Four years ago, I had never worked in the hospitality industry. I had lived with four servers and one bartender from Applebee’s in college, and I had seen the movie Waiting. I had actor friends who were either wait staff or baristas. I’d had the fortune of eating in outstanding establishments, but I had never heard the term Back of House, or Yes, Chef.
Then, in what felt like an instant, all of that changed. I began to work for a hospitality group and the word chef took on more meanings than I’d ever have guessed. If you think chef just means chef, let me enlighten you. It means: boss, el jefe, cook, dishwasher, expediter, babysitter, engineer, fire starter, fire fighter, designer, teacher, artist, inappropriate ass hole, and when they’ve finally made it – owner.
New York is full of chefs, and for the first time this past weekend I started to notice why. A friend told me that on a recent job interview for an HR position in the hospitality industry he was asked, “what percentage is service and what percentage is hospitality.” The correct response, the interviewer admitted, is 49% service and 51% hospitality. The service is the skill set, the tools that you’ve learned over the years that will keep the customers sated and content. The hospitality is the details. The attention to the service that if executed impeccably will go completely unnoticed by the customer, but will keep them coming back again and again and again. Much like the notes in a perfectly composed melody, the shadows in a stage set, the negative space in an art piece, and in life, it is all in the details.
It’s debated often in my house whether or not a chef is an artist. I say yes, of course. If someone is spending their days and weeks and late and early hours trying to build something well thought out that will bring an audience pleasure, then I think it is an art form. If your dish makes one person think about one flavor, one idea, one friend they want to share it with, then that is your art, your expression is food.
New York is filled with more artists between its turbulent rivers than any place on the planet. (this is not a fact, I think it’s true though, feel free to let me know) To me, it’s hard to even consider being a serious artist and not living in New York, at least for a while. I’ve never thought too hard about why that is and I’m not about to. The sociology and history must have combined on some epic level and formed these 33 square miles of talent that have somehow turned the entire island into passion, personified.
Let’s face it, New York City has as much of a personality as anyone. Its a beast. And a bitch. It’s like a beautiful, hard working, self-centered, temperamental boss, who is going to keep riding you until you succeed, or leave. So the artists come and the artists go and the bankers stay and the wealthy applaud and throw roses and tips to the artists, whose passions are then personified too, because they have banked on their artistic expression, in the toughest city in the world.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to witness some of these art forms, and then devour them. Enjoy.