In this podcast episode, Kaitlynn Wood, a headstrong 30-year-old female chef, struggles to survive and thrive in the chaotic and thankless world of the restaurant industry, where pirates, misfits, and White Collar pressures clash with her own grit and ambition.
“It really does take a special someone not only to survive, but to really thrive in an environment of just what feels like complete fucking chaos, but it’s pretty damn controlled.”
Kaitlynn Wood has spent the last few years working in restaurants, and has seen firsthand the ‘pirate’ and ‘misfit’ culture of the industry, as well as the transition to the ‘white collar era’. She has seen people come and go who thought they could handle it, but it takes a special type of person to thrive in the chaotic, yet controlled environment with long hours and often thankless work. Kaitlynn is a 30 year old female chef who is currently disabled and a survivor of abuse. She has experienced the pirate era of yelling and being called every name in the book, as well as the more recent corporate era where she had to be careful not to swear or call her coworkers ‘idiots’. Despite the pressure and the difficulties, she has found joy in
In this episode, you will learn the following:
1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in the restaurant industry and creative approaches to food?
2. What are the differences between the pirate era and the white collar era in the restaurant industry?
3. How has the introduction of robots and AI into restaurants impacted the amount of creativity needed to succeed?
Other episodes you’ll enjoy:
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Over the last 20 years working in restaurants, I met a lot of really interesting people. Bourdain called us pirates and misfits, and he couldn’t be more right. We really were. I say were. We are a hodgepodge of cultures and backgrounds, and we get to play with food all day, and we get to make a living in that, and it’s pretty damn awesome.
This is what inside the Pressure Cooker is all about. It’s about making some new friends and. Sharing some stories with some old friends. And listen, we all know that life inside a kitchen is not for everyone. We’ve seen plenty of people come and go that thought they could hack it and they couldn’t.
It really does take a special someone not only to survive, but to really thrive in an environment of just what feels like complete fucking chaos, but it’s pretty damn controlled. And then just the constant pressure and the stupid hours you put in, not to mention it can be a very thankless job. Before you know it, it’s all in your blood, and it’s the only thing you know and you need more. It’s an addiction. This is the bond that all wine, cooks, and chefs share.
It’s becoming the heartbeat of the kitchen, as cliche as that fucking sounds. But it’s in our blood, which means it’s fucking pulsing through our veins, and it’s what we live for. A quick interruption before we jump on to the rest of this, two things. First, there’s a link in the show Notes that well, it’s not really a link. It’s my email.
Please. I want to hear some feedback from you all. What do you love? What do you not love? This is how I learn.
And the second part I’ve set up a patreon account for this podcast. The link is also in the show notes below. Please, if you’re able to we would love any contribution you’re able to support us with. We all have costs that we need to try to cover with this show, and any sport would be greatly, greatly appreciated.
Let’s kick off, then. Kaitlynn, give me your 32nd elevator pitch. Who are you? I am a 30 year old female chef. I am actually currently disabled.
I got sick in 2020, and I have not been able to return to work. I’m headstrong, I’m very strong willed, stubborn, hardworking. I don’t know when to quit, and I am also a survivor of abuse, which has really shaped my life. Yeah, I can imagine. So let’s talk a little bit.
You mentioned a little bit, kind of offline, that you’re kind of a product of the pirate era and the white collar era. They kind of expand on that for me. Yeah. Okay. So Anthony Bourdain was the one that called his pirate.
So my chef instructors and my mentors obviously were older than me, so they were a product of the pirate era yelling at you, I got a knife thrown at me. One time for dropping a $30 piece of fish. I’ve had plates flung at me. I’ve been called every name in the book and I’ve given back as well as I’ve gotten too much to their chagrin. But for the last six years, I worked in corporate and corporate now as a whole kettle of fish.
I can’t tell you how many times I got called into the office and they were just like, can’t call them a fucking idiot. No matter what they’re trying to do. You can’t do that and like, yes, chef, that’s great. You can’t tell them to get the fuck out of your way. I’m like, what am I supposed to say then?
