The kitchen hierarchy is a bit archaic. The brigade system, formalized in the early 1900s by Auguste Escoffier (the one part Joël Robuchon and one part Ferran Adrià of his time), is still utilized in the modern kitchen. It’s a pecking order. An organized list of rank and file, led by the Executive Chef and followed closely by the Chef de Cuisine. Then comes a Senior Sous, a Junior Sous, a Saucier perhaps, and a few Chef de Parties, who are in charge of specific stations or departments. All of that is supported by the Commis chefs. And if the commis are lucky enough, an abundance of stagiaire, interns, and wanderers hanging around to learn and gain experience.
It’s ironic that our system has a somewhat militaristic structure, as we are heading to an Air force base for the elimination challenge in the third episode.
In the modern kitchen, usually with less employees than Escoffier was accustomed to (He led royal facilities and hotels), many of these jobs have been consolidated. A good sous-chef for example, may also be the saucier, the butcher, baker, and so on and they may excel at all of those jobs.
So, I found it strange, that in tonight’s episode, Mike Isabella suggests that Jennifer Carroll take on the role of “tournant.”
It’s an interesting approach and reveals a lot about Mike’s character. We now are getting to know the cast a little better, and this play is vintage Isabella. Let’s ask the “girl cook” to take on an archaic title that can best be described as a substitute teacher. Classically, it refers to a cook who works all the stations in other cooks’ absence. A position of skill, sure, but not really of certified rank; A position that may be the proverbial glass ceiling for a woman in Mr. Isabella’s mind.
I said cook, earlier, intentionally. Because I get the feeling, that Mike would have a hard time answering, “Yes, Chef!” to any woman.
Jennifer’s response? Sure, I’ll be the Executive Chef. Touché!
Actually, Jennifer’s task was very reminiscent of culinary school. Usually a class rotates its students, all on equal rank, throughout random positions for the term. One of which is sous-chef, or “leader du jour.” That would mean picking up a cart of vegetables from the basement requisition area, calling out attendance, and making sure your classmates had their neckerchiefs on. Mattin, check! And, somehow, straddling the political line of colleague, friend, instructor’s assistant, and manager.
It was great seeing Mike I. slapped down this week. Note to casting: try as hard as possible to avoid casting any more Mike I.s in the future. He singlehandedly makes the premiere episode pretty much unwatchable.
I LOVED that Jen was such a strong leader in the kitchen and it was great watching her in action. Especially after Mike tried to set her up. She's awesome and the complete package. I'm waiting for her to make it into the final 4 and cook off against Michael V., Kevin, and Bryan
THANK YOU!! Well said, sir.
Mike's continuing misogynistic attitude and remarks are as disheartening as they are annoying. It's appalling to behold.
Jen stepped up and ran that kitchen beautifully. She had authority, was fair and kept things running smoothly. The fact that we didn't hear a single chef complain about her (given their undoubted nerves in a high stress situation) speaks volumes.
I greatly appreciate your comments on this episode. Had it come from a woman, sadly some people would shrug and say it was women being "bitchy"- but since you are a man, perhaps more people will acknowledge the truth of your statements.
Mike I. will never "get it" - hopefully his arrogance will indeed be his downfall (as it nearly was tonight).
If Mike reads this - yes, Mike - a "girl" can beat you - and has in several challenges. And no, it is not "favoritism". And thank you - I'm sure we were all thrilled at your condescending talk to the viewers about the meaning of "risotto"... although your preparation was too salty (HA)
Thanks Richard for clarifying the phrase "tournant" and explaining what Mike I. really said about Jen. Other bloggers and journalists who have written on this episode don't have the background to pick up on this and are crediting him with the respectful and inspired idea that she be executive chef and leader when instead he was being patronizing and insulting. Again.
Jen ran the tightest ship I have ever seen on Top Chef. To the producers, I say that I have been somewhat dreading the return of TC because while I like the show, I loved TC Masters more because it was such a refreshing departure from the unprofessional, nasty and juvenile behavior often witnessed on TC. I'm so happy to see such a high level of professionalism in the kitchen from Season 6's TC contestants
It never occurred to me to call Jen a bitch. I just thought that after 6 seasons of TC we finally had a contestant showing us what an Exec was supposed to do, and succeeding.
Always a pleasure to read your thoughtful and insightful commentary. Your blogs consistently offer a unique perspective on the culinary world as only a top notch chef would know.
Keep the blogs coming.
Richard, Thank you for another fine postings and for the insight into the title of "tournant". I for one find Mike I irritating. While at first admired his leadership in structuring the challenge his use of the derogatory term supports my initial feelings that the guy's a light-weight. But the one thing I wanted to differ with you was the impression Jennifer C's leadership left with viewers. The diverse group I watched the show with all felt she was stern, fair and kept the kitchen moving. Hector waxes poetically about cinnamon was inappropriate and she focused his attention to the task at hand. You, along with only a few other chefs from other seasons, could have pulled off what Jennifer C pulled off. Keep posting love your insights and how's your baby?
