Sometimes the culinary world feels like a boxing ring, and boy, can it get ugly. Chefs and cooks alike will always have a shared ferocity. They will bash each other’s food, rant about the piss-poor sanitation of that guy’s kitchen, she will bury her neighbor’s restaurant with slams about cheap ingredients, and he will banter about Tuesday night’s poor service.
In the end, though, there is an emerging kinship among kitchen brethren that is undeniable. This comradeship is a crew from one restaurant meeting up with the crew from another over drinks at Big Whiskey. It is a confederacy of kitchen miscreants that share the plight of long hours, charred hands and the drought-like conditions in the cash flow.
The bromance of TrueCooks, Industry, other support networks, like the multitude of food trade cliques on Facebook, and even throwing open the doors to bolster the rep of a fellow cook are part of that not-so-secret handshake.
Here’s why culinary brotherhood — and sisterhood — makes sense and how to get the most out of it, even in a competitive industry.
Civis Romanus Sum and Mutual Chef Respect
There was a time that a Roman citizen could travel the face of the planet and not be brought under any harm by merely uttering "civis romanus sum," which translates to “I am a Roman citizen.” It is that adulation that is often afforded to cooks in the dining rooms of foreign restaurants in the form of a free drink, a chef’s tasting plate, or a meal for a wary traveler. Sometimes, it even results in a job for the unattached. That good mojo isn’t swagger or chest-thumping braggadocio. Instead, it is shaking hands and understanding that we all speak the same language, perhaps with just a little different accent.
We All Benefit From Support
The indefatigable chef/co-owner of Dizengoff, Zahav, Abe Fisher, Federal Donuts, and recent James Beard-award winner for his Zahav cookbook, Michael Solomonov, uses the range of his own operations to bolster culinary community. He hosted John Currence as the Mississippi chef rolled around the country on a book tour, stirring excitement in both the host restaurant’s customer base, as well as sparked an interest in getting face time with the Southern cooking alchemist.
This past Saturday, again, Solomonov freed his restaurant Dizengoff to host Israeli baker Uri Scheft and his Breaking Bread’s book get-together. The restaurant crew replicated some breads from the baking omnibus and Scheft was able to rile the interest of a new pool of fans.
“Doing our job is really difficult,” Solomonov said. “Being supportive is important.”
He added that these events provide an opportunity to teach the kitchen crews involved. That spirit of mutual benefit is another tool from which we can turn to help hedge challenges and even paint with a little sparkle.
Competition Breeds Civility
Even in the stop-and-go world of mobile vendors, the guild of competing operations emerges to profit everybody involved. A collective of food truck owners and chefs in northern Delaware, for instance, see the value of shared resources, like social media, to grow their respective customer draws.
One truck parked on the side of the road will do business. But Rolling Revolution collects a dozen trucks, engages a shared online presence, gathers for a much-publicized roundup and the return on forming an alliance is an immediate treasure. Are these competing entities? Of course. Do they benefit from a fellowship for the sake of rolling their operations to a more valuable position? The crowd that ran into the thousands for this past weekend’s Food Truck Face-Off is proof to the reward of the alliance these road warriors have founded.
Representing craftsman plying their trade and continually honing their skills through brotherly and sisterly connections — these kinships are real. Not some pay-to-play, atta-boy fraternity, but grassroots relationships that can beat back rough times, energize when needing energy, and exist when the weight of the world falls on a particular set of shoulders.