CHEFS – IS IT WORTH IT?

chef

We have all had those moments (some of us more frequently than others) when we question what we are doing, the level of commitment required, and the price to pay. As chefs we all are aware of the time, physical stress, and emotional trauma associated with running a busy kitchen. The labor pool is a true challenge, the pressure to earn a profit is relentless, the fickle nature of guests can be frustrating, the shear number of daily decisions required of the job is mind-numbing, and the need to put yourself out there with each plate of food that leaves the kitchen can be – frightening. Yet tomorrow morning you will wake well before sunrise, put on that starched, white uniform, walk through those kitchen doors and face the challenges of a chef once again.

There will always be the missed family events, the 5 a.m. calls when the breakfast cook fails to show up, disappointment with vendors, unpredictable hours, and weeks on end without a day off. Hard as those things may be – they are part of a chef’s reality. Should this change – probably; will it change – not likely. Is it worth it?

Sometimes chefs feel like they are the anomaly in life – that these harsh realities only plague those in double-breasted white jackets – well, that simply is not the case. These “costs of the job” exist for many other professions where there is a commitment that stretches beyond a job or career. To be a chef is the same, in many ways, as becoming a doctor, lawyer, musician, athlete, performer, nurse, dietitian, painter, sculptor, builder/craftsman, and dozens of other callings in life.

There is, in human nature, a desire to make a difference, to do something meaningful, or as Steve Jobs once said: “To make a dent in the universe.”   Not everyone struggles with this need, but for those who are born with this deep-seated knowing desire – they understand that it is always present.   Label us as you may: Type A’s, Obsessive/Compulsive, Driven, or to some observers – Ego Driven. The universal reality is that these individuals cannot pursue something without giving it their all. This can be both noble and self-destructive, but it remains their reality.

These individuals (in this case chefs) cannot turn it on and off. This need to keep pushing and commit everything to their career choice runs through their blood, through their nervous system, and totally occupies their active and passive thinking process. Being a chef occupies their mind, body, heart, and soul and as a result leaves little room for anything else. Those chefs who work towards balance in their lives have to REALLY work at creating this balance – it does not come naturally. The same is true for those doctors, artists, musicians, athletes, nurses, performers, and craftsmen. Being “all in” is the essence of who they are.

So, you may think that this sounds like an uncontrollable disease – well, it does have some similar characteristics – yet there is a bright side to it. Making a dent in the universe is what has brought society to where it is today. Without this obsessive behavior we would not be able to enjoy the progress that continues to be the result. Progress in science, medicine, art, design, product innovation, technology, and yes – cuisine, are all a result of obsessive, “all-in” people who spent their lives seeking to make a dent in the universe. Many chefs are part of this club.

There is a harsh reality that oftentimes creeps into the lives of those who are seeking to make a difference. Many of the careers mentioned (being a chef in particular) require that the body, heart, mind, and soul all function at the same level of intensity. The body sometimes begins to lose a step with age even when the other aspects of a chefs being are still operating a peak performance. As was so adeptly stated by the band: Little Feat: “You know that you’re over the hill, when your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill.” When this reality raises its ugly head – then something must be there to take the place of the intensity lost.

So often, we see “Type A” athletes, musicians, doctors, craftsmen, and chefs seem lost when the desire and intellect is still running at 100 miles and hour, but the body puts on the brakes. These “all in” individuals make terrible retirees because they lose the channel for their energy, and sense that they are no longer able to make a difference. “This is your time to relax and enjoy life” doesn’t really resonate with Type A’s. They don’t want to relax and step off the roller coaster of “making a dent in the universe” – they want to stay in the driver’s seat, they NEED to stay in the driver’s seat.

So, this being the case – here are a few words to the wise for young, high energy, ready to make a dent in the universe cooks as they map out their career and their lives. Take it for what it’s worth.

