The following is from an interview with Chef Angie Mar for the Village Voice. We kinda got off topic in the most beautiful of ways, so here’s a bit from our conversation that didn’t make the cut, but was too good not to share. Check out the interview here.
Chef Angie Mar: The Culture of Her Kitchen
“At the end of the day, the people coming through this restaurant don’t give a shit about me or the people cooking; they give a shit about what’s on their plate. That’s all that matters, what’s on the plate. So what we try to instill in our cooks is that all we have at the end of the day is our integrity. Each plate has to be perfect. If we don’t care about that, it means we don’t care about our diners. Every plate is our integrity.
“My philosophy about kitchens and cooking in life is that we can teach anyone how to cook; to me, that doesn’t matter. One of my junior sous came from Cesar Ramirez and had been a prep cook — never on the line — in two years. I took that as he already had integrity since Cesar has integrity. We can teach anyone how to cook, but we can’t teach integrity.
“This is a busy restaurant; we see 200 people come through a night. To have 200 perfect meals is a challenge. And the fact that we’re so dedicated to that is incredibly important to me. My hope for the guys that come through my kitchen is that, first, maybe they don’t leave my kitchen. But I want everyone to keep growing, to keep learning, so I want them to be ready for their next step after they’ve spent a year with me, whether that step means staying with me or moving on.
“Is it hard to find good cooks in this industry right now? Yes. This is one of the worst times to find cooks. But I will tell you this: if you came from culinary school, I will not hire you, and that’s it. I went to culinary school, and one of my sous chefs went to culinary school. But I made it a policy about a year ago that if you went to culinary school and walk in my door, I will most likely tell you to go. The skill level and work ethic coming out of culinary school is disappointing. These kids coming out think they’re going to be a sous chef within a year, and they want to make a special for my menu; I spent my first year doing prep work, shucking oysters, and making salads. I put my head down and said, Yes chef. All of the chefs I’ve cooked for come from the old chef brigade system, and that’s how my kitchen is run, like the military. It makes me really sad to see kids spending $60,000 or $80,000 and coming out of school without these fundamentals. I don’t know why it’s happening.
“There’s no better time to be in this industry because there’s such a focus on food right now, but I don’t think people realize how hard the work is. They spend $80,000 for glamour that does not exist. I sleep five hours a night. My day starts at 6 am and goes to 1 am. I’m at this restaurant seven days a week, even when I’m not supposed to be here. That’s what it takes. I don’t know that people getting in this industry last year or tomorrow realize that.
“Instead, I take the most badass cooks who have worked for other chefs. I have several cooks who don’t even speak English; I will put them against any culinary school grad, and they’ll tear them up. I believe that ardently. I’m the first to acknowledge that we’re only as good as our weakest link, so that’s why there’s such a focus here on growing and cultivating people and having the strongest team possible. I have one of the hardest working, most talented crews working in New York at this very moment. That’s what’s exciting to me. That’s the work ethic that’s very hard to find. We have to look for it, cultivate people, and focus their energies. I put time and care into growing my cooks, because that’s what people have done for me. Great cooks aren’t born; they’re made.
“A quote from Marco Pierre White sums up how I feel about my kitchen, myself and our philosophy: We all wear blue aprons in my kitchen, because we’re all commis. We’re all still learning. I’m never going to be one of those chefs walking around in a different colored apron or with my name on my jacket. I’m not better than anyone. My entire crew wears a dishwasher’s coat; we all wear the same apron. We’re a team. We’re all in the trenches together. We’re all growing together. We’re all in this together.”