Hmmmm...I never thought Jen was a bitch, not for a moment. The only thing I saw was someone who was serious, focused, on task and knew precisely what needed to be done. I'm just guessing, but I feel rather certain Eric Ripert runs his kitchen thusly.
I didn't catch the "tourant" comment, but I'm not a bit surprised. Mike Isabelle certainly hasn't done much to endear himself to female viewers. Talented or not, I personally wouldn't want to patronize the establishment of a misogynist.
Richard - It's a toss up as to who I love to read more, you or Tom Colicchio. Through your blogs, both of you reveal that you are great men, not just great chefs. Thank you for sharing your views about women and thank Tom for sharing his views about gay people. Once again, great men, not just great chefs!
Coming into cooking late in life, I am fascinated with your blog. So many of the terms and foods are unfamilar to this Southern woman, and your writing explains so much. Thank you for your insightful, informative and entertaining words.
Kudos to Jennifer for being the best team leader in the history of this show. She was organized, fair, competent, calm and collected. I am rooting for her to win this competition, not only for her cooking skills, but because she has demonstrated that she is Top Chef material. Way to stick it to the misogynist.
Seeing Jennifer last night expertly manage the kitchen made me hope she makes it to "Restaurant Wars". I reaaly enjoyed the insights into the 'behind the scenes' aspects of restaurant kitchens. Professionalism does find its way onto a plate.
Thank you for clarifying the word that Mike used. It is not a word I am familiar with (I am not a chef) but after hearing your description I am so glad that Jen replied as she did.
Ok Richard, I didn't shout bitch at my tv last night but I thought it. I would've had a comparable name if a male contestant had done the same thing. Not all generations of chefs believe it is necessary to follow the protocol of old simply because "its always been done that way". If you remember the teachings at the CIA, you'll recall some of the younger chef instructors who stated they didn't believe in yelling, throwing pans at their students, or humiliating them to teach them a lesson. Not everybody agrees with old school methods. And yes, I agree there are other psychos out there who do worse than how Jennifer conducted herself in the kitchen.
I never for one minute thought that Jen was out of line or a "bitch". In fact, as a professional business woman, I found Jen to be very similar to many successful women in the business world.
I like how you outlined a restaurant kitchen. It provides some perspective to those unfamiliar with the true culinary world. I have to agree with another view - you and Tom have the best blogs because of your great insight.
I'll keep reading them if you keep writing them! Have a good one!
Richard, Thank you, THANK YOU for the explanations of the different ranks and titles in the kitchen. I have ALWAYS wondered that when the names are keyed. And I'm sure very few home viewers would have understood the insult Mike I. threw Jen's way without your insight. Keep up the blogs, love them!
Richard, thank you so much for not only commenting on what a brilliant job Jennifer did, but for explaining the kitchen hierarchy as you did. Not only was it helpful and interesting, but it highlighted that even when Mike I. seems to be fair, he's still belittling his competitors. Not that I needed another reason to dislike him, but it's great to hear someone I respect man up the way you did, calling out that kind of foolishness.
I really enjoyed your blog for this episode. I heard Mike call her a tournant but I had no idea what it meant. I just figured it was the same thing as an Executive Chef. I really am not too fond of Mike anyway, after his comment about losing to a girl on the first episode. I love your blog and I think you were great in your season.
When Isabella did that I immediately joked he suggested she be the tournant because he didn't want to lose to her again! I doubt anyone was yelling at their t.v., as you suspected. Now we know Jen can cook and lead. Every season there's one or two that are clearly at a higher level than the others. This season there's a handful, but they are in a different league than the rest.
p.s. I completely agree with you on your simple v contrived piece.
Well written blog entry, Richard! I agree, Jen stepped up to Mike's hidden insult quite nicely and did a kick-ass job as exec.chef.
Richard - I've never commented on a blog before, but I'm doing so on yours in the hope that more comments will mean they'll keep you around. I really hope they keep you around because I appreciate that your blogs are more than a recap. I love your take on the kitchen and what is likely going on behind the scenes!
I just wanted to add something.
I was commenting on another blog how I'd not appreciated the rather condescending way Mike Isabella had "educated" viewers about risotto. While I do know that it's a preparation method, rather than a dish, his method of delivery was offensive, regardless if the viewer knew or didn't.
Which brings me to why I'm commenting again. It's to say thank you for the way in which you described and imparted knowledge of the hierarchy of the professional kitchen. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about when I say that a true "master" has the desire to teach and impart knowledge... and not to simply show, most especially in a condescending way, what they know and the public does not. And while I've worked back of the house, and know the pecking order, your description was clear and easy to understand.
(Sigh) I do miss seeing you weekly on TC.