  1. Early on – do what you can to build those skills and jump into the deep water. Find those restaurants where you can learn a great deal from others and grow your strength as a game changer.
  2. Invest those hours, sweat the details, take some chances, put yourself out there, and grab hold of the opportunities to challenge yourself and those around you.
  3. Don’t succumb to “the way it has always been” – you won’t make a difference by simply falling in line and protecting things as they always have been.
  4. Find a partner in life who will be honest with you, pull you out of the deep end when you forget to use a life vest, who will tell you when you are out of line, who will be the one to say no, but at the same time will be your greatest cheerleader when you are on the right path and bumps in the road come into play.
  5. Know that as your body begins to slow through age, and wear and tear is all too obvious, that your other attributes of mind, emotion, and soul become more fine-tuned. This is where you need to direct your energy and your career. Chefs do not need to carry the lions share of the physical workload when they reach that position – they need to guide their team with their intellect, emotional intelligence, and soulful passion for the craft.
  6. Know that the dent that you need to make will have the greatest impact when you share your acquired skill, your passion, and your experience with others. Thus, the aging chef has a true ability to make a difference as a teacher and a trainer.
  7. In the later years of a career, and as long as a chef walks on the face of the earth, he or she can continue to make a difference by sharing what he or she knows, guiding others through the process, becoming a mentor and sage to others, and finding ways to communicate those strengths to as many people as possible. Age is no barrier to this. A chef will make a dent in the universe when he or she seeks to become a vehicle for communication, a protector of traditions, an advocate for necessary change, and a cheerleader for others who’s goal in life is to leave their profession better than it was received.

Assuming that you can change a chef makes little sense – it is much more appropriate to help the chef channel his or her energy for a lifetime of difference making. Oh, and by the way – it can be worth it!

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

BE SOMETHING SPECIAL, BE A CHEF

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

COOKS – THE COMFORT OF HEAT, SWEAT, AND HARD-WORK

3

Staring at the POS printer, waiting for those orders to start their tap dance building to a crescendo in an hour or so, clicking a pair of tongs by your side, shifting weight from one foot to the other, and beads of sweat beginning to roll down your back and collect under that scull cap that fits just a bit too tight – is this one of those moments when you begin to wonder what in the world you are doing?

Physical work is stressful and gratifying at the same time. Sweat and aching muscles is uncomfortable, yet somehow a sign of work worth doing. Building beautiful, flavorful, aroma filled, satisfying dishes for people every night is a result of this hard work, this sweat, and these aching muscles. These tangible works are also a result of an intelligent approach to a process, constant reference to flavor memory, and a level of mental and physical organization that is parallel to that of an architect, a pilot, or a surgeon – this is work that is far more complex that many give it credit for. There is also the emotional part – putting it all out there for others to critique leaving the cook wondering: “what did they think?” We sweat not just due to the heat, not simply because we are physically all in, but also because cooking is draining intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. Being a cook is complicated.

You know that those orders are coming – in just a few minutes that printer will push out that relentless sound of more orders than you think you can handle. This is the most stressful time – let’s get on with it! You remember a couple quotes that stick in your brain:

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

-Stephen King

Ok, you can understand that for sure. You think that you have some talent as a cook, but you KNOW that you put in the effort and then some. You wonder: “Is there a difference between talent and hard work when you come down to it?” How many successful people do you know who work hard without talent? Maybe their talent is knowing what they don’t know and finding ways to get things done anyway. Anyway – soon enough those orders will fill that space in your brain that is wandering right now. Then there was that other quote:

“It’s not so much whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

-Grantland Rice

Right….try telling that to the chef or the owner. You are part of a line team – there is no room for failure. If you fail, so will the rest of the team. One mistake can lead to chaos on a busy night. This is not the place or the time to learn from your mistakes – NO MISTAKES, NO MISTAKES! “Damn – let’s get these orders in before I start to over-think everything.”

Maybe, just maybe, this sweat and these aching muscles, maybe the nervous energy that is obvious from my dance of anticipation, maybe all of this is fuel for the job ahead. Stay calm, stay calm. I sure hope that my mise en place is tight enough. Did I mince enough shallots, clarify enough butter, flatten enough chicken breasts, and peel enough shrimp? Let me check those scallops again – did I clean them properly? Where are my backups on vegetables, extra bottles of white wine for deglazing? What is the temp on those sauces in the bain-marie? Let me draw my knives over that wet stone one more time – can’t afford a dull knife. You look to the expeditor and tell him to grab you a few more side towels – can never have too many.

restaurant-food

The sweat is starting to pool up on your back, feet are hurting from inactivity, and hands are cramping up from nerves. Come on with the orders already!   You stack and restack plates, move your pan handles a few degrees to the right, and fold and refold those side towels. You drop your tongs – CRAP! Run over to the pot sink and wash them quick. Grab another pair as a back-up.

