Being a female and working in a professional kitchen is like being the only sober one at the party: awkward at first, but you get to see some hilarious shit. I’m 23 years old and have been a line cook at a NYC restaurant for just over a year; for most of that time I was the only woman in the kitchen.
Make no mistake, working the line has taught me far more important things than what is listed below. (Like how to cook under immense pressure, time management, and all of that.) But none of that is nearly as interesting as watching two grown men in aprons argue about ewoks while a third draws a penis on a quart container of pickled carrots.
Here's what I've learned.
1. They can (and will) turn anything into a dick joke.
Or a butt joke. Or a truly misogynistic sex joke. Imagine: There are five guys (and me) stuck in a room for 12 hours at a time, and we are required to scream things like, “Sharp behind you” (cookspeak for: “I’m carrying around a knife”), or “Coming down, hot” (“I have a vat of hot stock and I’m walking down the stairs”), and occasionally even “Get that bone in the hole.” ("Get the fucking bone marrow in the oven five minutes ago.") The later it gets in the night, the more inspired things become. I’ve noticed that the sexual undertones of the conversation run proportionate to the number of Drake songs played during dinner service. But even on an average night, just before close, a woman sending her steak back because it’s “too salty to finish” could turn into the blow-job joke of the century.
2. They love competition.
If ground turkey comes in for a family meal, guys will fight over who makes the best turkey meatballs (kind of a lose-lose situation from the get-go). If the new waitress is cute, guys will keep a tally of whose dish she sells most of, then extrapolate the result as being indicative of which of them she most wants to sleep with. If a guy is bored at the beginning of dinner service, he will grab a fish spatula and see how many times he can flip it around his finger without dropping it, leading to a spatula-flipping competition that inevitably ends when someone drops the really expensive fish spatula under the lowboy refrigerator and has to wait until after service to unplug the thing then crawl behind and get it. Chances are, though, he’ll forget about the fish spatula when he goes downstairs at the end of the night, puts on a pair of latex gloves, and has a push-up competition with the dishwasher on the un-mopped prep-kitchen floor.
3. They also love Star Wars.
The original three. The new ones — episodes one through three — are a joke, and the original Darth Vader would lightsaber his own head off after 10 minutes of watching Hayden Christiansen botch every part of the Annekin Skywalker character. Also, Hans Solo is the shit. The shit times two. And did you know that James Earl Jones was so sure the original movie would fail that he wouldn’t let them put his name in the credits? And that Luke Skywalker was originally meant to be called Dirk Starkiller? And that Darth Vader is only in Star Wars for 12 minutes? I do now, because I work in a kitchen. With guys. It should be noted, though, that when we play the “Who Would You Be if You Were a Star Wars Character” game, I am not Leia. Because no one other than Leia can ever be Leia. Ever.
4. They’re way more judgmental of girls than we realize.
It’s a common misconception among women that we judge each other more critically than guys judge us. Um, no. The 10-point scale is alive and well, and it’s gotten mathematical. In between “that’s what she said” jokes, line cooks are staring into the dining room (in an open kitchen like ours, at least), talking about how the girl at table 22 “is an eight,” right off the bat. Subtract one for the fact that she started with the fennel salad, dressing on the side. Add two for the second course steak. But wait, subtract three when she sends it back for being undercooked (it’s perfectly medium rare, actually). Add a couple back when she gets up to go to the bathroom and everyone checks out her ass. Divide the whole score in half over an hour later when she still hasn’t ordered dessert and the kitchen can’t close until she does. Similar equations are underway for the two women at 15, the redhead at 41, the trophy wife at 29, and the girl at 33 who is with her parents and can’t be older than 14 (not OK, guys). Never have I been with a group of girls who got so disturbingly analytical about the simple question “Hot or not?”
5. They take better care of their toys than they do of themselves.
In the kitchen, the toy is a knife, but the idea can be extrapolated. The perfect knife is unique, sharp, appropriately sized, foreign, and expensive. Most of the good ones are Japanese, but many of those are domestically produced — and some of the European-made ones are good, if you know how to use them. Carbon stays sharper longer but is much harder to take care of. Blades that are 70-30 are sharpened differently than their 50-50 counterparts, and you’d better understand that. Just like fancy cars and top-of-the-line sound systems, the knife is one of those toys that guys measure one another on. And so at the end of the night, when a guy’s sporting a hellish collection of fresh oil burns, smells like a mixture of sweat and halibut, and looks like hell, you can bet that his knife is cleaned, dried, and put away in its wooden case to be taken home and sharpened for tomorrow.