5@5 - Chef Michelle Bernstein
October 21st, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

There are at least two sides to every story.

There is the story about the polished, starched-hat-wearing, perhaps even snobbish chef with a refined palate and even more refined technique.

There is the one about the stand-and-stir television chef – that may or may not be professionally trained - who smiles over their pre-measured spices while waxing nostalgic of how grandma used to make it.

Or – there is the “heavy drinking, drugs, screwing in the dry-goods area, unappetizing industry-wide practices” that Anthony Bourdain so honestly writes about in his restaurant industry memoir, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

Akin to any industry, chef stereotypes abound - but there are some general misconceptions that Chef Michelle Bernstein wants to clear up.

Bernstein is the James Beard Award-winning chef of Michy’s and Sra. Martinez in Miami, Florida, and the author of Cuisine à Latina.

Five Misconceptions People Have About Chefs: Michelle Bernstein

1. All chefs eat gourmet food
"Most chefs don’t eat well at all, especially on days when they’re working. We are on our feet about 12 to 15 hours a day, bustling, managing, cooking and least likely thinking about our own hunger or nutrition for that matter. We barely have enough time to stick anything in our mouths, let alone make sure it’s wholesome and delicious. On days off, that’s another story though - most of us do right for whatever our comfort food is."

2. All of us are alcoholics
"Most of us drink at least a couple of beers or cocktails after work, but not ALL of us. I personally don’t drink; it makes me sleepy - so why bother? I’m sleepy most of the time! I know of few chefs that are trying to stay healthier and more 'in check' but some definitely do embrace the 'party lifestyle.'"

3. All chefs smoke
"Yes, most do. Cigarettes help us look like bad asses - which we are."

4. Chefs have bad tempers
"I can’t really say I don’t belong in this category, I will admit that I am a little fiery. But I have met a lot of chefs who are very even keeled, mellow people. Maybe it’s all the drinking and smoking?"

5. Chefs make bad spouses
"I don’t know if it’s the heat boiling, the testosterone in our systems or the 'alpha' attitudes of all who work in commercial kitchens, but I can tell you that there are as many adoring relationships that even stem from this job as there are tawdry hookups."

What is your take on chefs? Agree? Agree to disagree? Tell us in the comments.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Chefs • Think


soundoff (163 Responses)
  1. Harry

    I am 69 year old man ,who use to be a dish washer. I filled out a form for the EEO because a chef I worked for ,used a pretext in firing me.The real reason I was fired was because I took a IMCS test on June 29,2010. I can only lift 15 pounds. This was a no no for a chef, who wanted every dish washer to lift more than 15 pounds. I worked for this country club for 13 year, and never got lazy. I stay at my work and did it. Last May,2010 I hurt my back on the job, stay out for a month. Worker Comp set the date for the IMCS. The chef didn't like it. I seeking back pay,with vacation and restitution from the country club., let say $125,000. I want to retire, and maybe go out and play golf. This chef is going to be up shit creek without paddle by the time I get finish with him. The club will fired him

    Harry

    February 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  2. christhecook

    Interesting article[: I have been a professional cook for about 20 years,mostly in very nice restaurants,mostly as the 1st cook. I have been called chef, and done the chefs duties, though I have never had formal chefs training. I learned from the bottom up, paid attention to what was going on, and ended up being indispensable. Under normal circumstances I am a nice,funny, caring person. But sometimes I lose my temper badly; sudden rush, incompetent help, or difficult customer, the list is growing. It is interesting that it was stated earlier european chefs have a nasty temper; I do not think I am european, but I am a Canadian, so who knows what the past held. Anyway, I was 'raised' in the kitchen by an old Hungarian Chef,whom I am proud to call my first mentor. He had a bit of temper, though not to bad, and he did drink heavy and smoke heavy; but he worked his butt off till he was well over 60. From him I learned great standards, cleanliness, organizational skills, etc. I wonder if I learned his temper also, and because I am a bit of a perfectionist, made his temper mine, only 'better', as in 'I can be one nasty ***hole at work'. When I do lose my temper on occasion,(it has been about 2 months, till today), I feel like a huge peice of crap for two or three days after. At the time I don't think about the feelings of others around me, I rant and rave and make everyone around me miserable. After the hotel I work in was bought by Koreans, it quickly started a downhill slide. So now I am almost always upset at work because I am watching something I helped build up being destroyed. I do not drink or smoke near as much as I used to, but the cravings are coming back strong.I also work with my girlfreind of 5 years, she is dining room manager,does not smoke and hardly ever drinks. So when I lose my peace of mind, she is usually near enough to hear it; she gets embarrased and very upset with me, and it lasts alot longer than it should in my opinion;). But she still loves me(I hope), and she knows the stress will make me sick(I think). Her getting quality food is about the only thing keeping me there, that and the comfort zone thing. But it must be time to leave, because I did get the good old ulcer come back on me, and I do not think I can take 2 more days of the silent treatment. I was also trained by an Austrian chef, German chef and French Canadian chef. So I have to wonder; is it all me, or things I picked up over the years? I have to think it is mostly me. I cannot keep blaming the untrained Phillipino's, or the untrained Koreans, neither one of whose language I understand, yet I get to hear it loudly all day long. And bear in mind I am the only english speaking male there, though I think they are trying, just not very hard. I hear that they are scared of me, which I never wanted. I read earlier that frightened people do not learn well, so I am probably fighting myself, and trying to pass the blame. It must be time to get out of the industry, or at least the cooking part. I put alot into it and got alot more out of it. I think I am a better man for it; and it has been a heck of a ride, but I think it is time to hang up the apron for good,(or at least till my girlfreind will talk to me again). I have lots more to say but I have dribbled on long enough.Tthanks.Be nice but keep your knives sharp.