You grab another energy drink and kick it back like it was that after shift first beer. You look to your right and look to your left. Acknowledge the rest of the team and share a few fist bumps. It is coming – you can feel it. Then, the sound you were all waiting for – the printer spits out that first early-bird deuce. Both items for the grill – nothing for you – damn. A few seconds later – a four top – all yours. Here we go. You grab four pans and slide them onto burners – make sure the pans are hot first. Two orders of Diver Scallops, a Chicken Piccata, and Tournedoes Rossini mid-rare. An ounce of clarified butter for the chicken (dredge it in flour and give it some great caramelization – keep the pan moving), a touch in the pans for the scallops (sear them on one side and pull away from the heat for finishing later), and a little more heat in the pan for the tournedoes (this item will be done last minute). The expeditor had called the table as an order fire (no appetizers – ready to rock) – but you know that it is best to wait to finish until the server is standing on the other side of the pass. Two minutes is all it will take to finish this four top.

Pull the caramelized chicken breast and put it aside, add sliced mushrooms to the pan and a touch more butter. Caramelize the shrooms and deglaze with white wine, and fresh lemon. Sweat is pouring freely down your back now. Two more orders just came in – a few items from your station that can wait until this four top is gone. The server appears and the expeditor calls out – pick up on that four top. “Yes chef”! Chicken back in the pan – the flour from the dredged chicken blends with the white wine and lemon and the sauce comes together. A few capers and chopped parsley and this dish is ready to go. The scallops return to a fresh hot pan to finish the sear, hit the pan with a touch of wine, salt and pepper and done. While you and the middleman plate up the first three dishes – the tournedoes hit the very hot pan for a sear along with two slices of foie gras. Flip all items quickly – cooking only takes a minute. Deglaze the beef with Madeira and demi-glace and assemble the dish on toast medallions – top with some truffle shavings and off it goes to the pass. Four top complete. Move on to the next order.

You wipe your brow, take a drink of water and start with fresh pans. The orders keep coming. Now the expeditor is in control of your world. He tells you what to start, what to finish, and what to plate. Every few moments you ask for an “all day” (a review of what should be working on your station), and back to it. No time to chat with others – an occasional look or nod is enough of a signal. Plates are flying now – you turn to plate up an item and the dish is there ready with accompaniments. Only one re-fire so far (you hate that, but try to push it out of your mind).

For the next three hours – this is the frantic pace of the line. Those 180 minutes go by in a flash. You stay on top of your station cleanliness and are relieved to see that your mise en place is holding up. A few little finger burns from hot pan-handles, nothing you can’t work through, and one dropped item to replace – not bad. You haven’t screwed up any orders or messed up your teammates thus far. You are now working like a well-oiled machine. Your brain works through processes, your palate is fine tuned, and there is real economy of motion in the steps that you take.

When 9 p.m. rolls around – the board is almost clear. Just a couple deuces to finish up and that inevitable table that arrives 15 minutes before closing, but you breathe out knowing that you made it through another night.

Painted in Waterlogue

By 10:30, it’s all over. You breakdown your station, scrub your area, chill sauces, label and date items, make out your prep list for tomorrow and a friendly note to the morning prep cook. The sous chef points his finger and gives you a “thumbs up”. The mental and emotional stress is over – the physical pains will take a few hours to come to the surface, but you know they are there. Hey, it’s good pain – an honest days work. The heat, sweat, and hard effort feel OK. This is what you do, and this is how it is suppose to feel.

Tomorrow is another day.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

WORK HARD, SWEAT A LOT, AND SMILE WHEN IT IS OVER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

WHEN A COOK IS TRULY IN THE ZONE

cooks

In the zone is a phrase commonly used to describe a musician, athlete, or even a cook who experiences an “everything going right” situation, and when the person, or persons, involved are totally focused on the task at hand– but, being fully in the zone is really so much more.

When a musician is in the zone – he or she becomes one with the instrument – feeling, sensing, and intellectually connected as the instrument becomes an extension of who that person is. The audience can see and hear this phenomenon as real magic occurs. I have witnessed this with some incredible musical talent: Stanley Jordan, the incredible jazz guitar genius can close his eyes, block out all that is around him, and offer his uniquely original style of plucking with both hands and expressing through his instrument what he is feeling inside. Aurelien Pontier, a world-class French pianist finds his heart, soul, and fingers in total sync as he perfectly executes all of the nuances of a Rachmaninov piano concerto – some of the most difficult music to feel and play. And, the late Al Jareau could seem to drift off the stage while every inch of his being was engaged with scat vocal interpretations of jazz instruments. These great musicians were able to float into the zone and release more than music; they were facilitators of a musical experience.

Michael Jordan defied gravity when he was in the zone; Steve Kerr made it seem as if hitting three-point shots was inevitable; Simone Beal tumbled through the air and stuck a perfect landing as if the mat, bench, or parallel bars were simply there to accent her perfection; and Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were in such sync that no defensive player was ever able to disrupt another touchdown. These athletes were able to switch on their relationship with the zone, at will.

