What they don’t tell you about being a chef: Luis Jiménez de Santiago, author of “Pero querías ser chef…”
Luis Jiménez de Santiago is a chef who has written about what nobody tells about their profession, the most popular in recent times, in the book “Pero querías ser chef…” (“But you wanted to be a chef …”), which is already in its 9th edition.
With 28 years of experience across three continents, he is a writer, university professor and CEO of the Talento restaurant in the city of Guadalajara and Chihuahua, in Mexico.
He began to write due to his own experiences that lived in the kitchen, especially when the gastronomy became a top career in Mexico 10 years ago. The new rock stars were Ferran Adrià or Gordon Ramsay, and young people wanted to be like them.
The career showed the nicest part, however, outside the reflectors, the reality is a bit different. Surely, many of the situations described in his book will make you feel identified. He uses humor, sarcasm, reflection, and also, call culinary criticism.
If you are already in the world or, specially, if you want to study gastronomy, this book is something similar to a guide that will tell you what you are going to find in the profession and what awaits you in the labor market. And what better way than a chef, who has already traveled the road before, tells you, making it easier for you to make up your mind for your future. We want books like this for all professions.
By Fabiola Gálvez
I can’t help thinking of Anthony Bourdain when I say, Luis Jiménez. Did you adapt it to Mexico? How was this?
It is really a wake-up call because I am a chef who is still active. Approximately, 10 years ago, the phenomenon began that guys with very nice and embroidered uniforms came to my kitchen asking for work, unlike what happened in the past, who was someone who had started from bottom-up, often without academic education and had gone gradually climbing through experience. The career was in fashion, the media begin to give the image of a career full of glamour, fame, and fortune. Then, the guys begins to enter the schools, to educate themselves as gourmets but at the time they leave, as graduates, they present themselves to your kitchen and it turns out that they bring a good theoretical preparation, they bring a little practice, but they do not bring the right attitude, and on the other hand, as they imagine that this is a traditional job from Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 in the afternoon and that things are going to be easy, right?
They begin to realize that when you enter the kitchen the schedules are difficult, the pay is bad, let’s be realistic, the demand is very high, the work environment is heavy, work standing up, it is hot, you have a chef and a leader who is putting constant pressure on you, you discover that you have to work when you thought you were going to be partying, you discover that you do not bring a glass of good wine in your hand all day and that you are not walking in the dining room with customers and socializing, and what happens with the guys? They begin to weaken, from the guy who enters dressing very elegantly to that first day of work and leaves scared, or sometimes at half service he collapses in tears and says “chef I can not, I am leaving.” Well, that phenomenon started happening to me many times.
Who told you “but you wanted to be a chef …” or how the book’s name was born?
Look, “but I wanted to be a chef” is a phrase that I repeated myself constantly, sometimes when I was in the kitchen, I did it with resignation, with a little affection, with a slightly twisted smile. What was happening? In the morning I had to study and in the afternoon I had to work, then I started working in a cafeteria where the food was very simple: hamburgers, burritos, roast beef, quesadillas and things like that are made, and I began to realize that at night particularly, on weekends, it was where I had to work more, and my school friends told me: “Hey Luis, you know that in the evening we are going to party, we are going to go to bars, and we have just met some pretty girls”. And that Friday night, that they were having fun, at 12 o’clock at night, I was washing an extraction hood, inside me I said “grrr … my friends are having a great time, they are in a disco and I’m here cleaning a kitchen, but I wanted to be a chef … right?”
This book has been a form of relief for you, as you comment in lines
I have always been of the idea “don’t complain, just do what you have to do”, then I started writing and it became my way of regretting it, and without realizing it, over the years it becomes a compendium of essays, and my frustration continued to grow and I said that in my kitchen I will not accept young recent graduates, who do not have at least 2 years of experience. So basically it was the point where I said “you know what? I will write this book”. I would like that young people read it, so that before they make the decision to pay for a university degree, as it can be very expensive and at the end of the road, unsuccessful, that they know what they are getting into, that they know what this career demands, what kind of work environment they are going to run into, what kind of people they are going to run into in the kitchen, what kind of situations, I need them to be prevented, so that when they read the book, and say “hey, I liked this, yes I would like to be part of this dysfunctional ecosystem that is a professional kitchen”, or say “Ah! Good thing I read this because, thank you very much, I do not want to live as you are telling me”.
I feel that it is a book that makes criticism and in these times, it is very difficult to make criticism, only the beautiful part is said, it is a very brave book.
I do not know if you saw the part where I write a little against schools, that was a rather controversial situation, it cost me that two editorial funds do not publish me.
Here we had a school whose slogan was “Chef in a year”, and I said, “Oh my God, a chef in a year!” To start with, “chef” is not a university degree, it is a job, and it can’t take only a year. The career was so trendy, that whoever opened a culinary school 10 years ago, became a millionaire. I have also been very aggressive with the study program because they send the learners to their professional practices in the last periods… send them from the beginning! In the end, they are sent to some practice and as if the guy gets hit by reality really hard and decides to leave. Fortunately, most of the schools have changed, right now they tell you a little more but, unfortunately, they don’t believe it much.
And what do you think are the satisfactions of being a chef? Since we talk about the other side
I feel very, very well paid when, for example, people see food and they kind of smile a little. Those very small smiles that you have to observe and then you say: “Hey! they are liking what they are seeing”. And then you say “you can’t fake it, the person took the first bite and loved it”. It is an incredible thing, I keep seeing it and I keep on marveling like the first time, and I say “what the hell, how beautiful! I had the opportunity for this person to smile for at least an instant throughout their day”.
And in what other situations have you repeated: “But you wanted to be a chef …”?
It happens very frequently in the kitchen, the knife has a small technique so that you begin to learn to guide it with the knuckles, and hiding your fingers. When you have the technique it is easy, and the guys start to get excited, because so that it looks a little spectacular that they are cutting the onion evenly, it goes fast and turning the other way, they are not even seeing it but they are feeling with their hands the knife, and they are feeling the onion. But what happens is that every 8 out of 10 students, especially men, begin to do it faster, and they raise the knife a few more centimeters and at the time the knife comes down, they hurt their knuckles. There are horrible cuts, and then you say:
“Remember that it was not the knife’s fault,” But you wanted to be a chef …” [We can’t help laughing.]
I had a girlfriend and she said: “On the weekend, we have a party.” And I said: “I can’t go, because I have to work,” and well, that was the reason for a small row. Then the wedding of my girlfriend’s best friend is coming and it turns out that I also had another wedding that weekend … but that wedding was to work as a cook, then, this caused a disgust very big with my couple, and after a week, we met and broke up. At that moment, I said “That’s OK”, and my first thought, as a single and unattached man, was thinking to myself “But you wanted to be a chef … right?” [We laughed nonstop.]
Chef Luis told us that he is already working on the second part of the book. We hope it releases soon.
Thank you very much for everything, chef and we wish you the best from CookConcern.
So that you have a little of chef Luis Jiménez de Santiago’s cooking, we leave one of his recipes here.
If you want to get the book “But you wanted to be a chef …”, search it on his website www.chefluisjimenez.com
To share more stories of the profession:
Youtube: Chef Luis Jiménez
Instagram: @peroqueriasserchef y @chefluisjimenez
Facebook: Chef Luis Jiménez