Food for Thought

Chefs screaming, throwing knives and attacking food: How Houston's best stack up to TV stereotypes

Chefs screaming, throwing knives and attacking food: How Houston's best stack up to TV stereotypes

mad chef, angry chef, knife
Running a commercial kitchen is not for the faint of heart. On your feet slaving over a hot line for 14-hour days, dealing with bitchy customers, short-handed and exhausted, it can be a bit of a stressor. (Scene from Australia's Hunter Chefs & Co.) iPhoneLife.com
Backstreet Cafe, Hugo Ortega
“I love to ride my bike,” says Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s and Backstreet Cafe. “And I go to spinning class in the mornings. I have learned to make time to do this because it keeps me centered and happy.” Backstreet Cafe/Facebook
News_Marene_chefs_gadgets_Vanessa O'Donnell
“Before, I used to eat when I was stressed,” says Ooh La La pastry queen Vanessa O’Donnell. “But since October, I have been going to the gym to a spinning class." Photo courtesy of Ooh La La
021, Bon Vivant Houston culinary event, January 2013, Ryan Hildebrand (Triniti)
For Ryan Hildebrand of Triniti and the about to be Brand, it’s been all about the gym lately, and he finds that an afternoon weight session gets him out of the kitchen and de-stresses him. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
Haven, Randy Evans
If you’ve ever eaten at Haven, it’s like dining in heaven. So you wouldn’t think chef Randy Evans would have a lot of stress. “Ha,” he scoffs. “I just walk away and walk through the restaurant’s garden.” Haven/Facebook
Chef Soren Pedersen
Soren Pedersen at Sorrel Urban Bistro says he handles stress by “meeting challenges with as much anticipation as possible and not overreacting to things that don’t matter." Photo by Kimberly Park
Chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio
“For me it’s prayer. Prayer focuses me on the One who keeps me in the palm of His hand. God is peace," says Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio of Hawthorn. Photo by © Debora Smail/RealityPhotography.com
mad chef, angry chef, knife
Backstreet Cafe, Hugo Ortega
News_Marene_chefs_gadgets_Vanessa O'Donnell
021, Bon Vivant Houston culinary event, January 2013, Ryan Hildebrand (Triniti)
Haven, Randy Evans
Chef Soren Pedersen
Chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio

Did you see the Cheezburger humor site post with a shot of a chef opening a walk-in cooler that reads “Walk-in Cooler: Scream therapy for chefs for over 60 years.”

Now that’s funny.

And apparently a lot of chefs thought so as well. There were plenty of commenters who admitted to using the walk-in to release a little kitchen frustration along with the occasional pot smoking and dead body storage. I’m pretty sure that last one was a joke.

Anyway, running a commercial kitchen is not for the faint of heart. On your feet slaving over a hot line for 14-hour days, dealing with bitchy customers, short handed and exhausted, it can be a bit of a stressor.

 Instead of kicking the plants with his cowboy boots, he just wanders through the vegetable beds and herbs, enjoying the beauty of nature. 

Anyone who watches food reality TV or reads memoirs like The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef by original bad boy celebrity British chef Marco Pierre White, knows how some chefs handle the pressure. In his memoir, the enfant terrible of the kitchen recounts a scene where he threw an entire cheese plate, cheese by cheese onto the wall by the pass and left the cheeses there, stuck to the wall, because the waiter had not cut one of the pieces to his liking.

Screaming, knife throwing, dumping food, it’s entertaining on TV, but in real life it’s not productive to running a kitchen. Not in Texas anyway.

For the most part, Houston’s hot chefs are pretty mellow. Maybe it’s just the Texas way, but with the exception of one or two, most of our chefs just roll with the punches.

How do they do it?

For Ryan Hildebrand of Triniti and the soon-to-open Brand, it’s been all about the gym lately, and he finds that an afternoon weight session gets him out of the kitchen and de-stresses him.

Exercise, in fact, seems to be a recurring theme to keep local chefs from throwing knives and pots at staff and customers.

“I love to ride my bike,” says Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s and Backstreet Cafe. “And I go to spinning class in the mornings. I have learned to make time to do this because it keeps me centered and happy.”

Ditto for a local corporate executive chef.

“For me, the gym is the best,” says Dan Phalen of Luby’s/Fuddruckers. “But when I don’t have time for that, I love a good sitcom or a funny movie and have a good laugh. When the weather is nice, it's cigars and port out on the deck, and Friday night is always Margaritaville!”

Now see, this is why I’m not running a commercial kitchen. I’d be in the margaritas way before Friday night.

If you’ve ever eaten at Haven, it’s like dining in heaven. So you wouldn’t think chef Randy Evans would have a lot of stress.

“Ha,” he scoffs. “I just walk away and walk through the restaurant’s garden.”

Instead of kicking the plants with his cowboy boots, he just wanders through the vegetable beds and herbs, enjoying the beauty of nature.

And the next set of answers takes Houston chefs even further from the chef enfant terrible stereotype.

Soren Pedersen at Sorrel Urban Bistro says he handles stress by: “Meeting challenges with as much anticipation as possible and not overreacting to things that don’t matter.

 Screaming, knife throwing, dumping food, it’s entertaining on TV, but in real life it’s not productive to running a kitchen. 

“Also my philosophy is that if I need to yell or scream to get things done, I have not put the right team together," Pedersen says. "Otherwise a cold beer after the night’s craziness always brings things in perspective. Every day is a new day!”

And from philosophy to prayer:

“Before, I used to eat when I was stressed,” says Ooh La La pastry queen Vanessa O’Donnell. “But since October, I have been going to the gym to a spinning class. It works much better and is obviously better for me.

"I also am a woman of faith and it gives me peace of mind knowing that God will never give me anything that I can’t handle and if He'll bring me to it, He’ll get me through it.”

Over at the hot Hawthorn, chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio agrees.

“For me it’s prayer. Prayer focuses me on the One who keeps me in the palm of His hand. God is peace.”

Apparently Houston chefs are in better physical shape and are more spiritual than others, which must be why Houston is such a hot restaurant scene.

Oh, and they cook really well, too.