My sous chef and I went for Mexican food with some friends last Sunday (obviously) and someone got the most amazing chiles rellenos.
Of course, my sous and I immediately started talking about ways we could incorporate some of these flavors into our food, especially the ridiculously delicious smoked tomato salsa.
We could put it on our fish tacos, it would be an excellent counterpoint to the cilantro ranch dressing. We could use it in a reimagined eggs Benedict.
This went on for 15 or 20 minutes until one of our friends said, “Oh my god, why don’t you guys ever stop working?”
It’s true; we don’t. And neither do any of the good cooks I’ve ever worked with. If we’re out at a restaurant, we’re constantly looking for things they do well that we can learn from, or for things they do badly that we can avoid doing (or gloat about, if we’re feeling smarmy).
I’m friendly with the chef at a great local sushi restaurant. My knife skills are rock solid, but his blow mine out of the water. So of course I jumped at the chance to have him teach me some Japanese techniques.
Years and years ago, when I was a young line cook at a restaurant in New York, our chef brought a whole wild boar down to the kitchen. We all stood around staring at it with our mouths wide open. This was one of the top-rated restaurants in the city full of incredibly talented cooks, and not a single one of us had any idea how to start butchering this beast.
The ancient Dominican dishwashers came out of the dishpit, laughed at us for a minute or two and then had the boar skinned and portioned into primals in about an hour.
You better believe that we watched their every move. Knowledge comes from unexpected places and you’d be crazy to pass it up.
That’s what I love about this business: you’re never done learning. It’s up to us to always be observing and asking questions, and to never turn it off.
Our significant others may not love it, but it’s how we stay on top.