I said, Excuse me three times and they still won’t get the fuck out of my way. I got shit to do. You can’t say that. So how long did you last in the corporate world then? Six years, actually.
I was with Compass Group about a year after I graduated culinary school. I started out as a part timer, one of their US concepts, which is like a retail kitchen, basically. And you have contracts? We had a contract with a bank in Charlotte. Basically, they paid us to be there to feed their employees, but we still had to make a profit.
So Compass Group is actually like the number 7th employer in the world or something like that. They have a lot of different sectors, obviously. It sounds like it was more of a cooking was like a release for you to kind of get rid of that pressure and that tension and it just made you feel good. But cooking in the industry is very different. So how did you know, though, once you were cooking and you were professionally cooking, so to speak, that it’s like, okay, I made the right decision.
Like, I’m in the right spot. How did you know? Did you know? I did. Okay, so my mom left us kids when I was six.
My brother was six months old and my sister was nine. Right. And we had to have dinner on the table by six. So I cooked a lot. And I absolutely loved it when people would eat my food and they would be happy.
After I was in the industry, through all the stress and the pressure, just seeing someone love my food is just the best. Just to see people happy. I 100% understand that. I really feel like we feed the soul. Oh, yes, absolutely.
Sometimes we’re just providing fuel for people, but that feeds our soul. And sometimes we’re cooking for other people’s soul.
We’ve got Thanksgiving and Christmas where everybody kind of gets together. There’s always something that’s going on, but a lot of times all those traditional dishes that are out there, they’re more there for nostalgia and to kind of feed your soul a little bit, because that reminds you of the nostalgia. It takes you back to someone’s house or that memory so food is a very powerful element. It is. It’s very connected to memory, especially smell.
Yeah, I remember reading something about that, where food, like food has got one of the strongest triggers for any memory because it involves essentially all the senses. Yeah. And being transported back to that time when you were happy or when you were with friends. So it can be a really great mood booster. And I feel like mental health and depression doesn’t get talked about enough.
And like we’ve said, like you guys have said on the podcast before, is that drugs and alcohol is only going to drag down well, but behind every addiction is a problem with your mental health. Is that why it’s stressy? Yes, it is why you stress eat, especially chocolate, because chocolate metabolizes into serotonin, which is to get happy drug. But all of your serotonin is made in your gut. It’s all made in the gut.
So that’s why it is learn something every day. I did not know that. This is why I like the science of food. It’s very interesting. I’ll start taking better care of my gut.
That’s a whole other story there. Oh, yeah. That’s the one thing that still has not recovered from my illnesses from 2020. Trust me, nobody wants to hear about that. Well, that’s fantastic.
I mean, so it sounds like you’ve got I mean, you’re obviously a product of your past. We all are, whether we really know it or not. But you definitely have seen a lot of adversity and challenges.
You definitely are not the type of person, just from talking to you, that’s going to let that dominate you or let you play the victim by any means. Oh, hell no. I learned from an early age that when you get knocked down, you get back up. And that’s what grit is. And you have to have grit.
That’s a great word to be able to survive. And the restaurant industry, if you don’t have grit, it will eat you alive and it will spit you back out. There was this one kid that I went to school with. He started his first job in a restaurant after we graduated, and he could only do one dish at a time. Now, that one dish was beautiful, but they gave him some feedback and he just kind of fell apart because we were competitive and cold.
Was the feedback something like, hurry the fuck up. Yeah. And he just kind of fell apart. And I was just shaking my head. Like, dude, he should be going to food styling, not commercial production.
Yes. Go somewhere where you can just make food look pretty. How many people from your class, whether it’s a number or percentage, do you think are still cooking today from your culinary school? Statistically between 5% and 8%. Okay, that sounds about right.
