What It’s Really Like To Be a Chef

Chef Fabrice Marcon in Left Bank Larkspur photo courtesy of Fabrice Marcon

Chef Fabrice Marcon in Left Bank Larkspur
photo courtesy of Fabrice Marcon

“What’s the best thing your dad makes?” “I bet you have amazing dinners!” “Do you get really good food at home?” These are just a few things people say to me when they hear that my dad is a chef. Most of the time I’ll play it off in order to satisfy their questions by saying, “Yeah. Dinner is great,” or, “probably his steak frites or his escargot,” just to make my life seem a little more pos than it actually is. Despite the unenthusiastic tone of my answer, or the obvious sarcasm, people really do believe what I am saying. But, one would be shocked to learn about the real life of a chef. I live with two chefs (my mom was a pastry chef), so I should know first hand what a chef’s day is like. However as my experience with my dad is limited to the time we spend together, I’m clueless as to what kinds of things go on in his kitchen at work.

Meet my dad, Fabrice Marcon.

Paper Tiger: Originally you entered the food business out of neccessity. Was there any particular moment that made you continue working in the food business?

Fabrice Marcon: First, I would like to say I would have quit this career a long time ago if I didn’t have a family that understood me. I always surround myself with people with amazing energy who have worked with me, spent time with me, and of course supported me. I started my career in France where I was born and raised and went into the food business at the age of 15. Thirty years ago when I arrived to the United States from Sweden where I met and married my wife, there weren’t so many chefs; they were rough around the edges. This lead me to want to help the food business. But, I think for me today we have an amazing array of sophistication, creativity and eccentricity.

PT: What are the highs and lows of your day at work?
FM: The high for me…well there are many things that I love about working in a professional kitchen. But if I had to choose only one, I would have to say pursuing food knowledge. I find food absolutely fascinating—how the slightest change in flavor, texture, and seasoning can be the difference between an OK dish and some of the best dishes ever. I also like the instant gratification you get when a customer absolutely loves your dish; I’ve never been a rock star, but when someone raves about the food, I sometimes feel like I am. My low is quite different. Although every profession has its own set of irritants, I hesitate to label anything the “worst” part of my job, because there are things that I knowingly accepted as part of the struggle to achieve my culinary goals. However, the worst part of my job is that there are moments in which I instantly admit defeat and let that “worst thing” take over valuable time and effort, as well as my mental and physical energy.

The outside of Left Bank Brasserie. Photo courtesy of Fabrice Marcon

The outside of Left Bank. Photo courtesy of Fabrice Marcon

PT: Best dish you’ve ever made?
FM: Le canard en croûte d’herbes et de sel, coriander et miel d’accacia. In English this is Herb and Salt Encrusted Duck, Coriander and Acacia Honey. I made this for my wife (girlfriend at the time) and her parents, at The Grand Hotel in Stockholm. I lightly roasted a succulent Challans duck imported from France, then let it rest overnight. The next day, I sealed it in a salt pastry crust with cilantro, rosemary, thyme, and pepper, and baked it until the breast was done. I then carved it into long slices and moistened it with a reduction of white wine with shallots, duck juices, and acacia honey, which gave the duck an elusively exotic savor. The duck legs were then returned to the oven, roasted again to crispness, and presented with a small salad.

PT: What’s something that an average person would not know about the life of being a chef?
FM: Get ready. There is nothing glamorous about being a working restaurant chef. Nothing. These are all the reasons why you shouldn’t be a chef: First, you do not make money! The industry does not pay well!

You will miss important life occasions: birthdays, public holidays, occasional weddings; parties, weekends. It’s unrealistic in this industry to assume that you’ll ever have every one of these off. The rest of the world plays whilst you toil, weekends are almost a taboo – and this will generally eliminate most parties and birthdays as the rest of the world will want to do this on their weekends. The job is possibly the biggest killer of potential chef careers. It can be a very lonesome and frustrating life to those who aren’t willing to make the sacrifice.

There is no such thing as sick. If you are not on life support, then you are fine. Cut your finger off? Put a band-aid on, or better yet cauterise it on the stove; it’s a fast and effective technique. You have the flu? No you don’t it’s a cold. Even if it were the flu – put a mask on and get your ass to work. In my current job, rapidly approaching 3 years, I’ve had two sick days: both times I was in the hospital. If your feet can carry you, you can work…and you will work. It’s not even due to your obligation, but from an odd combination of fear, guilt and compassion.

Your hours, though many people would regularly complain about an 8 hour day (including 2 to 3 breaks), this job will make you savor the rare occasion in which you get an 8 hour shift with no break whatsoever. The average shift for a chef is around the 12 hour mark (according to a recent census) though I personally and quite regularly work more. You will stand on your feet all day, sweat, and toil. Your entire working career will be an endurance marathon for both your body and mind.

Thanks Papa. I learned a lot about you.

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About Loic Marcon

Loic Marcon is a junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School. He is currently one of the three Co-Editors in Chief and the editor of the Voices page on the Paper Tiger. Loic really began to love writing after a two week summer program at Stanford about expository writing. This is his second year n the Paper Tiger. Last year he worked as an assistant to the sport page. He currently resides in the Bay Area, always aware of the things around him that he could write about.

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