind and rarely raise their voices. When they do raise their voice, it is minimal and noticeable and you feel it to your core. The monk takes on this kitchen life in quiet solitude and sees those under him as acolytes to whom it is his responsibility to have carry on the faith. To the monk, there is only one way, and it is the right way. One does not cut corners nor do they look for a short cut. The monk seeks perfection in each dish but not because they wants praise, simply because that is the way one does things. The monk is quiet and reflective and they seek a gentle calm throughout their kitchens. No time for panic, no room for tantrums, the monk is about his business when the kitchen is quiet and moving steadfastly forward. The food they create is often heavenly and transcendent. The danger of this personality type is that they can become so immersed in the craft they may wander off into the mountains to sit beneath a great tree and contemplate their lives and simply never return.
Type C 6: The pan thrower.
Ebullient and explosive, the pan thrower is ever the showman. Sometimes they are juggling pans, sometimes they are swapping pans, and sometimes they are tossing pans across the room. The pan thrower is filled with fire that makes them quick and precise in a kitchen. They can do great works and usually in short periods of time. They know how to get the best out of everyone and that sometimes that is extracted by fear. The pan thrower is steady, devoted, and very calm; until that moment when the craft consumes them and boils over and they find no way to expel the fire that burns inside them…other than to throw a pan across the room. Some of the most adept swearers are pan throwers as well, and some of the gentles people you’ll ever meet in a kitchen have chucked a sauce pot across the room in a spray of expletives and gravy. The pan thrower is a joy to watch, unless you’re in their arms reach, and then you’d better have a good catcher’s mitt or a swift propensity to ducking. The danger of the pan thrower is pretty obvious, they can ruin a wall, a line cook, or a good pan in the middle of their outburst.
Type C 7: The therapist.
The therapist is there to listen to all the tales of woe that the world would place on them. The customer who has had a sad day and just needs a little pick me up. The line cook who lost his way and isn’t sure if this life path is the one they want to walk. The server who has gone through yet another partner and finds themselves questioning whether they might hold some small part in all these failed relationships. The delivery guy who broke his arm but still had to work because money is tight and times are hard. They all come to the therapist because there’s always a sympathetic ear there. The best part about the therapist chef is that their answer to any problem is almost always the same…food. Sad day and require a pick me up? French style chocolate mousse. Wrong life path? Grilled ribeye with lots of garlic. Ruined relationship? Brandy macerated strawberries over buttery shortcake. Broken arm? Chicken noodle soup with pink salt and lots of parsley. There is little in life that cannot be solved by the consumption of really good food. The danger in this personality type is that they may find themselves consumed with the sadness they’ve taken away from others. The good news is, pudding is quick to make and generally solves that problem too.
There are a great many other personality types you’ll come across in kitchens; the renegade, the wanderer, the old soul, the tender heart, the list goes on and on. Each of them is unique but each is also very similar; their goal in this life is to give you the best meal possible. From simple to complex, from beautiful to basic, they just want to feed you great food. And how they run their line and guide their staff, that’s all secondary to making you happy when you dine in their establishment. We are all fortunate to experience the great Type C personalities any time we go out to eat and the next time you bite into a forkful of food, I would suggest you take a moment to see if you can tell who was behind that bite. Is there fire in it? Is there soul in it? Is there booze in it? Odds are, there’s a little of all of it in there, because there’s a little of each of those personalities in all of the chefs in the world. One does not make a soup with water and salt alone. It takes dozens of different ingredients and hundreds of challenging techniques accumulated over countless years to make really great food, and the same is true of people.
So when you see into the kitchen and the pirate captain catches your eye with a wink, just remember, they probably have thrown a pan or two, said a prayer on occasion, and stared lovingly at a plate for a minute longer before they sent it out to the table. Because each of us is a Type C personality all unto ourselves.