It gets to the December months and the Christmas parties start, this is where a chef’s endurance is tested. Mentally and physically we are pushed to levels which few other industries provide. The day-to-day monotony of preparing that turkey and plating up the pate. The constant attention to detail when reading pre-order sheets to see who is lactose intolerant, or on a gluten free diet or just wants to screw with the chef’s head by ordering something off menu.
As the month rolls on and the days all start blurring into one. The tasks become second nature, to the extent that you’re finding prep in the fridge which you have no recollection of doing but you know that no one else could have done it. This is the point where the parties get heavier. The relationships between the front of house and kitchen are tested to the maximum.
That customer who suddenly announces they don’t like pork and didn’t realise that the chipolata and stuffing were pig based. The server gingerly returns the dish to the kitchen and the chefs lose their shit because it was the last portion in the building. Apart from the slice in the sandwich which the kitchen porter was half way through eating...should I...shouldn’t I? Haha, no way!
The other side of this situation, and probably the most important, family. The wife, husband, partner and/or kids. It’s their Christmas too and trying to balance work and domestic duties is almost impossible. The God-awful split shifts, which were once convenient for the school run, have now disappeared in place of the AFD (All F***ing Day) shift. There's no time to pop out between lunch and dinner and there’s a party in at 5:30pm which needs to be set up and on point!
Friends and family all want a piece of the chef’s time too. Even though they know the answer, they still insist on trying to arrange a Saturday night out in December.
It’s a hard industry at the best of times. It’s been made tougher with the evolution of social media and review websites. There are not many other situations where your work can be so publicly critiqued by the anonymous. Where Dave, a shoe salesman from Cromer, can leave a 1-star review for a restaurant he couldn't get a table at because they were too busy. That, again, is another rant for another day! But we as chefs strive to ensure that every customer has a great time and enjoys their meal. The pressure involved in this is immense.
Towards the end of the month, with the last turkey cooked and the final batch of veg blanched. The parties get louder in the restaurant and the bar areas. This triggers an emotional response in the chef, it’s irrational but not complex, it’s simple, resentment. The chef hates that you have the time to party. The chef has no interest in hearing friends complaining about “I’ve only got the three days off, then it’s back to work”. Some of us are working on Christmas day. Some have only Christmas day off in the whole month. So it is wise to choose your words very carefully when talking to the chef. He hates you, but only until he’s had his beers and rested! The chef does not want your sympathy. Most of the time a simple “thank you” or “can I get you a drink?” will be enough. The chef appreciates you’re the customer but at this time of year the level of bizarre food orders go up. More people who don’t eat out all year turn up with their “can you pick the onions out?” or the "I like the blank but can I have it with blank instead?"
Chefs work hard. So when you are sitting in your, usually quite, local pub on a Monday evening in January and there is a group of guys and girls getting absolutely smashed and being a bit loud, they're probably chefs.
The great unseen. Sorry...not sorry.
So while you are wrestling with what time to put your roast parsnips on at home and trying to impress your mother in law with your closely followed Delia Smith Brussels Sprout Soufflé (not a thing!), remember that this is the kind of pressure a chef deals with several times a day, every day. Especially at Christmas.