Well, yeah, that number might have dropped a little bit since 2020. Yeah. It’s funny how COVID it almost needs to be renamed, like, the Great Alignment or Realignment. Yes. There was, you know, a big shift in a lot of Pivoting during 2020, and, you know, even those of us who had it together and was rolling with the punches, some of us got sick and were not able to cook in the kitchen anymore, and that just sucked.
There’s so many great chefs and great people that we have lost, and I really feel like our industry is really in danger right now because there are labor shortages everywhere across the country. No matter how well you pay, no matter what your benefits are, they’re starting to mechanize a lot of stuff. Even in, like, casual dining restaurants, you’re. Starting to get into some. Yeah.
What was it Patrick and I were talking about conspiracy theories here.
No, I know. I joke about it, but how AI, though, is coming into so much more. And, man, I mean, those MIT students are creating robots to essentially take over cooking. There’s robots that are out there already in use in restaurants right now.
The only thing they got to do is change a fire oil, maybe, or just hit the button to turn it on and get it programmed. But it’s out there, and it’s real, and it is actually happening right now. Yeah. My husband, he actually works in a casual dining restaurant, and they’re a test kitchen because they’re just so shorthanded all the time that they’re introducing, like, a warmer drawer that keeps the potatoes warm for X amount of time after you pull them out. Just other little things like that that reduces labor.
Yeah, I bet there’s been a lot of people having to go back to the drawing board and just, hey, everything was designed to do this. Now we needed to do this. It’s almost like NASA astronauts, like, scrambling.
We’re running out of gas. What do we do? Yeah, so this time has definitely really tapped into creativity, especially for owner operators. It’s funny you say that, because creativity has suffered in some ways, but it hasn’t in others. We’ve had to get more creative in just different ways.
And so sometimes the food can be just as creative for chefs that are able to put some of their input into it and be creative with it. Some of them had to get more creative because of whether it’s less people and also just trying to make their margins on even less or make up for some food cost just as those prices go up. But then there’s also just getting creative on figuring it out, like, how is this all going to work when if someone doesn’t show up? So, I mean, but I also know what you’re saying, because in some ways, it creative is suffered because they’re not able to. In some ways, it’s become where there was creativity.
It’s been more standardized to eliminate creativity because a lot of ownership always believe that creativity caused food costs to go up. Yeah, that’s their impression, but it’s really not true. I have noticed on menus, I’ve seen a lot more cross utilization of ingredients. That’s a trend I’ve definitely been noticing. And then they’re working the people that they have to death trying to use up every little scrap that they have, turning into something new.
And I found that to be very interesting. It’s definitely something that I worked on in 2020, they’re really going back to more old school methods. Like, we have this fat from I don’t know, we cut off some fat from a ribeye. Well, they’re rendering it down to use for cooking now. But granted, I worked in a hospital that was in the middle of Podunk, so they loved country cooking, which was so boring.
So fucking boring. Even at a hospital.
When Compass Group, when they have a contract with the hospital, they don’t just feed the patient. They also have a retail area that feeds the employees. No, I’ve just known in general, there’s so much of that. Even with the employee side of things, everything is so there’s not a lot of effort. I think that would be the best way to put it.
And I’ve spent some time in hospitals. My son got some long term medical issues. And like this last summer, we spent two weeks in a hospital just for a couple of surgeries. So I had plenty of hospital food during that time. So I get it.
Yeah. That was my first chef manager job, which was really hard for me. That transition was very difficult. And believe it or not, I had an all female staff. There’s a lot more women in health care than there generally are in other sectors.
But having an all female staff with a whole different kettle of fish than 2020 hit. And then you got to make this change, and that change. And even though I just finished that, I got to go back and do this. So I would wear three and four hats a day. Chef manager, grill, cook, patient cook, and to have to take trays up to the patients.
Okay, five, because I had wash dishes, too. Why do you think there is more females in the hospital sector than whether it’s catering or restaurants? It’s kind of interesting, maybe. Was it just that area, or is that statistically pretty common? That’s statistically pretty common that there’s a lot more females in health care.
