Working the Line in a Restaurant: The Ultimate Reality Series

Apr 27, 2011

Anyone who missed the Season Two opener of HBO’s groundbreaking series Treme owes it to him- or herself to see it—or at least to watch this clip.  Having worked in brigade kitchens in both New Orleans and New York City during and after college, I’ve felt that sinking pit of nauseous dread in my stomach that is so brilliantly portrayed in this scene, which was written by Anthony Bourdain. (Whatever you may think of Bourdain and his outsized ego and opinions, no one is better than he is at portraying the reality of restaurant work, as he so ably demonstrated in his memoir “Kitchen Confidential.”) I bet of lot of readers on this website have felt it, too.

There is some sentiment that the culinary schools are filling up with students who see the careers, celebrity and salaries of chefs like Bobby Flay and Eric Ripert and want that for themselves. And in some ways, that’s been good for the industry, lifting the time-worn  image of burger-flipping for minimum wage and elevating it to the glamorous and well-paid stratosphere.

Meanwhile, so-called “reality” series like Top Chef and America’s Next Great Restaurant have also helped make owning a restaurant or helming a professional kitchen seem like a gratifying and challenging endeavor, rather than a career of last choice.


But for most real people, working in or owning a restaurant is hard work, and a labor of love that not everyone is up for. Forget the grim statistics about survival rates of new restaurants: Even a successful restaurant is grueling, backbreaking, crazy-making hard work. To refer to another recent HBO drama, having a skill with pies and a great recipe for chicken was not enough to make Mildred Pierce rich and happy. There’s very little romance to it, especially if you’re doing the work yourself.

Anyone who doesn’t believe that should also take a look at Gabrielle Hamilton’s wonderful new memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter. The chef-owner of Prune in New York City is a genius at both writing and cooking, Prune chef/owner, but if you think it’s glamorous to clean up a rat corpse on the back steps or get through a brunch shift by inventing new combinations of swear words, think again.

If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, contact Synergy Consultants for a reality check and a bit of help.