I grew up in a household where you learned respect pretty quickly. Because if you didn’t show respect, you got smacked. Hard. Ever since then, I approached everything in life respectfully, whether it be going to church on Sunday or giving up my seat on the bus to an elderly person.
Same goes with cooking. When I attended CIA it was still primarily German-Austrian run and we learned to have a great deal of respect for our fellow students, chefs, and teachers. We learned to respect the brigade system. We respected every station on that line. I knew that I would not be a chef until I mastered every station. I knew that there was no shame in being a great garde manager had I chosen to stay there and not become a chef. We learned to work in a team and to protect our fellow cooks. We learned not to let anyone fall behind, to help them instead. If one failed, we all failed. There was a certain line that a chef would make sure he or she never crossed.
The same goes with being a private chef, except for the fact that the days of proving that you’re a good chef are long gone. Of all the good private chefs I know, the ones who have the best gigs and who make the best salaries are the ones who have a great temperament and do not yell at people or slam doors. We are professionals living and working in some of the finest homes in the world, with families we care about.
So, the codes of conduct in the private chef industry are a bit different. The codes below help set apart the professionals from the amateurs.
One of the codes: We never talk or gossip about who we work for or have worked for. Everybody in the Hamptons wants to know who you’ve worked for, but a professional will never tell. I have had potentially good chefs break that rule and tell me, “I work for Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel!” As soon as I heard them name-drop like that, I thought, “The rule is WE NEVER TALK ABOUT WHO WE WORK FOR so how can I verify it and why should I believe you? Nobody cares who you’ve worked for, and a real pro doesn’t talk about it!”
Other codes that professional private chefs live and work by include:
Be nice. You’re in someone’s home, around their family.
Please respect everyone around you.
Don’t complain or backstab.
Don’t go thinking you’re above anybody else. Take out the garbage and clean up after yourself. That’s how you get promoted and asked to return again and again.
Most of all, be thankful for what you have been given. Some nights after dinner, I will come out on the deck or the patio and just look up at the stars and thank God for letting me work in such a beautiful place. If I were the owner of the house and the chef I hired thought that just because I have a nice house, he can have the time of his life, that’s the end of him working for me. He’s finished. Never take advantage of the situation. To those who can be trusted, much more will be given. Do your job, treat people the way you want to be treated, and be thankful. We are fortunate to be working for families in the Hamptons.