- How many restaurants do you frequent per month? ___
- What percentage of them have a chef? ___
- What percentage of those that have chefs also have a pastry chef? ___
- What percentage of those restaurants with both chef and pastry chef do you feel you are eating a seamless meal? ___
By seamless I mean: if your meal was a sentence would it be grammatically correct? If your meal was a fitted shirt would the neck be tight but the sleeves perfect? If your meal was a portrait would the subject be blurry and the back ground in focus? If your meal was a house would the bedrooms be a dimly lit, the kitchen tiny and the bathroom an outhouse? If your meal was a vacation would the last days be better than the first or would you wish never to return?
Whether you're in the camp calling cooking art or craft, all sides agree chefs use ingredients and cooking styles to tell a story, to share a thought, to hone an idea, to take you home, to create memory, to woo, to change or solidify or blow your mind.
In kitchens where there's more than one chef, and therefore more than one point-of-view, how many directions can a meal take you? How many directions do you want to be pulled?
Do you prefer a meal where the end of the sentence completes the initial thought or don't you mind being brought to your edge only to leave sticky but not satiated?
These are some of the questions chefs and pastry chefs ask of each other, and thus the diner, when they get into bed together. Well, not literally.
My best restaurant pastry chef jobs have been collaborative. I don't believe the last course can be made in a vacuum. A lot of savory chefs I've worked with want nothing to do with pastry and are more than happy to keep themselves oblivious. While this might feel nice-- to be allowed unbothered space with which to "do our thang," it rarely makes for growth. For either side.
I don't believe savory chefs should always be the boss of pastry chefs. Radical? Maybe. If we're both chefs--meaning we're both in charge of our teams and at the top of our respective fields, why should savory be the umbrella under which all other managers reside? I know a lot of pastry chefs with more years and experience than the savory chefs they work with.
It is important that pastry chefs have some experience in the savory realm and savory chefs do the same. Neither side wants to listen to the other when neither one has sought knowledge for that which they are attempting to correct/weigh in on/steer. It's easy to taste a soup and say you don't like it but can you pick out its nuances? Can you do the same for a sorbet? Do you know why one day a gnocchi floats and why another day it disintegrates? Do you know what ingredient's incorrect temperature causes a chocolate chip cookie to spread?
When was the last time you ate a meal in the restaurant where you work? Have you eaten any of your dishes, sweet or savory, start to finish? Meaning not just picked at the various components here and there but really sat down with the silverware you tell the waiters to mark the table with, and eaten it the way you hope a diner will?
Do you think the menu makes sense, from beginning to end? Does your food suit the clientele? Does it really?
Sometimes we have to let go of "the food we want to make" to accommodate "the food our clientele wants." Sometimes we have to take off a flourish no one eats, or condense a menu because indecisive diners make for less table turns. Sometimes we have to change our price point because the check average is scarily low, and sometimes we get to count our blessings when the stars align and everyone orders what we didn't think they'd be brave enough to and for that day we can embrace the warm fuzzies.
I don't believe I have a savory chef soul-mate out there. Or I do, but I don't believe there's only one. But I do think it's important to be in a kitchen where a conversation, with more questions than answers, is taking place.
Savory and pastry chefs who ignore or shun or tamp down or fight against or compete maliciously with or work independently of each other are doing a disservice to themselves, their food, their growth as chefs and the menu/dining experience as a whole. Some beginnings are so dissimilar from endings one wonders if the pastry chef and savory chef have ever even met.
It's a wonderful learning experience to cook in a kitchen with a great savory and pastry team. If you work in one of them, take advantage of all the corners of it! No one cook or chef or commis or sous chef should feel they can no longer ask questions or learn more or get a refresher lesson. Even if it's in diplomacy.