A Strange Breed Indeed : The Life of A Chef

I’ve heard it said often that chefs are a “separate breed of people” a “special type”.  It’s a bit of a sweeping generalisation that the Politically Correct HR bods would surely have a field day over.  The question is, do I agree? Mmmm – I’d probably have to say yes.

It’s a bit of a strange life we lead and eventually this starts to show. We work long and unsociable hours.  We miss every party and celebration thrown by friends and family (in our defence this is mainly down to you “normal” folk throwing these big events on our busiest day of the week!).  We work – through choice – in heat and noise and constant pressure.  Exact times, temperatures, rules, regulations… every day, all day.

But here’s the thing; you start to love this, you relish the controlled, precise environment.   I’d say that in order to run a great kitchen you need to be a little bit OCD, verging on control freak, with a slightly warped sense of humour and a deep, obsessive passion, for what you do.  Because right alongside the crazy scientific, mathematical order and insane pressure is the freedom to be creative, work with flair, look for a new method of doing something and an innovative way of presenting it.  Take a new ingredient – like monkey puzzle tree nuts! – and make it shine in a combination of other great ingredients and wonderful flavours.  This is the life of a chef.

I am, without doubt or apology, one of these people.  Unlike some, I like to get out of the kitchen at the end of a night and chat to my guests. Discover first-hand how they enjoyed everything, get the feedback directly.  That’s what it’s about for me. I know there are a few chefs out there with egos but this isn’t the fishing for compliments it sometimes looks like. I genuinely LOVE what I do and I’m proud to be a Scottish Chef working in the industry today. I want to know genuinely how you enjoyed your meal, what was good, what would make it better? People part with their hard earned cash for a meal at my table and I take that privilege seriously.

Graeme Pallister of 63 Tay Street and friends

Me and couple of others from the strange breed. Gordon, Gary and Barry.

A wee aside …. With that last comment in mind, I’m on my high horse a bit just now about perceived value.  We do a great lunch and a fantastic pre theatre menu.  Here’s a quick example of what £12 can get you in 63 Tay Street –do bear in mind that everything is handmade in our kitchen from the freshest and finest ingredients we can source. Fresh, oven warm bread; an amuse bouche; a main course such as oxtail risotto or guinea fowl chasseur.  Alternatively, you could visit a chain restaurant or expensive coffee shop and for £12 get a pre-packed sandwich, followed by a pre-packed cake and a bowl of cappuccino. Or a meat (debatable?!) feast pizza!  It astounds me when I think about how much people are being ripped off. I get really, really annoyed.  I want to picket the High Street with “Demand More!” on a large board.

Right! Rant over – but I’d love your feedback on this!  Do leave a comment.

Back to the life of a chef!  My chosen profession may make me a “separate breed” but I am grateful every day that this is the case.  It’s about striving for that perfect dish, the holy grail of food and drink. I have made many, many great friends in this industry  – chefs, producers, suppliers and more.   There is an openness and honesty amongst real chefs and I genuinely feel part of a phenomenal “togetherness”.  Motivating your peers, being pushed forward by the guy at the top of this week’s tree, knowing how hard everyone is working to put Scottish cuisine smack bang in the centre of the global food map.

I’m going to finish by saying this.  It’s a great time to be part of it all. It is inspiring and fulfilling, a noble profession for any young person to enter. If you’re lucky enough to wake up each morning and put on a chef’s jacket then wear it proudly.  Strive to do and deliver your best; nature is not selective, fresh produce is for everyone.  So pick up the phone to a farmer and ask him what he has in season today.  Most importantly, be happy for the guy next to you who is doing well. It’ll be your turn soon enough – I still find great joy in seeing one of my peers making it happen.

It may be a strange life… but I’d recommend it to anyone daring enough to try!

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