There’s been a lot of talk recently about how kitchens are changing, how they’re becoming less about yelling and screaming and more about nurturing and work-life balance. While, to an extent, this is true, I also have some pretty strong feelings about the way this has been represented and discussed in the media. I’ve ranted about it on the podcast I do with Andrew Levins, The Mitchen, so I’ll let it slide for now.
These discussions have reminded me of the strength of community in the hospitality industry, and how much it has changed from when I was a shithead apprentice.
When I started cooking in hatted restaurants it always seemed like head chefs were pretending to be friends in public but gossiped and backstabbed each other in private. Everyone was for themselves. No-one shared information, recipes, techniques, ingredients.
It seemed like everyone needed to be the only one with that certain knowledge or access to ingredients in order to separate themselves, let alone the bridge between the kitchen and front-of-house teams.
The old guard might tell me I’m wrong. I’m not sure I’d believe them.
I look around the industry now and I can safely say that has changed. I’m lucky enough to count a great number of Sydney’s top chefs, sommeliers, bartenders and waiters my close friends.
This network and strength in community didn’t happen overnight and I’ll admit it can still be cliquey and take a lot to break into.
Most of my friends came up through Tetsuya’s. The reputation of being the best in the city, if not the world, at the time, attracted a lot of young, talented cooks looking to learn and make a difference to their careers.
Working in that high-pressure environment, where everything had to be perfect every time, the techniques involved, the long hours – contributed to the level of skill that came out of that kitchen. It's amazing how much of that talent has stayed in or come back to Sydney, going on to open their own places or run some of the best kitchens in town.
The bonds those guys built working there and being part of that family, be it at the same time or over the years, run really deep.
I never worked at Tet’s so becoming part of that family took time. You have to prove yourself and earn your peers’ respect, and having a co-sign from one of the family helps too.
Over the years you have the opportunity to work, cook and talk a lot of shit together. Our love of the industry as a whole, and a love and respect for what each of us do as individuals, keeps those bonds strong. Getting to eat at your best friend’s restaurant, staffed by more friends, industry legends and passionate young’uns is an amazing experience. It’s probably the single greatest perk of working in hospitality.
We spent a lot of time over the years working on changing the industry, opening it up, sharing ideas, recipes, techniques, ingredients, staff, suppliers; in order to strengthen it and provide support for each other. To show the next generation that sharing and looking out for one another pushes the industry forward and helps us all grow. That in turn results in a better industry for everyone involved, even the customer.
It’s this support network that got us through the long-ass hours and stress of being young chefs trying to make our careers, and now gets us through the turbulence and stress of owning restaurants in Sydney.
It’s amazing to see this support network influencing the next gen, seeing them work together, put on events, form friendships and social bonds. It almost gives me hope for the future of our industry. Almost. But we’re still plagued by problems: the lack of staff – the real lack of staff who actually give a fuck – the oversaturation of the marketplace, the involvement of big business in the industry, the fickle nature of Sydney diners.
Hopefully we can continue to encourage community among young people in the industry and, with time and commitment, we’ll once more be able to look around the industry and safely say that things have changed.