Hard-drinking, (often) hard-smoking, and hard-living, the hierarchy of chefs that make the restaurant go perform at a level that we cubicle-enclosed, chair-sitting, tea-sipping keyboard jockeys can't begin to imagine. I was reminded of the line in one of the Harry Potter books where Harry realizes bangs and smoke were not the signs of a good wizard, but rather a clumsy one. In the same way, Gibney writes:
While no environment is free of accident and human error, the ability to work collision-free is expected of any good cook. In good restaurants, everyone works this way, with sprezzatura: a certain nonchalance that makes their actions appear to be without effort and almost without thought, an easy facility in accomplishing arduous tasks that conceals the conscious exertion that went into them...There are no burns or cuts, no pans dropped, no spills or messes made. Its practitioners call this performance "the dance."Nor is Sous Chef into restaurant muckraking. The high-end restaurant portrayed uses only the best ingredients and adheres religiously not only to health code standards, but even more so to epicurean standards. Stations are spotless. Food is fresh and well-stored and well-treated because such food just tastes better. I found myself highlighting passages that would make me a better cook and Market shopper. For example, Gibney recommends that "whole fishes must be sitting upright in the ice...in order to preserve their anatomical constitution...Portioned fishes, on the other hand, must be wrapped tightly with food-service film, laid out flat and even in perforated trays (which keep liquids from pooling) and overspread with ice."
Not that there aren't food safety bits thrown in:
- Keep your fridge set below 40F because the main pathogens have difficulty thriving at the temperature.
- Keep industry-raised chicken below and separate from all other foods. "...The Department of Health considers the bird a terribly dangerous creature. It marinates in its own filth from the time it dies until the time you put it in the oven. It is a haven for bacteria. And its exudate--chicken juice--travels like quicksilver. No other protein can cross-contaminate its neighbors quite like chicken." Yikes.
- Mussels should be tightly closed and, if in cold water, they should float, indicating they're still airtight and alive.