Smoked Donkey

Excuse me while I take a moment to rant about a pet peeve of mine… chefs who smoke. What’s with all the people in the culinary field who smoke? It is me or is every single person on a reality cooking show addicted to nicotine, turning their teeth yellow and deadening their palates? I’m not kidding here, can someone please answer this question for me because it’s all I see.

Last season’s Hell’s Kitchen was bad enough with Keith, Virginia, Garrett, Sarah and others chain smoking after every dinner service, but this season it seems like everyone smokes, everyone! And it isn’t just Hell’s Kitchen, but Top Chef and Next Food Network Star as well. I know that aspiring to be a world class chef is stressful, but these are smart people who should know better. How can anyone be serious about becoming a five-star chef when their palate is coated in carbon and their taste-buds are all but dead? How can they expect to cook a Michelin Star meal when they need to cut out in the middle of service for a “drag”; their fingers stained brown from puffing?

Needless to say I find the entire affair of smoking and eating, quite disgusting. Smokers choke the air of diners all around them, simply so they can “relax”. It’s selfish, unsanitary and rude. Unfortunately, living in Greensboro, NC makes this problem almost impossible to avoid since we’re in the tobacco belt. When my wife and I go out for sushi, we always try to arrive as early as possible to get in and out before the smokers arrive. I know that in Japan, cigarette smoke is part of the sushi experience, but that doesn’t make it right. Call me crazy, but the last thing I want to taste with my fresh salmon sashimi is Camel Joe’s butt. So when it comes to those who prepare food for a living, I would think a desire to properly taste your creations would override addiction. Evidently not.

So does anyone know why so many chefs smoke? Is one of the pre-requisite classes in culinary school, “Nicotine and You”? Do kitchen supply companies have secret kick back programs with the tobacco industry? Perhaps the scores of U.K. chefs kicking the habit can help shed some light on the subject. Inquiring minds (and stomachs) want to know.


  1. My husband and I were talking about this very thing last night after Hell’s Kitchen. During my pre-drop-out days of culinary school, the chefs were always on everyone’s case to quit for the sake of the palate. It’s no wonder almost everyone flunked the blind taste test on Hell’s Kitchen…

    The culture of cooking is one that encourages smoking, though… It’s been years since I worked in a commercial kitchen but I can’t imagine it’s changed much – a subculture of people who work when everyone else is playing, ending the night at bizarre hours, lots of drinking, lots of partying, lots of machismo. It’s definitely a lifestyle choice as much as a career choice.

  2. I used to work as a line cook at various Pub and restaurants when I was going through college. The answer is quite simple: Stress.

    Working in a kitchen is very demanding both physically and mentally. Constantly running around in a hot kitchen whilst trying to manage wait-staff, managers and a constant barrage of orders is no easy task.

    When you manage a moment to collect your thoughts and hit the break room, or finish your shift, the first thing one does is collapse in a chair and fire up a cigarette.

  3. I’ve thought about this as well on several occasions. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations is actually a show I wrote a post on today, and he smokes like a chimney. Being an Ex-Smoker, he always makes me to want to take back up at the habit…but I’ve always wondered about the “taste being off” thing, as when I quit… my tastes were way more sensitive. May that’s it? Maybe it requires you to have heightened sensitivity?

  4. Beth, do you mean heightened or deadened taste sensitivity? In that forum I linked to there were several chefs who thought that smoking lead them to over season food to help compensate for their numbed palate. Is this what you mean?

  5. I’m just wondering if perhaps a Chef’s taste-buds are more sensitive because it they have to overcome the nicotine barrier?

    Also, I was way more creative when I smoked. My clarity and memory was much better back when I smoked, then it has been since quitting smoking. I always hoped that would come back, but it hasn’t.

    I’d also point out, most of my best recipes were created while being a smoker… go-figure.

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