Every line cook and chef has experienced those nights when things go right. Timing is perfect, plates are beautiful, food is prepared as it should be, and service staff appears the moment that plates are put in the pass. To all of us who have been there – this would seem to describe a “zone” event. But that out-of-world experience that truly defines being in the zone requires much more. A cook in the zone feels the joy of a perfect palate for seasoning, the ability to hear, see, and smell when an item is perfectly done, all other line personnel are able to sense what needs to be done next without being told or asked, the plate is ready to receive an item from the grill before the line cook needs to request it, and a simple nod or cursory eye contact from the chef or expeditor is enough to signal what must be done next. Being in the zone is a total sensual experience, and intellectual connection, an emotional alignment, and a physical melding of activity that is a fluid and tight as a perfectly synchronized symphonic orchestra. The experience is rarely planned or anticipated; yet without organization, skill, planning, and confidence it will never happen.

Have you been there? The planets are aligned – those orders clicking off the POS seem to suddenly move in slow motion. Every nuance of understanding is there as the cook assimilates what the expeditor calls off, organizes those orders in his or her head, and begins the structured process of starting a sear, deglazing a pan, reducing a pan sauce, and grabbing pans that are at the ready and hot so that the process is not delayed. You taste, season, and taste and your flavor memory bank kicks into motion as adjustments are made to each pan making sure that the end result is a consistent product. Plates are meticulously assembled so that they look exactly like that picture in the cook’s mind and when the chef calls fire and pick-up, those pans are returned to the stove for finishing and assembled plates are slide into the pass where the expeditor adds an herb garnish and wipes the plates edge. It all seems so easy tonight, so natural, and so much in sync with everything and everyone. Have you been there?

IMG_4669

Are you in the zone – really? If you are – is it good luck or something else? So, how does a cook or chef set the stage for “in the zone” experiences? Here are some essential elements:

[]         SKILL MASTERY

It would be impossible to experience the scenario portrayed without having mastered those foundational skills that are part of a cook’s bag of tricks. Superior knife skills, a full understanding of all the cooking methods, flavor memory, impeccably tight mise en place, time management, and a deep understanding of each ingredient, its flavor profile and how it acts and reacts under certain conditions and in combination with other ingredients. Being in the zone is no accident.

[]         ORGANIZATION

Take a moment to observe an excellent cook’s station. It is precise, always clean, perfectly spaced, and always so even during the busiest time of service. Don’t mess with a cook’s station – it is exactly how he or she needs and wants it. The cook can point to everything in that station – blindfolded. Back-ups are ample and are labeled and easy to access. Towels are folded a certain way, every plate is checked for cleanliness, water spots, chips and cracks. Nothing is left to chance.

[]         TEAM DYNAMICS

When zone work is realized it is because every member of the team knows his or her job and is equally prepared, and every member of the team also knows every other station and can step in at any time and function with the same level of efficiency and passion as the person who typically owns it. It’s all about team.

[]         PRACTICE COMMUNICATION

Just as best friends, brothers and sisters, spouses and significant others know what the other is thinking or about to do, so too must team members on the line have the ability to anticipate the action of others, use verbal and non-verbal communication techniques, and function, as a result, as one cohesive unit. Have you been there?

Painted in Waterlogue

[]         RESPECT

Respect and Trust are one and the same when it comes to preparing for “in the zone” work. When the magic happens it is because every member of the team is aware of strengths and weaknesses of others and respects what can be done and what needs to be done to make sure actions are seamless. Respect must be earned daily on these teams and it is easy to see that the last thing that a cook would ever do is to allow that trust to wane. Have you been there?

[]         PRACTICE

If you are waiting for luck to create those beautifully orchestrated service events – you will be waiting a long time. Whether it is a sports team, a band or orchestra, a military platoon, or line team in a restaurant – practice does make perfect. Every service is another opportunity to fine tune, to discuss those things that are not yet right, and practice ways to bring them there. Individuals or teams that are “in the zone” got there through meticulous practice.

travis

[]         UNDERSTANDING

Michael Jordan knew everything about the ball, the court, the game, and his competition. He understood how to approach a game. Aurelien Pontier became Rachmaninov when he sat at the piano to play one of his compositions, he understands muscle memory, how to accent a certain phrase in a piece, how high to lift his hands, and how strong or soft to lay his fingers on the keys. A great cook must understand everything about the menu, the ingredients, the cooking process, the flavor profile, the history and traditions behind the design of a dish, colors and textures, and even how to lay out a plate to emphasize its uniqueness. True understanding is behind every “in the zone” experience.

