The kitchen gods were born in a howl of pain and took dominion over every restaurant immediately after their inception. They first came into existence when a chef burned himself and they only became more powerful when he cut himself. They rule with absolute certainty. They are unforgiving, they are humorless, they are vengeful and spiteful, and dinner service is a game to them.
Their followers are anyone who works in a kitchen, or has been in a kitchen. One may be a reluctant follower, one may be a denying follower, and others are sometimes devout followers who do all in their power to keep on the good side of these kitchen gods. But the fact remains, we all answer to the kitchen gods when they call our name, whether we like it or not.
There are four kitchen gods in the restaurant world, though they have many deities beneath them that hold court in the kitchen. Every chef knows that you must respect them all, the gods most of all, or suffer the dire consequences. They watch over you tirelessly and they are forever about their work.
They do not forget you, they always keep a running tally of who is one up, and they demand that you know them well.
The first kitchen god came into existence the first time man put flame to meat. With a sizzle and a flare of fat, Flame lazily yawned into existence and grinned at the man who sought to tame him. This man, hunkered over a burning fire holding a dripping haunch of some animal carcass over flaming logs and glowing coals, watched with benign interest as Flame danced about the haunch, turning it from red raw meat into something delicious and crisp. As the haunch went from raw to what might be akin to medium rare, Flame reached out and touched man’s hand. And man, as was to be expected, dropped the haunch into the embers and ashes. Swearing and sticking his singed finger into his mouth he cursed the kitchen god Flame and Flame silently made note that from that day forward, man would forever be at his mercy.
He evolved from a flickering flame on an animal appendage to radiant heat that holds itself in the core of every pan handle, every stove edge, every grill grate, fry basket, and sheet pan in existence. And when you least expect it, Flame makes his mark on you and laughs, leaving you with nothing to do but curse him and carry on about your business.
The second kitchen god was born much later in life. He came about when man first took metal to meat to cut it into a more manageable size and his name was Sharp. Sharp made himself the closest friend of man in the kitchen and made his presence so beneficiary that no one now goes a moment without him at their side.
The work we do is under the constant watchful eye of Sharp and his vengeance and wrath is terrible to behold. He requires only that you pay constant attention to him, never looking away, rarely speaking in his presence, and always diligently doing your work at his side. When you break his covenants, you feel his ire and it has more than once caused stitches in even the strongest of line cooks. Sharp is there to help, but only so much as it suits him. Your cuts must be precise, defined, intended; if you are unable to meet his exacting standards that’s when he will make his mark the deepest. The scars he leaves will be carried for years but most chefs will wear these as a badge and always be able to give you a great story over drinks on how these marks came to be.
The third kitchen god is the purest, and the least likely to hold a grudge. She is white as driven snow and knows a vast array of incarnations. Though usually course, she is also found to be fine. She is Kosher, she is from the sea, she knows the regions of the Himalayas, Australia, India, and even Hawaii. She is the overseer of every dish we make and only shows her distaste when sugar, her bastard cousin, comes into the picture. But even then, she can manage to make an appearance and enhance the dish she’s overseeing by leaps and bounds if you let her.
This kitchen god is, of course, Salt. Her sole purpose in the kitchen is to stand by the chef and make their dish great. Kissing the dish at several different stages she requires feedback from the chef, a brief union between an astral other and a mere mortal. And when her goal has been achieved, both she and the chef are satisfied. But when one neglects her, or gets heavy handed with her, forcing her to do more work than she was ever meant to do, that’s when her anger shows through. She’ll shake her head, shrug her shoulders, and ruin the dish entirely to spite you for not treating her with the respect she feels she is due. When her damage is done, there is no safe haven. If you’ve angered Salt, you’re stuck. And the only option she allows is starting over again
The final kitchen god, and by far the most evil of the pack, is Time. Uncaring, indecisive, picky and perverse Time is always on your heels. Time makes you worry, makes you wait, makes you rush, and never ever gives you a moments rest. Time will announce its presence and you take note, then, head down, you pay homage to the other three in their respective rights, mentally recalling that Time still stands behind you looking over your shoulder, and then, when you look up again, Time stands before you grinning and you find that you are well behind it instead of far ahead of it. You panic, your heart races, you don’t know how Time got the better of you but there’s no stopping now, the only thing you can do is try and catch up. But Time is cruel, and it will watch to see where you take shortcuts and reprimands you for them. It watches for your misstep and drags you back even further. It works with Flame, Sharp, and Salt to slow you down even more. It puts you under the most pressure you’ll ever feel. The adrenaline screaming through your veins as services rages on around you and you attempt to put everything out to Time’s exacting standards. The ticket printer screams its high pitched whine, telling you that more is required of you and then calling out for more still. Flame commands the stove, Sharp holds court on the cutting board, Salt is forever in your right hand, but Time stands above them all, looking down on you and laughing maniacally. And when you feel like it’s up, like Time has beaten you, all of a sudden things mellow and service is close to done. Your prep is caught up, your dishes are all out and being enjoyed, and you find that you can breathe again and the muscles in your right eye have stopped twitching. This is when Time leaves you to retire and sulk. You got the better of it, but it’ll be back tomorrow with a new trick, a new plan of attack, a new twist you hadn’t quite expected; and that’s when it all hits you, Time isn’t on your side, Time is against you. But you must beat it, it’s the reason you came into the kitchen in the first place. Time will end his days honoring you, not the other way around. And while Flame, Sharp, and Salt will always be there for you, Time will always be a quiet nemesis you simply find an uneasy truce with.
When you are done with your kitchen run, Time and you will come to terms and agree to disagree and go your separate ways. Until then, you will forever be at the mercy of Time.
Why, you may be asking yourself, would anyone worship such a sadistic pantheon.
Well, that’s the reason we got into kitchens in the first place. We all had an understanding that life isn’t fair, that anything you want is going to be hard and anything that’s hard is worth working for. We all know that you’re going to get hurt if you play the game so you may as well work hand in hand with your chosen gods and appease them where you can so that when you are required to give penance to them, it stings a little less. And while the only way we can pay homage to the kitchen gods is to occasionally burn, cut, over salt, or not finish our plans, we also know that the kitchen gods are happiest with us when they never have to intervene. When all is going smoothly, when the chaos has order to it, when you feel your heart beat in your chest and hear your breath in your ears over the roar of flaming pans and sizzling meat, that’s when the kitchen gods love us most. That’s when we’re all at our best.
But like any good group of vengeful gods, one should always watch where you step, for the gods are looking to get their moment in the sun again and at every turn. In their eyes, you’re only as good as your last dish. And when your dishes are perfect, and the gods have their appetites sated, that’s when you can rest easy knowing that, at least for now, the kitchen gods are happy.