By Anthony Bourdain
The scenes in the kitchen of Le Bernardin were filmed in that kitchen, with its actual menu, and to a great extent, the actual kitchen staff. That's as authentic as it gets.
I'd like to point out that the brilliant, brilliant Soa Davies, of Le Bernardin (the iron fist inside Eric Ripert's velvet glove) stepped in to make the plates at Brulard's look appropriately 2006 New York — and appropriately awesome. Notice the basting of the salmon in the pan. God is in the details. A lot of other really tremendous culinary talents were either on site or actually in the scene as actors and extras. Made all the difference.
As far as "is it necessary" to run a kitchen through intimidation and even abuse, Le Bernardin demonstrates that the answer is clearly "no." In the old days, many — if not most — great chefs came out of an even worse culture of abuse than Brulard's. It was an old and largely European system where that kind of autocratic and even physically violent ethic prevailed. A few chefs, like abused children, eventually continued that tradition — that cycle of abuse — when they came to command their own kitchens. Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin has talked a lot about how he behaved in that manner when he first became an executive chef — but that he quickly came to feel that it was unnecessary and even destructive. Le Bernardin today is a particularly civilized environment where treating people at every level with politeness and respect is stressed. Everyone addresses everyone else as "chef" — even waiters, I believe.
One is tempted to think that this clean, civil, silent environment is due, perhaps, to Eric's Buddhist beliefs. But one sees this kind of thing more and more at the top level — where new generations of chefs have rejected the Old School system of rum, buggery and the lash.
More and more chefs have moved away from the Billy Martin school of management towards the Joe Torre style. Thomas Keller, I'm guessing, is more of the latter. He doesn't HAVE to yell at you. He doesn't HAVE to curse.
But if you've disappointed him and he doesn't look up and say "Goodnight, chef," I imagine that would be devastating. Enough respect from cooks and you don't need intimidation. Young cooks who’ve struggled their whole career to get to the point where they find themselves in the kitchen of a great chef, who know that they have beat out hundreds — if not thousands — of other applicants for the same position, want that chef's approval. They crave it. A raised eyebrow, a single stern rebuke, a sigh — these alone can be far more devastating to a highly motivated stagiere than any hurled plate or screamed abuse.