If you have truly been in the zone, then you understand the depth of satisfaction that comes from control over that experience. When you are ready then that experience can be predicted and expected. When others are able to witness this in the works then the chaos of the kitchen seems to flow like a well-orchestrated piece of music, or a perfect game. Great teams can somehow make it look easy, but in reality it is nothing more than great planning, meticulous work, loads of practice, and un-compromised levels of confidence in this process.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Prepare yourself for the ZONE

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

Aurelien Pontier plays Rachmaninov

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMkfIx5Hy4Y

Stanley Jordan plays Eleanor Rigby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M22XWM2qbo

Al Jareau sings Step-by-Step

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AA1C-_OfQY

When Air Jordan was born

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mny1kAxF2zQ

Simone Beal on the balance beam

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7LzYjEsu-w

Montana to Rice

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH4_zSPB7XQ

The dance at a Michelin starred restaurant

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0yisRiLwGA

 

 

IT’S ONLY MY POINT OF VIEW

me

I always try to see things through other people’s eyes and not just my own. There are always multiple sides to every issue, and numerous factors that sway a person’s perspective one-way or the other. When it comes to work – there are some who view it as a necessary chore to earn a paycheck, while others may view the same work as an opportunity and something to look forward to. I accept that and know that the reasons for different perspectives are many and, in most cases, personal. Be that as it may, I can only truly speak for myself – I will always have my opinions and they may differ from yours. That’s OK, to each his or her own.

My intent is always to present my opinions, as my opinions and never assume that they are or should be yours. If my thoughts and perspective strike a chord and help anyone with the task before them, that’s great, and if not – well, it is only my opinion. I am entitled to mine as those perspectives have evolved over decades of work in the food industry with many fantastic people who come from a multitude of backgrounds, and who bring all sorts of issues and challenges with them. My opinions are rooted in experiences working alongside all of these people. You have your opinions based, I am sure, on your own experiences – it’s all good. So – here are some of my perspectives when it comes to the restaurant business. They are based on five decades of observation and interaction. Take it for what it’s worth:

  1. Working hard is exhausting, but invigorating. Hard work is one of the factors in life that builds character and respect for others.
  2. Whatever goal I set for myself can be achieved in the food business if I set my mind to it and make the commitment to do what it takes to get there.
  3. Not everyone is cut out to work in the restaurant business. Those who only work for a paycheck are not likely to find a fulfilling career with food.
  4. Talent is hollow unless the person is willing to apply that talent to his or her work.
  5. If you want respect – show respect. This applies to all who hold a position of higher authority, those who have entry-level positions, those who sell you ingredients and deliver them, and those customers who patronize the restaurant where you work.
  6. Yes is a word that will pave the way for your success – no can get in the way.
  7. If you don’t know – discover how. Take responsibility for your own skill development and base of knowledge.
  8. The minute you think that you are better than someone else, you diminish your own value.
  9. When in a position of authority, know that you must be firm, but empathetic at the same time. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.
  10. Speak less, listen more. Granted this is hard to do, but what you learn in the process is valuable.
  11. Respect the ingredients that you work with in the kitchen. Every carrot, potato, fish, chicken, 109 rib, pork loin, bag of flour, and bottle of wine represents the hard work, passion, and talent of a farmer, rancher, miller, fisherman, or wine maker. They deserve your respect for the ingredients that they share.
  12. Your vendors exist because you buy their goods. Respect them, but make them work for you.
  13. Honesty and integrity are the basic raw materials of leadership.
  14. Celebrate your team – recognize them and pat them on the back when they do something exceptional. Let everyone know how much you appreciate his or her talents and work ethic.
  15. When your team members screw up – let them know what they did, how it impacts others, and how they can avoid making the same mistake again. Make sure they realize that it is their action that you are upset with, not necessarily the person that they are.
  16. Set the example – always. If you want your staff to be punctual, then be the example of punctuality. If you want your cooks to sweat the details in cooking and food presentation, then be that example whenever you hold a knife, a pan, or a plate ready for the pass. If you want your staff to treat others with respect, then always be that example through your actions.
  17. Your reputation, your brand, is of utmost importance to your career. Don’t let others sway you away from the kind of cook, chef, employee that you set out to be. Stay the course.
  18. Know that what you do as a cook is important – this is work that truly impacts people’s lives. Be a proud cook.
  19. Take pride in the chef’s uniform. This is not a silly detail. The uniform represents a proud history of exceptionally committed professionals who made it possible for the restaurant industry to be such an important part of people’s lives. When you wear that uniform you are paying respect to them. Make sure that uniform is complete, clean, pressed, and worn in the same manner as a policeman, fireman, soldier, postal carrier, doctor, or nurse wears his or hers.
  20. Restaurants need to collectively re-think how they approach their financial operations. Low profit, low wages, minimal benefits, cash flow challenges, and the need for a large labor pool to meet the needs of the operation paint a very bleak picture of the future.
  21. Small, personal, service oriented, regional purveyors are better positioned to be a vendor/partner for restaurants, but they are unable to compete with the convenience and pricing of the big box purveyors. Restaurants need to think beyond convenience and price if they are to be part of a business community.
  22. If the restaurant industry fails to address its employer image and change then they will find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain good employees. The ball is in their court.
  23. Restaurants and restaurant chefs have an obligation to consider the impact they have on consumer health and wellbeing.   With 50% of the average American family food dollar spent in restaurants – we need to accept that part of America’s health falls on our shoulders.
  24. If culinary schools are not effective in meeting the needs of the restaurant industry then the restaurant industry must partner with schools to fix the challenge. This is the best resource for restaurant staffing, but only if they are successful in attracting sufficient student numbers and creating kitchen ready graduates.
  25. The restaurant industry suddenly has an image problem. From the days between 1980 and 2000 – we were the exciting career choice. The thought of becoming a chef or restaurateur drove tens of thousands of students to culinary classrooms as they had visions of commanding a kitchen or owning their own operation. Since that time, the reality of what it takes, the challenges of difficult work conditions, the failure rate of restaurants, the payback of student loans, and low wages has reversed the trend of opportunity to a trickle of what it once was. Now restaurants are unable to attract enough employees regardless of their skill set. This is the greatest problem facing the restaurant industry today and it cannot be overlooked. This is a call to arms – organizations like the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation must lead a concerted effort to turn this situation around.

