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Amuse-bouche: What if chefs were like athletes?

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

In previous columns, I’ve written about how the general public loves cooking competitions; how we almost treat them like sporting events. They are, after all, quite a spectacle at times. Cooking is a craft, but what if it was a sport?

Today, we the viewers already know the answers we’ll get from our favorite athlete in the postgame interview. They’ll talk about being thankful for the opportunity, just taking one game at a time, or going back and watching the film.

Former Minnesota Twins centerfielder and Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett once answered the question as to why they lost a game with, “Well, we just needed to put the bat on the ball and score some runs.” Thanks for the insight, Kirby.

Chefs are generally a candid, opinionated, energetic, educated, artistic and driven bunch. But we can be a little standoffish at times. If you notice, much like the traditional baseball pose is stand with bat on shoulder, or in hockey with stick down on ice, the standard for chefs being photographed is to—no matter his or her personality—stare at the camera, almost coldly, with arms folded.

The beauty of a post-service interview with a chef is, I’m fairly certain, the responses to the interviewer’s questions will be candid, interesting, perhaps heated, and definitely not scripted. Sure, we could say something like, “Well, you know we just fell a little short and the guests just brought a better game than we did tonight.” But that isn’t very entertaining.

Many chefs I know, including myself, and whether it be out loud with the team or quietly in their head, perform what is called an after service analysis, or ASA. And I know many chefs who, if caught immediately after the evening’s food service and much like catching the athlete right on the field, would assess their evening with great candor, much to the entertainment of the audience.

So what if, instead of a canned, homogenized response, the chef’s response was how he or she thinks?

You would expect to hear something like (all names or fictional), “Well, we knew we were headed into a big one. The books were overloaded and we had some tight turns, but we were prepped up and set to go. We had Mike on sauté, Jim on the grill, and Mary is our fastest in the pantry. Every other station was solid.

“So we were humming along great and hitting our biggest push of the night. Then this table ordered the wrong item and the server brought the whole order back. Our middle man, John, got lost, and Mike had to re-fire everything and he suddenly went blank. It threw him into a total tailspin. He was so far in the weeds that he took the rest of the ship down with him. We were all working on our heels from then on.”

Granted, not many people might know what the chef just said, but you know for sure that that was an accurate and honest assessment of the evening. Embrace that. Chefs are an integral part of what makes the world a more exciting place.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky

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