Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. In our latest installment, a famous Belgian chef confesses naughty tales from a well-respected European culinary institution.
What happens when you put a bunch of upcoming chefs together under one roof and give them a whole bunch of rules to live by? Pure anarchy and lots of crying teachers who end up in the fetal position in order to get over another traumatic day at the office.
Students stay overnight at culinary school from Monday to Friday and are not generally allowed to leave school property. They're forbidden from drinking, smoking, and peeking under door of the girls' locker room. In other words: everything a 16-year-old boy wants to do is strictly prohibited. Presenting a set of rules like this can only lead to chaos for these up-and-coming kings of the kitchen. And it does.
When I attended this school twelve years ago, we started drinking on Monday mornings before going to the first class of the day. There was a bar at a nearby train station that opened at 6 AM, almost exclusively to serve culinary students in the surrounding area. There was even a DJ present at that hour, so we drank and partied until we could barely stand and then made our way back to school. That bar taught me that a large serving tray holds 20 pints and it's not impossible for one person to drink all of them consecutively. That place was a mess.
We smoked pot on school property, stole yeast from the school bakery—so we could clog up the pipes—pouring it into the toilets until shit started to bubble up, released a whole bunch of guinea pigs into the building, and shot butter up at the ceiling.
We'd usually get to class late, reeking of beer and cigarettes. Classes were primarily used for catching up on some much needed sleep. Many of the students had side jobs in bars or restaurants in the evening hours. I worked in the kitchen at a one Michelin-starred restaurant until about 11 PM every night, but often pretended like I was done much later than that so I could go into town to party. I once ran into one of the faculty from culinary school while I was out, but he turned out to be just as drunk as I was. We made a silent pact: he wouldn't tell if I didn't. From that moment on, I was pretty much in charge at school. This guy couldn't tell me what to do anymore, so I did whatever I wanted.
Other teachers were stricter but didn't hold much power. We smoked pot on school property, stole yeast from the school bakery so we could clog up the pipes by pouring it into the toilets until shit started to bubble up, released a whole bunch of guinea pigs into the building, shot butter up at the ceiling, and whenever we had to practice flambé in class, we'd opened bottles of alcohol long before it was our turn to singe.
We also had a lot of fun with our fellow students who were studying hotel management. There was one evening when they were playing games and watching a Brad Pitt movie afterwards. During one of those games, the challenge was to eat lettuce leaves drenched in hot sauce from a string while their arms were tied behind their backs. What they didn't realize was that my friends and I had peed on all the crops of lettuce the night before and switched the Brad Pitt movie out for one of the dirtiest porn movies we could find in the video store. Surprise, losers.
Most of my memories from culinary school probably sound like harmless pranks, but going there created a strong foundation for my later life as a chef, and for the way many chefs live in general.
At culinary and hotel management schools, skipping class is a regular occurrence. But these days, media will claim that young chefs have become too lazy to work and refuse to start at the bottom of the food chain in their first restaurant job, but when I went to school, the opposite was true. If the chef in my restaurant needed me, I was there, no matter what. That's the way the kitchen works: you don't ever leave your co-workers hanging.
Most of my memories from culinary school probably sound like harmless pranks, but going there created a strong foundation for my later life as a chef, and for the way many chefs live in general. I still need very little sleep. My body is used to about 2 or 3 hours of sleep, which is enough to function at a decent level. When I'm awake, I'm going as fast as I can, especially in the kitchen where I still make my own rules, just like I did when I was still at school. Hard work and team spirit are the most important credentials. If those are missing, I've been known to break some plates on the nearest wall. I cook great food, have a one-night stand every once in a while, and throw epic parties with my fellow chefs after our kitchens have closed for the night. We drink great beers and the best cocktails, share cocaine and weed. My hands are still shaking from last night's booze session, and it's already been 24 hours. Most of the time, when I empty out my pockets in the morning, I'll find three empty cigarette containers and don't even remember smoking all of them.
Put some chefs together and you'll see that they are still a bunch of pigs just like they were back in culinary school. But they are the pigs that make the best food you've ever tasted. And by the way: we still prank front-of-house managers and servers as much as we used to at school.
As told to Stefanie Staelens.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2015.