me

This is an industry that has been very good to me. I took opportunities when they came my way, I made the effort to improve my skills and base of knowledge, to make the right connections and build my network of opportunity, and to push myself to reach for those goals that I had. I truly believe that anyone could do the same. Luck has very little to do with it – success is a choice, opportunity only exists when you look for it, and in a business that continues to grow and evolve – those who want it can have it. That is my opinion.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

A CHEF WHO GETS THE MESSAGE RIGHT

chuck

Two of the most significant issues facing businesses today are RETAINING good employees who are so difficult to find and MAXIMIZING the productivity and efficiency of those same employees. Ample research has been done pointing to the most significant culprit behind these issues – POOR COMMUNICATION! According to Big Picture Learning“A 2014 survey by About.com found that the top three reasons for leaving an organization were communication related: a lack of direction from management, overall poor communication, and poorly communication constant change.” Furthermore, they concluded that: “People look for new opportunities elsewhere when they are not engaged with the vision and the mission of their current employer.”

Sometimes the fault lies with a lack of desire to communicate, oftentimes the problem is the incorrect use of communication, but the majority of time the challenge is that leadership has no idea how to effectively communicate a message in a succinct, timely manner.

We live in a world where numerous communication tools are available and where an overload of ineffective communication abounds, confuses, and even irritates those on the receiving end. Newsletters, bulletin boards, payroll stuffers, email blasts (the average person receives nearly 120 emails every day), and tweets and texts seem to attack our senses with reckless abandon. How are employees going to decipher what is important, what needs immediate attention, and what is simply useless fodder that has little relevance to the work in front of them? Additionally, where is the opportunity for those same employees to engage in the conversation, offer their own input, and see the results of their involvement?

There are many clues to more effective communication that include making your message clear and concise, creating a vehicle for feedback from employees and demonstrating that you actually pay attention to that feedback, and being more strategic so that communication overload is kept to a minimum. But, the most effective way to improve this connection with employees is to communicate through storytelling. When communication is interesting and fun, then it’s relevance is more likely to be realized.

I recently spoke with Charles Carroll – one of America’s more successful chefs and business leaders, about an initiative that he has been engaged with for the past few years. Carroll is the Executive Chef of the River Oaks Country Club in Houston – one of the most prestigious, and busiest, clubs in the country. His accomplishments in the culinary arts are far too broad to review here, but this new project takes his many talents far beyond the kitchen. As he stated in our interview: “This system that we have been developing is a game changer!” Chef Carroll is now engaged in a project that is applicable to any business, of nearly any size. This chef has taken on the challenge of communication and may just have found the answer that business leadership has been looking for.

