7

A long time ago I worked for a chef who would ask questions as teaching moments frequently. This is something I have seen a lot of chefs do, and I have done it myself. Something like:

I need you to do A. While doing A make sure you do process B. Do you know why we do process B?

However no matter what answer I gave, I was never correct. He would then rephrase my answer and repeat it back to me as the real answer. This was a problem for two reasons.

  • At that point in my career it was important to start demonstrating that I knew what I was doing and why.
  • It felt crummy to be told I was wrong all the time.

I never contradicted him. I never told him he was wrong, or more to the point that we were both right. He wasn't stupid. He wasn't simply misunderstanding that we were both saying the same thing. (He was better educated than me.) I wasn't a know-it-all. I didn't act like I knew everything. In fact I used to get so excited when I actually knew the answer because I was only just beginning to be able to answer questions like that effectively.

A few examples:

When making hollandaise it is important to whisk vigorously and constantly. Do you know why that is?

Because it keeps the sauce from breaking and helps make it nice and fluffy.

No. You have to stir it constantly because if it separates it is ruined.

as well as:

I like my steak rare but I eat burgers well done. There is simply more of a risk with ground beef. do you know why that is?

Because the biggest concern is with surface bacteria and ground beef has far more surface area than a steak. You are also still cooking the surface of the steak.

No. It's because the grinding process spreads the bacteria through all of the meat.

It's worth noting in the second example that there is a slightly different answer but they are related and it is not unreasonable to assume that the answerer might understand that. Both answers actually left out the more significant nuance, which is that industrial grinders process far more meat between cleanings and spread the contamination across larger batches.

That was a long while back, and I chose to deal with the situation by moving on. I found a new job within a month and got away from him. What if I had been unable to find another job and had been stuck working there? How could I have handled him so that he would have stopped telling me I was wrong?

  • 1
    Hey, I rephrase your question so that it wouldn't be closed (because asking "what should I do" is off-topic here), feel free to edit back if this new version isn't what you want to ask. – Ælis Jan 26 at 7:54
  • How did he tell you that you were wrong? Did he just say “No, you first ...”, or did he flat out say “Wrong answer”? The former might just be a quirk of his expression and the “No” can be safely ignored. With the second, it would help to provide some examples of the dialogues. – Lawrence Jan 26 at 14:52
  • @Lawrence It was the latter, but way more teachery. Im on mobile, I will update with a better example when I can. – bruglesco Jan 26 at 15:07
  • Is this person a narcissist? How does casual discussions with him goes – Scáthach Jan 26 at 15:51
  • @Zerix casual discussions were fine except that they always led to a teaching moment eventually. – bruglesco Jan 26 at 16:24
8

My approach here would depend on whether you want to just make them stop leading with "Wrong!" or "No!" all the time, or whether you want to eventually be acknowledged as at least knowing something.

In the second case, you can thoughtfully ask clarifying questions. For example

Is breaking different from separating? When I said to keep it from breaking was that wrong? Or is the point that it can't be fixed if it separates?

Ask, every time, for more precision about the difference between your answer and the right answer. Say thankyou a lot. Even when the reply is "yeah, I guess there are two words for the same thing, I think break is kind of slang so I say separate" don't smirk, don't mention anything about "so I was actually right" just thank them for the terminology lesson and the subtle details that some instructors might have skipped. When you can, call back to a previous correction:

The sauce might break, or to be more precise [smile] separate if we XYZ so I...

Take a position of being a knowledge sponge who has no ego, isn't trying to prove you were right, and is just so grateful for the opportunity to learn all these tiny nuances from a giant of the field. Ideally this boss gives you a recommendation like "is always learning, always listening, never makes the same mistake twice, picked up an amazing amount in a short time."

Alternatively, you may not enjoy a seat at the feet of the master and would like to get some positive acknowledgement once in a while. Here you also start with questions:

Is breaking different from separating? When I said to keep it from breaking was that wrong? Or is the point that it can't be fixed if it separates?

But instead of thanking them and not mentioning that you were right, push back a little

It seems like leading with No was a little unfair, just because you think break is a slang word for separating in a sauce. I'm not a whiner, but I think "Yes, but call it separating not breaking" would be a fairer response.

Of course, not all chefs want to learn how to be fairer or what would be easier on your feelings. They're doing the toxic masculinity thing where the chef is always right and the further down the ladder you are the more you get told you're wrong even when you are actually correct. I don't think you have a lot to lose in that case since you moved on quickly anyway.

6

One non-confrontational way you could have handled this would be to try and make a joke out of it, for example, after he's finished correcting you by making the same point, jokingly reply:

"so...what I just said then"

Either he will realise you were both making the same point and join in on the joke:

"Uhhh, yeah I guess so!"

Or [perhaps more likely from what you've described], he might contest that you weren't making the same point, which then opens up a discussion giving you the opportunity to explain how your answer conveyed the same basic principle as his, in a less confrontational way.

I give this answer because I have a friend who has a similar habit of trying to add to a conversation by making the same point that someone else already made, and this type of response is usually enough to make them see it. However, the power dynamic is somewhat different in the workplace with a more senior staff member, so it does depend on your relationship with the person.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.