So in the first kitchen that I worked in, there was the first healthcare kitchen I worked in. So there’s politics everywhere, right? And I hate politics with a burning passion. But some of those politics and policies in place protect the female employees more because they have somewhere to go if they’re being sexually harassed or intimidated or whatever, and there’s more support for females in general. Interesting.
So it’s just a safer place is what you’re saying, then. Yes, absolutely.
With my experience across the board. That was definitely a place where I could make my voice heard. And I think that’s why females stay in those kitchens, because there’s a lot of women that will quit from, like, casual dining or fine dining simply because of harassment or being talked down to or not being appreciated. It comes down to culture. How much of that culture you think is kind of that pirate era?
You mentioned the pirate era in the beginning versus the white collar era, where definitely more white collar in hospitals, for obvious reasons. You’ve got HR people that are watching you all the time, and in smaller restaurants, you’re not going to have that. But there’s an age difference as well. There’s a generational difference that is expecting kind of the white collar, we’ll just say treatment. But a lot of people that are still running the restaurants and owners are very much so in the pirate era.
Would you agree with that? Absolutely. And that’s kind of where that disconnect is, maybe. Yes. And some of the chefs have made that transition and some of them have not.
And the ones that I see that have not made the transition is, like you said, in places that have less oversight. Yeah, I can see that, because if. You’Ve got someone in HR across the hall from your kitchen that you can go talk to, then, especially in a hospital setting, they’re going to have to do something about it. There’s a zero tolerance policy, not just with the hospital, and that’s a contract. When you sign the contract, you agree to those terms.
It’s a zero tolerance policy. Now, when you get away from hospitals and healthcare facilities, schools, and you go into even casual dining, you don’t have an HR person in the building the majority of the time. You just have whoever the kitchen managerial staff is, and they’re going to be your older, more piratey chefs for sure. Because in regular kitchens I’m going to put it that way. Can I start over?
Sure. So in like, restaurant kitchens, there’s a lot more pressure, there’s a lot more chaos, there’s less organization, and there’s less structure. I don’t know if I’d necessarily agree with that part, though. What I mean by that is the patients have to be fed at a certain time. The patient count fluctuates some from day to day.
Okay, I got you. And then retail has to open by a certain time every day. Yeah. Restaurants are a lot more free for. All ebb and flow.
Okay, I’m sorry. Keep going. So even if the chef isn’t complicit, you can’t be everywhere at once. You can’t see everything. So I feel like those kinds of complaints are a lot easier to sweep under the rug.
Right. Because it’s a person versus person, she said. And more people have their heads down just trying to do their work. They’re not really paying attention. Yeah, I’d hate to think that.
It’s just always a he said, she said. I mean, obviously, whenever there’s an accusation, you know, there needs to be some form of follow up. But to me, that’s also just I think you’ve mentioned this as well. That’s just 100% a culture thing, regardless of the size of your restaurant.
Honestly, I think that’s a big issue with a lot of these so called I don’t want to say so called, but, like, staffing issues.
I’ve gone to some places where they’re short staffed, they’re struggling, and you can just tell and you can also feel a difference, and then you’ll go somewhere else and you get to look around and you’re like, staffing is not an issue here. But it also feels different. And it’s just they’re staffed because people want to be there without turning into a big corporate behemoth where everything is about, oh, man. I don’t want to say rules and regulations because that’s it.
What’s the solve for that? You think outside of just God, how do you even answer that? How does anyone answer that? And thank you for listening to this episode Up Inside the Pressure Cooker. If you enjoyed this episode and feel like you’re able to take something away from it, please go to Apple podcasts and rate and review us.
If you don’t use Apple podcasts, please follow us as well as share this episode with a friend. This is a publication by Rare Plus Media, hosted and produced by me from Rare Plus Media and myself, Chad Kelley. Thank you for listening. Keep kicking ass.