These are the highlights of our interview:

  1. So with everything that is on your plate as Executive Chef of one of the busiest clubs in America, author, public speaker, and ambassador for initiatives within the American Culinary Federation and the World Chefs Association – why did you take on the monumental task of developing a Podcast?

“After writing my third book The Recipe – a story of loss, love, and the ingredients of success, my book partner John David Mann recommended that we connect as a guest on a total of 60 podcasts to promote the book. I was willing to do whatever it took, so we did. After the fifth or sixth interview I was thinking – this is pretty cool I think I want to develop my own. Two months later – The Recipe Podcast, Celebrity Secrets – was born.”

podcast

  1. What are your goals with this medium of communication?

“Well, it started as a hobby, but soon gained a lot of attention. We did four on location shows to include two ACF Conventions and the World Chefs Congress in Malaysia. After that we started to attract sponsors as it became more serious. We now have a very cool studio that has allowed us to stream the shows on YouTube.”

  1. Who do you see as your audience?

“We have two different shows: The Recipe Celebrity Secrets, and The Recipe Unplugged which is more on the comedy side with guest comedians. So we capture many chefs and people in the hospitality field as well as individuals who just want to kick back and laugh.”

  1. How will you measure success?

“We can monitor how many listeners we have so we work hard with promotions to keep the audience numbers high. It is important that our sponsors are happy. Also, with all of the interesting chefs that we have as guests, we are able to expose them to sponsor products – many of our guest chefs have, as a result of the show, hired or contracted with our sponsors. It’s a win, win.”

  1. It is my understanding that you are going to use this model to create a communication tool for businesses of all types as they seek new ways of interacting with their employees. How will you translate a culinary business model to fit in other types of environments?

“YES! We are so excited to have started a service called: My Company Radio. I was involved in consulting for a company that has 4,000 employees in 14 states. They asked me how they could communicate and educate them on a weekly basis. That was what started the wheels turning. So, we developed a system where we take messaging from top level leadership and surround it with motivation, inspiration, education, employee recognition, and turn the message into an entertaining show sent to their entire team. Now, the weekly message, full of pertinent information, is entertaining as well as informative. Employees can’t wait to hear the next show.”

  1. What is your vision with regard to this?

“We currently have several clients including private clubs, an oil company, and distribution vendors. We are also engaged in conversations with hospitals, police and fire departments, resorts and large hotels. The beauty of the system is that there are only two qualifications: 1) You need to have at least 50-employees, 2) you genuinely care about your people. That’s It!”

chuck and mickey

“Let’s face it, when there is a challenge or mistake in our business, the vast majority of time the source comes down to a breakdown in communication. Now, we are making communication fun, attractive, convenient, and easily accessed through your smart phone.”

  1. It has been said that the most common complaint by employees in any business is a lack of, or lack of accurate communication between leadership and employee. Is it your goal to present a way to fix this?

“Absolutely, Our system is so easy to use and downloads on any smart phone. We have some of the most sought-after experts contributing to the shows with topics pertaining to motivation, inspiration, celebrity fitness, Fortune 500 consultation, meditation, and Human Resource Management. Also, another feature we are excited about is allowing employees to have direct communication back to top leadership through the show. Now, front-line employees have a safe environment and conduit direct to the decision makers.”

  1. Put on your future glasses and talk about what this business model might look like in five years considering all of the lightening fast changes in technology.

“To be honest, I think this system is a game changer! The days of employee newsletters that nobody reads, email blasts that never get opened, or teleconferencing that only a few can take part in are over. This system allows employees to listen on their time, while at the gym, driving to work, grocery shopping, or boarding a plane. Most of all – with our company inspirational presenters, we consider the show a gift of enrichment. I believe this model can become a standard of communication for any company, no matter how technology allows it to evolve in the future.”

At a time when so many companies struggle with finding, motivating, and retaining employees – it only makes sense to invest in the appropriate tools that will connect staff members with management and leadership in a way that is honest, timely, and effective. It may just be that Chef Carroll has found the answer.

To connect with Chef Carroll and his portfolio of contemporary communication tools – use the following links:

MY COMPANY RADIO

www.mycompanyradio.com

THE RECIPE PODCAST, CELEBRITY SECRETS

and THE RECIPE, UNPLUGGED

www.chefcharlescarroll.com

 

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com – BLOG

 

 

 

 

 

STOP THE 100% TARIFF ON EUROPEAN GOODS

IMG_9706

White tower decisions without a grasp on the systemic impact of those decisions is a common flaw of leaders who are out of touch with reality. It happens in business, it happens in education, and it happens most often in government. Those who are proponents of systemic thinking know that even the smallest decision, especially one made in a vacuum, will domino and cause havoc on numerous fronts.

