Frank Chen

Frank Chen

physical capabilities

Interning at a 2 Michelin star kitchen - 🧵 for story number four:

Before starting, I had the distinct thought that I would be capable of the physical output necessary to work in a kitchen. After all, I was far from a couch potato, was in fighting shape, and had been training jiujitsu and lifting weights for a good half decade.

I was humbled to learn that I was able to keep up, but not at the exceptional speed and accuracy of the chefs there.

They had an energy and output over time that was unmatched. My realization was that enduring power trumps sprinting power in this game.

By the third day of every weekend, my feet ached, my back hurt, and I was genuinely tired. My partner said each night I was out like a light and snored like a locomotive. I've never been so close to falling asleep at the wheel when driving home.

Bodily efficiency matters. They say you can only prepare for something by doing it, and cooking was no exception. Hours upon hours, constantly on your feet wears on the body in a different way. I understand now why they consider this a lifestyle, not just a career or a job.

Most of the chefs, when they arrived, came in with a smile and enough energy to fuel a small economy. I'd always give them a fist bump and ask them right back how they were doing.

"Best day of my fucking life, thanks for asking! I see you're breaking down chickens - I love it."

"Best day of my fucking life", "fucking fabulous", "fan-fucking-tastic", were very common responses. Some might think these were borderline sarcastic or slightly disingenuous, but after observing this multiple times, I got the distinct feeling that it was wildly true to them.

These chefs were 100% truthful, and it's something I never appreciated. Today was the best day of their life. They're living in the now. They're not stuck in the past or swimming in the future.

Even when chefs "complain", it's never pure. It's placed within the context of what they do. It never comes off as something negative.

"Yeah, I'm fucking tired - I get about 5 hours of sleep a night", my saucier said. He brushed the hair out of his eyes while basting cauliflower and checking the oil levels on one of his sauces. "Look at this oil to sauce level - it's perfect."

He whipped around and slipped the sauce pot on a rubber coaster. "Lamb sauce, Chef."

He turns back to me. "This is what I do. My knees are fucked though." He smiled. His complaint seemed more like a badge of honor than anything else.

I've detected this unbridled optimism even during the shittiest of times. They acknowledge the pain but the execution of the journey allows them to somehow endure all the heart-wrenching shit sandwiches thrown their way.

It's a weird mix of Stoicism and endurance mixed together in one. Everything was "yes and". You fucked up? "Yes, chef - it won't happen again, and I'll do better." Too slow? "Yes chef, I'll move faster."

Every compliment, accomplishment, failure, and setback, was met with acknowledgment, optimism, and a persistence to do better.

At the end of some (very difficult) nights, I've been asked "so Frank, why do you come back?"

I think when I started it was to allow myself to have an experience, and part of that was not reneging on my initial commitments. If I said I was going to show up on these days, then I would come in and finish. One should always, at the very least, finish.

While that holds true, as I continue to observe the chaos, excellence, and art of this unique environment, the answer to that question becomes more complex.

Perhaps it's the idea of kaizen, of constant improvement, of this optimistic view of the now, and the camaraderie one experiences in the kitchen that keeps people coming back.

The optimism rubs off on you, and it's something that is tough to find today (or maybe just in myself). You begin to learn that the chef standing next to you relies on you, and you rely on them. You best not let them down.

There's something else that's difficult to place. It deals with the honesty, courage, and truth of what they do and the pure expression of these qualities.

I think we can all use more of that in times like these.