My husband and I remarked at the time about Jennifer's strong yet fair management of the kitchen in this one. I think she was very impressive in this episode. Also, thank you so much for explaining Mike I.'s intentional slight. Jennifer proved how classy she is by not getting angry and just zinging back. I can't wait until Mike I. is gone and I will never knowingly patronize his restaurant. I guess Mike I. subscribes to the idea that there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Richard, your blog is always so thoughtful and very insightful. Your comments concerning Mike and his nomination of Jen to a somewhat subverted leadership role are dead-on and really perceptive. But i'm going to be a pain and correct a couple of things: it's not really "ironic" that the kitchen is militaristic and the show involved cooking for the Air Force; it's appropriate. Irony would be if kitchens were utter chaos and the chefs had to come in and show the military how to be organized. Also, "less" is a term used to describe an amount you measure rather than a quantity you count. So modern kitchens have fewer employees than Escoffier was used to, not less. You would have fewer cookies, but less flour. Again, sorry, but I really don't think i can control myself.
Anyway, we love you, your restaurant, and your ideas. Thanks and can't wait to read next week's blog!
I live in Philly and eat at 10 Arts often. Jennifer is quite warm and friendly to customers. She certinly showed what a leader she is in the kitchen on this episode.
I find Mike I be jealous and pathetic. His comment about favoritism when Jen won the quickfire showed his true character. Thanks for pointing out another shortcoming of his character in his use of "tournant". Jen is clearly a superior chef to him and he knows it.
Agree with all of the other commenters - please keep these coming, Richard. I hope we get to see you again this season!
That was an excellent post! I really enjoyed learning more about your profession.
Top Chef is a great show, the only reality TV I watch. For many weeks, the fans develop attachments to certain chefs, and when it's over, we still want to know where you are, what you're doing. These blogs are a great way to follow your career and have a more in-depth appreciation of the real people we care about.
Risotto is NOT a preparatory method only; it also, in Italy at least (contrary to what that jackhole Mike was saying), requires RICE.
Some American chefs have expanded the definition to include other starches, but that sure as heck isn't original Italian risotto.
Great stuff, Richard. One of the best blog entries I've read by anyone on this show. You gave us everything: vocabulary, history, and opinion. You're certainly growing -- the entry on the kitchen equipment was great, but not as subtle and informative as this one. Keep it up. As a DC resident, I just hope all this hoopla over Mike doesn't hurt Zaytinya or Jose Andres -- both great for the city!
Richard, thank you for an insightful blog. As a non-chef I did not realize the insult Mike overtly gave although I did catch the condescending way it was given. I thought she would perform the role brillantly and she did! I did not think "what a bitch" but said to myself YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!!!!! The comment made that she was so meek made me laugh as we viewers have been shown her tough side. Jennifer YOU GO GIRL!!!! Richard keep up the blogs I enjoy them.
Richard, Do the chefs realize that when they look like a horses ass, they encourage people not to go to their restaurants? Although I realize that what is shown is a snapshot of what is actually going on, when you sign on to TC, you sign on to be edited. Mike's attitude towards women is ridiculious and I'd be surprised if it doesn't affect his ability to hire the best as well as be patronized by women diners. Others such as Eve (purely as an example, I have nothing against Eve), have restaurants I simply wouldn't want to spend my valuable time and money at because it's likely I won't enjoy the experience. How much consideration is given by contestants about their ongoing reputation before they sign on?
Good take on what happened. I'm not a chef, but I am a woman and retired from the military. I recognized what Mike was up to immediately. Similarly, I thought Jen's actions in the kitchen demonstrated good, confident leadership. She listened to the conversation, made a determination, gave direction in a calm voice, and then moved on. Nothing bitchy or self-aggrandizing about that. My impressions were further confirmed by the way she handled allocation of limited resources for cooking -- as you pointed out, she handled logistics but did not micromanage the preparation of the food itself.
Love the blog, Richard! And thanks for the definition of the word, "tournant": Classically, it refers to a cook who works all the stations in other cooks’ absence. A position of skill, sure, but not really of certified rank.
Sure, Mike I has a big fat mouth, but in this instance maybe he was suggesting that since Jen had immunity she would jump from station to station giving (the teams of two) a hand where needed? You mention culinary school in this piece, but I think I read that Mike was not classically trained. Maybe he didn't fully understand the meaning of the word tournant and didn't imply it as a put down?
Jen didn't care for the idea and said, "Sure, I'll be Executive Chef," because actually *running* the kitchen was something she, at least for this particular challenge, was something she was determined to do.
I don't think a rank, or lack of, plays into this episode; they are all supposed to be on the same level---no one yet has been named "Top Chef". Now if he had said, "We will all cook in teams of two and because Jen has immunity, she will wash pans..." Now *that* would have been insulting!
Richard, your blog is by far my favourite of the TC blogs here! I look forward to more of your commentary. I also thought Jen conducted her task well and showed leadership. I always love the restaurant challenge and we'll see how that plays out later on. If Mike I was still around then, would he be able to relinquish the exec chef role to a female? Mind you, the way the season is going, there may not be that many females left by that challenge.