I was recently asked to sit on a panel of chef’s who would give a large group of culinary students a glimpse into the journey of a chef. We were there to answer questions, provide advice and give insight. I was honored to be asked, and I’m not gonna lie, I had some reservations about it.
I really wanted to tell them the truth, but I knew for a fact they couldn’t handle it. They are way too soft.
Before I go any further, let me give you a little insight into my leadership style…or feel free to ask any of my cooks, I’m sure they’d tell you the truth. I am serious, but I am also fun. I mean business, but I’m also keenly aware that my team is also my business. I believe in promotion from within, playing with food together so everyone has ownership and supporting people like people not a number.
I’m only telling you these things so you maybe you judge me a little more fairly about what I wanted to say to these kids…
I think the old school way is the right way, and I don’t care what anyone says. You get in life what you work for. Simple as that. If I work harder than you, I get more. I don’t feel bad about that. Everything I have, I’ve worked for. It means so much more because of that.
When I graduated from culinary school way back in the day,
I wasn’t a chef because I had a piece of paper that made me think I was.
I just now in my career, 23 years later, feel like I deserve the title… as I’m watching my dream unfold. My very own restaurant brought to you by good ol’ hard work. I finally feel like I paid my dues not only to my mentors and believers, but mostly to myself.
I am getting what I came for but, none of it came EASY……
I was the first person in and the last person out for a long, long time. Still now, on the brink of a new opening, I’m preparing myself for the upcoming days of going home only to shower.
I was, and still am, reading and learning and teaching myself new tricks during my barely existent “down time”.
You will always feel like you don’t have enough help. I’ve been understaffed for the last seven years. Yes, seriously. But, guess what? You have to make it happen anyway. How? Figure it out. This is also part of your job.
You will be forever researching and writing menus. Before the season ends you should be thinking about the next. You need to be ahead of the game always, and you need to STAY ahead. Not to mention making sure they are costed properly so you have a shot at being profitable after all the overtime hours you pay out because of the help thing.
Finding time to cook for pleasure and reignite your creative juices is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. You have to “sharpen the saw”.
You will constantly be in search of something called a “life/work” balance. Chances of finding it are slim to none, but if you love what you do that really won’t upset you.
Taking care of your health and wellness needs to be at the top of this very long list so you can lead with conviction, intensity and strength.
If dishes need to be washed, you will wash them. Patting egos, being a counselor, still finding time to keep inventory tight and the team relationships even tighter will quickly become an essential part of your daily routine. You’ll have to find your own way to fit it in.
You will learn that you don’t always get to cook what you want. (This one was especially hard for me, and took the longest to learn.) but… If you don’t give the guests what THEY want, soon you will have no canvas to showcase any creativity. Simple equation, but no doubt a complicated, never-ending, personal challenge
It doesn’t get easier. In fact, it definitely gets harder.
You won’t make it if you don’t want it enough so don’t waste anyone’s time, especially your own. You only have one shot at showing people your character. There are no take backs, so work like you mean it.
The people that are kind enough to give you their time or advice should be given it back. Find a way to pay your lessons forward, honoring those who taught them.
I decided that morning that I would just wait and “feel the room”, but when I sat down and looked out into a sea of white jackets, I knew I had no choice. It was my duty to tell them. That’s why I was there.
So I did.
Maybe they thought I was old fashioned, I really don’t care. The thing is, if they did, they’d really be paying me a compliment.
Regardless, they needed to know that the dues pay more than the title ever will and at least someone told them.