Critic-Turned-Cook Loses Her Cool

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[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

"Get out of my kitchen!"

I regretted those words as soon as they spilled out of my mouth, spoken in the heat of the moment over a pan of sizzling bacon. My husband was acting as my sous chef while I was making Momofuku's Shrimp and Grits the other day. "Take some of that bacon out of the pan. It's not getting crisp enough," I barked.

"It's fine," he said. But it wasn't. The grits were boiling madly and I needed the bacon to be done before I could sear the shrimp in that pan.

That's when I had a my-way-or-the-highway moment. I'm not proud, but I can certainly see how tempers can flare in the kitchen.

As a critic, I witnessed chefs losing their cool in open kitchens, chewing out their staff. One server came back to the table and was shaking as he refilled my water glass. Poor guy. Of course, we've all watched in amusement (or disgust) as Gordon Ramsay spews profanity at cooks who aren't cutting it. Yet while working behind the scenes in various professional kitchens, I've yet to see a true hissy fit.

Oh, I've heard stories of legendary meltdowns. One chef told me he worked for a guy who used to routinely scream into an oven to let off steam. But that was years ago.

It makes me wonder if kitchens have mellowed. A line cook I worked with at Dahlia Lounge chalks it up to culinary schools. There has been a softening of the sharp edges: "It's a whole different kind of person who goes into cooking these days."

Is that a good thing? Or do volatile cooks bring more fire and passion to their cooking? Then again, some of the best chefs I worked with—Gray Brooks from Serious Pie, Andy at Shultzy's and Jerry Corso from Betty—are super chill.

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[Photograph: Leslie Kelly]

In my own kitchen, I work best as a solo act. I'm like that molten pot of grits and I don't want to splatter on anyone. The shrimp and grits were freaking fantastic, by the way. It all worked out, as it usually does. The bacon crisped (once half of it was taken out of the pan) and my husband took my outburst with a grain of sel. I would never boil over like that in a professional kitchen. I hope I wouldn't anyway.