Cutting through the smoke
Thursday, July 17, 2008 | 09:48 PM ET
by Andree Lau, CBCnews.ca
I've never worked in a restaurant or a professional kitchen, so I'm fascinated by the barrage of reality food shows on TV, especially the pressure-filled, expletive-laden Hell's Kitchen.
As I dutifully watched this season's finale this week, one question still bothered me: why do these aspiring chefs smoke so much?
Contestants on Hell's Kitchen vie to run one of chef Gordon Ramsay's restaurants. (Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)
A few times every episode, the contestants who were vying to run one of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's restaurants would be shown puffing away while scheming during breaks, crafting a menu, or unwinding after service.
I know smoking is supposed to help with stress, but doesn't it also dull your taste buds?
Stress was his first explanation for the smoking.
"It also has something to do with the chef lifestyle which is akin to the pirate lifestyle," said Kent. "I think chefs see themselves outside the norms of society, kind of like rock and roll for people who can't play guitar."
Eloquent food blogger and chef Barbara Fisher goes further, writing about kitchen workers: "They don’t get enough sleep, they often eat too little, and they cannot relax in any normal way, so they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, and yes, foul language, to make it through the days and nights of their existence, all so they can turn out endless plates of gorgeous food for people who have the money and leisure time to spend on it."
Kevin Kent shows one of his knives to customers in his store. (Andree Lau/CBC)
Kent used to smoke, but quit when he realized it was hurting not only his health but also his sense of smell and taste. He doesn't miss the smoking, but does miss the rush and the camaraderie in a kitchen.
"People on your crew are your family," says Kent, re-living some fond memories over the phone. But it's also why he had to leave to nurture his own family, including 8-month-old Elliot, at home.
"I knew if I was working noon to midnight every day, that it wouldn't be conducive to seeing him. He's going to grow up quickly and I don't want to miss it," he says.
That's why Kent turned his passion for sharp blades into a specialty store called Knifewear in Calgary this March. It's got fire-red walls and beautiful handmade Japanese blades. Kent offers a sharpening service and tons of knowledge about all the glistening knives in his glass cases.
But he definitely plans on getting back into a kitchen and opening his own restaurant one day: "I miss the creativity. I miss writing menus. I miss creating specials," he admits.
What was working in a restaurant like for you?
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About the blog
From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.
About the writers
Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.
Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.
Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.
Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).
Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.
Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.
Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.
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