“Use as much profanity as you want,” began Michael Solomonov cheerfully. “F-bombs, totally acceptable. Also encouraged: open-hand body slaps; impromptu high-stakes rock-paper-scissors games; and devious ways to get a man to bend down so you can finger-thwack him from behind. Those are today’s basic ground-rules. Everybody okay with that? Great, let’s get going!”
And so began our final COOK Masters class, with Solomonov in the lead like the naughty conductor of some deranged culinary orchestra. If you’ve read your Bourdain, or marveled at Ramsey’s foul-mouthed locutions on the telly, or even seen Ratatouille, you already know that professional kitchens can be a bit rough around the edges—seething, cursing vortexes of controlled chaos and intense personalities on a passionate mission to craft flavor and beauty. No matter where you eat, the person who cooked that exquisite dish for you is likely to be the type who, say, was once a roadie for Insane Clown Posse, or who could teach you the kind of filthy Spanish that would make his abuela gasp and faint. They truly are a “colorful” lot.
There are plenty of tyrants out there commanding their kitchens with expletives and berating and belittling, but that’s not what I’m talking about with Solomonov. He’s more of a mischievous sort, slinging the shit for fun, of course, but also to build camaraderie and the kind of healthy rivalry that gets everyone to goad everyone else into doing an even better job. The Japanese call this “sessa-takuma,” which literally means people polishing each another by grinding against each other’s hard surfaces. Faster, cleaner, prettier, tastier, better, whatever-er—that’s what gets cooks off, and they take pride in it.