Shortly into the first episode, I started to feel unnerved. To be clear, this is not a TV show review. What unsettled me was the use of language. In our industry which is dying on its ass due to the lack of new chefs coming through. The show seemed to be doing its best to showcase the hardline, military-like leadership strategies which have seen a lot of good chefs crumble and leave kitchens across the world. Full respect to Mr Atherton and his collection of Michelin Stars. I donât doubt his talent and ability. I have no place to judge his cooking or his management style. This was just something which led me to think and consider my own leadership style. Is my own laidback, mild mannered nature holding me back.
Iâve always been a self-proclaimed nice guy. I rarely raise my voice in the kitchens Iâve worked in. Iâm all about encouragement and lifting my team up, as opposed to shaming, boot-camping and ruling by fear. But I also donât have Michelin stars to protect.
Chef Atherton referred to his two other chefs as his Lieutenants on a few occasions, reinforcing the military language. I guess this fits the tone of the show. Handing power to chefs as a reward, while humiliating others with the black jersey of the Kitchen Porter role. This reminded me of my early days in the kitchens of hotels. Something I look back on and cringe at the thought of the language we used with each other. Where bullying was âbanterâ. Where any sign of weakness was looked at with disdain. âMental Healthâ would raise a laugh at its very mention. Oh how times have changed.
These TV shows are designed to entertain. Those who go in for them, usually know what they are letting themselves in for. I just found the process a little washed out. By this, I mean it over simplified the process of chef training, skill development and character building. In a way, I wish the show was longer. I wished it involved more training and more simple cookery challenges. Having chefs compete against Michelin Starred kitchen brigades is a heavily flawed concept. But thatâs modern television I guess.
To reiterate my point. This is not a pub chef from Ipswich (me), going-in on a Michelin Star chef! I have full admiration for Chef Jason Atherton. Although his clumsy, pidgin English when speaking with other European language speaking chefs, did give me a giggle. I guess my issue is wholly to do with the shows concept and editing. I have big issues with chefs being pushed âto breaking pointâ for someoneâs dinner. âIf he breaks, he breaks!â is not a phrase I ever want to hear in a kitchen. Especially heading in to 2020. We canât expect chefs to be thrown into elite kitchen and be able to produce food on that level. At one point Chef Atherton compares it to coming up from the championship, in to the premier league, against Man City. No. This is only comparable to Ipswich Town under 18s going up against Real Madrid.
I enjoyed hearing the Head Chefs talk about their restaurants and their own leadership styles. Seeing the inside of high functioning kitchens and witnessing cutting edge cookery techniques, in itself would be a great show. But we already have Chefs Table on Netflix for that.
As the series went on, my respect for Mr Atherton went up even more. We donât share the same training values, but like I said, I have no awards to protect. I canât even pretend to understand what that pressure would be like. But my life feels relatively complete without that.
Adding competition and elimination to this concept seems misguided. With so many great cookery shows available to us, this is a real stretch. Maybe Iâm missing the point for this show. But if Iâm missing it, then surely other young potential chefs are missing it too. The noise of âleadershipâ and the pressure of Michelin are evident. Some of the passion and pride of being a chef is lost. The pressure of performance is overwhelming. There are a lot of established chefs who would struggle with this format. Maybe the next series, they should send a Brigade of TV chefs. Get Ainsley, James Martin, Nigella and Jamie Oliver in there. Lets see how those guys handle it?
Thatâs just my thoughts.
Watch the BBC series herehttps://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m00077h7/the-chefs-brigade