"Kitchen Mechanics" a new Megabites mini series by Gary O Hanlon

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This is the first in a little mini-series about kitchen mechanics. The machines we use, their function, and just how much we have come to rely on them. From Water baths and Thermomixes to Blow torches and Vac Pacs i’ll have an insight into their inner workings and the benefits they bring to a professional kitchen.

Firstly though, I want to talk about the kitchen's most valuable machine: The Chef. The driveshaft of any kitchen. What makes a Chef tick? What keeps a Chef going day in and day out? What would make the perfect Chef? I’ll get to that bit later: my own version of “Pimp my Chef”

There are two types IMO. Those who cook just to make a living and go through the motions, and those who care about the job, the food, and making a difference. I’d like to think I’m the latter but there is no doubt I go through periods of self doubt, motivation lowers, and I simply hate the fucking job and the path it leads you down. It’s never easy to push hard day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. You simply find yourself going through the motions.

Thankfully, it never lasts too long in my case. A few days or a week or two at worst. It could be a good battering session in the gym, a good review or simply a good session and a top feed in another Chefs gaff and you’re back in the game. “I need to get better”, “Cop on man and stop feeling sorry for yourself” “That bastard is cooking better than me at present, I’ll show him/her”

It’s that competitive streak that fires you back into life. Like an old ’69 Mustang, there’s life in the old dog yet.

It takes hard hard work. We’ve all read enough tripe though raving about how super duper we Chefs are. Load of bollocks. There are plenty of professionals who bust their balls just as bad as we do. Surgeons, Nurses, Doctors, Care workers, Air Traffic Controllers. The thing is that’s all it takes to make it in any job: hard work. The one difference with Chefs, though, is every man and his dog has an opinion on what you do and they’ve a public forum, if not many public forums, to vent their opinions. This is where experience matters. The Chef has got to take the good with the bad.

Once you can tell yourself that you went into the day grafting as hard as you could, and there was nothing you would change about a dish, the criticism will be easier to swallow.

There’s no such thing as luck by the way. Luck is the direct result of hard work.

Marty Shanahan said something interesting to me a few years back. “Don’t stress about making it, people don’t trust a Chef who’s too young anyway” I’ve never forgotten it. There was never a truer word said. At a certain age you’ll get a break but it’ll come from years of ‘Mise en Place’ aka Hard Fucking Work! It got me thinking. I don’t have any respect for young Chefs on TV or Radio. Absolutely none. Utter bollocks. It takes years of hard graft & life experience to be in a situation whereby your opinions carry weight. People trust experience.

I’m now just over 20 years in professional kitchens so hopefully I’m starting to fall into the category of ‘knowing what I’m talking about’. I’ll still do a demo in front of anything from 80 people to 900 and there will always be a guy or an old lady who’ll tell me I made the soup wrong. Years ago I’d have told them to F-Off but now I smile and agree with them that their way would also be beautiful and sure isn’t that the beauty of cooking. It’s all about how we interpret it. It has always been about putting your own twist on things.

Like a great car, or any machine, newer models have always got better with hindsight. To transfer this to the Chef world what I mean by this is that we can all prosper and get better by listening to our peers. I’ve never been in the company of greats like Derry Clarke, Ross Lewis, Kevin Thornton, Martin Shanahan, Paul Flynn or Timmy O'Sullivan and not hung on every word they’ve said. And do you know what? They’ve plenty to say, and are happy to say it. They’re always pleasant and delighted to see how you’re doing. More often than not I come across the new breed. Some of the young cats who are going to be The Future. Lots could take a leaf out of the aforementioned crew. Having an attitude after one good review or a silly wee TV appearance does not make one a superstar. Taking on board every ounce of advice thrown your way, showing appreciation and in turn passing it on will do you a whole lot better. It doesn’t make you a lesser Chef to listen to advice. The day you think you know it all is the day you’re done. It takes a great deal of self confidence to pick up the phone and run a menu idea by a fellow Chef friend and to also be the guy that takes the same kind of call, gives an opinion and moves on without making a big deal about it.

So what would make the perfect Chef? If such a thing even exists. Lets just throw my version of “Pimp my Chef” together for shits and giggles.

He/she would have the mind of Kevin Thornton, the consistency of Ross Lewis, the temperament of Stephen Gibson, the attention to detail of Mikael Viljanen, the sharpness of Kieran Glennon, the drive of Derek Creagh, the ethics of JP McMahon and the finesse of Sharon Anderson  (yes she’s young but remember the name!)

I wouldn’t mind a feed from that Machine!!


Read more from this series:

The Food Critic
The Next Generation
The Front of House
The KP
The Vac Pack
The Chef