    February 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • christhecook

      Sorry it is so hard to read but I forgot about paragraphs;dumb

      February 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  3. Caroline

    I've worked in resturants on and off for 20 years and have done just about every job there is, from dishwasher to manager. The only job that I would never want is chef. The pressure is enormous , the hours are long, and at least half of the staff are nuts. Unless you are one of those idiot "celebrity chefs" there's not alot of money in it. I've seen them smoke, drink, swear, screw around with dumb actress servers in the walk in and still get great meals out. So more power to them, they are better if not slightly crazier then me.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  4. NotaSmoker

    Tasting kills your sense of smoke.

    October 22, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  5. Chef North

    Yup, some cooks do crave the adrenaline of the rush (or is it the rush of the adrenaline?).
    Again, no brains needed to be a junkie (and negative stress at that!).

    As another poster put it, "desperate or damaged".

    I've been in the industry for 20 years as a cook, chef, general manager, and owner.
    I speak from experience when I say there is very little about the industry, people wise, that is positive and/or constructive.
    But, it is not wholly the fault of the industry. The North American society does NOT value their chain of food - from farmer to chef.
    I'm sure CNN has some kind of article on the lowest paying jobs in North America, cook and farmer will be on it.
    The populace values cheap food, and lots of it. Period.
    Oh, right, it also values celebrity, as in "celebrity chef".

    What other industry has a 95% fail rate in the first year of operation?
    And another 95% failure rate in the second year?
    You know why so many restaurants fail?
    The people who open them are NOT smart; they lack intelligence, education (formal or otherwise), and common sense.

    What other industry has a 5% profit margin?
    You know what America values? BANKERS!
    How many of them have gone bust in the last 50 years?
    I'm sure exponentially less than restauranteurs.

    And just because an industry bestows awards on its participants, that doesn't mean said industry is worthy.
    I'm sure garbage men get awards too.
    So do Grade 1 children.
    So do show dogs.

    Desperate and damaged, indeed.

    October 22, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  6. Jim

    Can believe I just wasted 5 minutes of my time reading that.

    October 22, 2010 at 8:29 am |
    • I like magnets

      I can't believe it took you five minutes to read that.

      October 22, 2010 at 9:15 am |
      • Funny

        I like magnets too.

        October 22, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  7. Mise en Place

    One of the best perks about being a Chef is you get laid a lot from the hottest servers. A lot.

    October 22, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  8. Richard

    I have to agree with most of this, though there is always exceptions to the rules.

    As an Executive Chef for over 20 years who is married to another Executive Chef and a former smoker, it is true; chefs that smoke can not taste. Not saying they can not cook, just saying that they do not taste the same as those who do not smoke which is most of their guests.

    Sad thing …it does not seem to matter as 9 out of 10 restaurants are buying processed, prepackaged foods that are loaded with chemicals anyways. These places are run by Hacks that call themselves chefs. A real chef would not buy a frozen meatball, a chicken which is already skewered or a can of powdered hollandaise. A real chef would make all from scratch.

    I remember when all chefs’ jobs were about creating and leading. Now kids are paying thousands of dollars to go to a school to learn how to open a #10 can.

    #3 simple rules

    #1 if you are working the night shift at Wendy’s, Applebee’s or Fridays you are not a “Chef”, you are a COOK so stop telling girls you meet at the club you are a CHEF!!

    #2 any person that uses California Blend as a seasonal vegetable is not a ‘Chef”, you are a cafeteria cook for AMAMARK…..

    #3 Passion and Pride is what separates most chefs from cooks

    October 22, 2010 at 8:17 am |
  9. Michael Rowland

    After 25 years in the Hotel and restaurant business I have had some interesting experiances from loudmouth snobs to unbelievable talents. Drinking is of course a big problem and we say thatt once you become your best customer your business can really suffer That leads to problems in the marriage. I have worked in 3 star (highest rating) Michelin restaurants to bistros and bars. The hours are long and if you are not on top of the curve you lose. It can be rewarding and revolting. I still maintain that fresh is best and while the atmosphere of a small local Bistro is infectious a highend "snob" meal is a true delight. Cooks and/or chefs that yell and scream are usually inferior in their talents. One small restaurant in my village opened and both husband and wife put in 15 hour days prior to their "sucess" Now they actually have a day off once a week. They would never change it for anything and their passion shows in the two month wait list.

    October 22, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  10. john

    I would like to add another one
    6. Most chefs thing they know everything or are "gods" answer to the restaurant they work at and ignore the real chefs of the kitchen.

    I have been a "chef" where i work now for the last 8 years, and previous to several other places over my 25 years cooking. I have worked with a couple of "educated culinary graduate chefs" that are full of BULL@#$% and think they can come into an already estabilshed restaurant and think they are gods greatest gift to the place, sitting around on thier asses taking thousands of smoke breaks while the "cooks" of the kitchen actually do all the work. I would say yes that all of the above are very true, definetly the smoking one. Its a wonder how any of these chef that smoke as much as they do can TASTE any of the FOOD they cook. I know the one that works at my place in the eve can barely taste anything unless is heavily salted. Not a GOOD thing especially in the kitchen. I could go on about all kinds of "BAD" examples and traits chef's have. but will leave it thiere........................

    October 22, 2010 at 7:28 am |
  11. jeremy

    Michelle is smoking hott !saw her in person and her food is awesome as well ihave been to her one restaurant.

    October 22, 2010 at 5:51 am |
  12. Mel

    testosterone? Isn't this Chef a woman? Why does testosterone make you a bad spouse? Is the use of the word testosterone for males equivalent of the 'B' word used for females? Why is it that being too much of a male is negative?

    October 22, 2010 at 5:48 am |
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