One of the reasons most young chefs are motivated to get up and go to work every day is for the instant social interaction with the attractive front of the house staff. The endless hook up potential from the constant flow of newbies keeps the pep in their step when kitchen life gets stale. I wouldn’t be here today had my father’s parents not met this way when she was a carhop and he was a cook back in 1948.
I am fortunate to be in a South Beach rooftop lounge/weekend party scene where there is no shortage of attractive wait staff and bartenders. The all female wait staff wears nothing more than booty shorts and a bikini top most of the time. No matter how young or how blessed with good genes they are, you would think that they were on strict diets with their slender to sculpted beach bodies. Just like any one working in a busy venue, they can also neglect their diet and have the workhorse mentality just grabbing what they can fill their belly with. It’s usually Easy Mac or those two dollar cheap sandwiches at Walgreens across the street. Just because someone looks average on the outside doesn’t mean that they don’t feel sluggish and inattentive from not eating the right foods.
The first thing I did when I came up to this venue two years ago was change the menu. About as much effort went into this sad excuse for food options in this $700 a night hotel as did the workplace it is produced from. This venue had been operating for two years before I got up here and the extensive changes I had made did not go over well with the staff and I was not making any friends here for quite some time.
I stayed consistent with the standards I hold as a chef and began to get some recognition from some of the girls who liked my food. I would educate them on the menu and give them specific menu descriptions. Most of those carefully typed packets I would find stuffed in their stations, unsurprisingly. When you’re selling 70 grand on a Saturday and only seven of it is food, the 10 ingredients in the jerk chicken marinade is not their priority.
Like any relationship between a chef and wait staff, time is of the essence. The more and more I initiated change in my diet and began to share my knowledge with the ones that were receptive, the more I began to notice how I really could impact those around me.
To prove how the lifestyle of a chef can impact those around them I conducted a small survey via email with the wait staff that I work with most.
The first question I asked:
1) What idea comes to mind when you think of the lifestyle or the image of a chef? (ie: body type, demeanor, influence on others)
Three of the four girls said they picture an unhealthy male with comments like “not-so-health conscious, sloppy, overweight and out of shape.” Shisney, a native of Brooklyn and a 10 year veteran in the industry, expressed just what I was waiting to hear. She has grown accustomed to the fact that all chefs are “jerks and rude,” and it should be expected. She said, “Most chefs just want to satisfy the customer regardless of how many empty calories they throw in their food and could care less about what kind of influence they are on those around them.”
Questions #2 and #3:
2) How many health conscious chefs have you worked next to? If so, tell me when and if he or she had a positive impact on your diet.
3) In what ways have you benefited from working with a chef practicing a progressive modern lifestyle? (Me)
Before I go on to their answers I just want to remember that chefs are dishing out millions of meals a year to their trusting guests. Combined with advertising and marketing companies, chefs are the almighty leaders in the food industry. This idea that we can and should be knowledgeable of nutrition and composing our dishes accordingly should not be far-fetched or left to only the small amount of health conscious concepts. Just saying…
Three of the four girls did not read onto Question 3 and said that I was the only chef they have ever worked next to that has had a positive impact on their diet. Their experience ranges from 9 to almost 20 years working in restaurants and hotels with chefs and sadly not one has posed any influential enlightenment as to what the right foods can do for your body, mind and spirit. I am not the least bit surprised, but moving forward, this neglectful pattern in a chef’s role needs to go out the window with white flour.
Lisa, a 39 year old Miami native, has been in and out of being a “good” vegetarian for the last 20 years. In the past 6 months she has really utilized picking my brain and says in Question 3, “The ability to communicate with you about new ideas and recipes has encouraged me to get excited about certain ingredients and revisit vegetarianism in a whole new way.”
More than improving her own vegetarian diet with superfoods like bee pollen and spirulina, she and Shisney as well, express how they are bringing it home to their sons. Lisa’s four year old is asking for the apple juice mixed with super green powder full of spirulina, kale and spinach. Shisney has replaced cow’s milk with almond milk at home and is sneaking wheat flour and quinoa into her two year olds diet. “I want to instill in him at a very young age the importance of having a well rounded diet so that he can live a full life and not think of it as a diet but as a way of life.”
Marielle, a 29 year old going for her second BA, this time in Psychology, gave me short answers and felt like she didn’t say enough. The one thing she did say was that she now has an awareness of her sodium intake due to me constantly reading her the labels of her grab and go microwaveable crap snacks. She also remembered our talks about bee pollen a while back. Hmm… from Easy Mac to bee pollen and an awareness of sodium. I’ll take that. It sounds like she now knows about nature’s only complete food essential to sustain human life and also how to prevent the many problems associated with a high sodium diet. Chefs aren’t doctors, we should just know the food we are serving and its effect in the long run.
4) How do you think people would feel about dining if they knew the chef, at all levels of cuisine, had their health and not just their taste buds in mind?
It should be assumed that the chef cares about his guests enough to not load there food with toxins and empty calories. For a split second, we all take that assumption the moment we sit down in their restaurant. Of course no one would spend money in a place that they felt their health was being jeopardized. Then we chuckle to ourselves at how much crap was used to create that rich decadent flavor we are tossing around our mouth. But it’s SOOOO GOOD!!
So, the answers here were pretty much a given. Obviously, they would want the person cooking their meals to genuinely care about their health. The idea just seems so out of the ordinary. It’s like the chefs are unreachable and far too busy to think of what? Our health too! I say it does not increase your work load to use more nutrient dense ingredients and less empty calories. With the right knowledge we can work smarter not harder.
They all said they would be more comfortable going out to eat and go more often. Good news for restaurants and diners, win-win situation. Healthier guests, go out to eat more, live longer. Sweet!
“People need to realize that you can still have delicious food and have it be healthy.”
“When I know a restaurant serves organic/hormone free meat, I feel much better about eating there.”
“The forward thinking chefs are those in my opinion that would gain much respect because taste buds change and so do people.”
I, myself, also have a hard time finding the ingredients and nutrient content I generally eat and would also go out more often. I feel this is where the food industry should be going. The challenge for a progressive modern chef today should be targeting his/her menu to appease the health conscious crowd. We lead the way in our own lifestyle, demonstrate our talent on our menu, and our diners follow.