An example in the restaurant business is a new chef in a property who is determined to radically change a menu to reflect his or her style without paying attention to those who will be affected. When a menu changes, the vendors are likely to change to accommodate new ingredients, all cooks in the operation will need to be trained to thrive with new preparations and presentations, there is a chance that current kitchen equipment may need to be adjusted, china and glassware may need to evolve to adapt to revised presentations, someone will need to prepare and test recipes, photos of presentations will be taken, tastings will need to occur, the front of the house will need ample training to understand each dish, marketing may need to evolve if the concept is a radical departure, and the guests who have been targeted in the past will likely change to some degree. It is never as simple as just changing the menu. Thinking all of this through while engaging input from every stakeholder will make for a smooth transition, when a menu is changed at the whim of the chef then you can expect chaos.

The US government is notorious for making decisions to leverage some type of anticipated outcome without fully understanding the systemic impact of those decisions. In recent months tariffs have been used as a tool for both deal making and retaliation for some action or inaction by another government. Tariffs, however do not simply impact the government target, they impact a series of stakeholders who are innocent recipients of devastating actions. Tariffs on China resulted in China cutting off the purchase of American soybeans. Many American farmers, who always struggle to make ends meet, had converted their land to the production of soybeans because China was willing and able to purchase enormous amounts. So, although a tariff may have an impact on China’s economy – they took American farmers along for the ride, as reluctant passengers. There is a cost, and the government uses the livelihood of hard working American’s as leverage without even giving baseline consideration to the results. Sure, the government turned around and offered subsidies to farmers after the fact, but then who pays for that?

A short while back the U.S. imposed a 25% tariff on European wines and other perishable goods – this of course, was very challenging for European winemakers, but it also impacted importers in the U.S., wine shops, longshoreman, wine distributors, restaurants, and wine consumers. Some may look at wine as a luxury, but think of the thousands and thousands of people whose livelihood was impacted in the process.

There is a current proposal to increase that tariff to 100%. This would not only impact European Wines, but other products such as Olive Oil, Scotch, Whiskey, olives, and Imported meats and cheese. These “luxury items” are connected to farmers, artisans, wine makers, distillers, cheese maker’s, wine importers and exporters, wholesalers, retailers, transportation providers, restaurants, and other retail businesses. Keep in mind, that the Restaurant Industry in the U.S. is the second largest employer of people in our country. When we loosely toy with tariffs of this type we are playing with careers and businesses on both sides of the equation. Obviously, a tariff on these European goods would be met with a similar reaction to American goods moving to Europe. There is rarely a positive outcome as a result of tariffs, yet governments continue to use them as a tool for negotiation.

Painted in Waterlogue

We live in a global economy, an economy that thrives on the knowledge that anyone can produce a product and find a market for it on any point on the globe. This is an amazing benefit for all parties when trade is open and fair. Tariffs are not a fair ingredient in a global economy.

If the 100% tariff is imposed then there will be thousands of small businesses that will likely close their doors, tens of thousands of employees who will face the fear of layoffs, and a change to America’s global marketplace image that will be hard to recover from.

Maybe spending more time filling empty diplomatic positions within the State Department, investing in building and maintaining great relationships with global partners, improving trade deals rather than scraping them, and thinking decisions through by communicating with all impacted stakeholders would be a better approach.

If you want to help the countless American workers and small businesses that would be impacted negatively by these tariffs, then please take a few moments to connect to the link below and offer your comments before January 13 (the open comment period).

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/12/12/2019-26741/review-of-action-enforcement-of-us-wto-rights-in-large-civil-aircraft-dispute

Send, via the electronic form to the Federal Trade Commission.

PLAN BETTER -TRAIN HARDER

THINK DECISIONS THROUGH

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

http://www.harvestamericacues.com  BLOG

 

 

 

 

HERDING CATS – THE MAKEUP OF A KITCHEN LINE

cooks

Chemistry is by far, the most important ingredient in building a successful kitchen team. When a chef is able to bring a group of seemingly opposing forces together into a functional, well-orchestrated team then great things happen. This, however, is no easy task given the different dynamics that exist among the players.

Kitchens tend to be extraordinary melting pots that attract a wide array of characters who, despite their differences, seem to rally around a few common traits: they like food, they are somewhat competitive, they enjoy the adrenaline rush, and they are a pretty proud group.

So, in giving some thought to the different types of individuals who stumble or rush head first into a kitchen career, I came up with ten categories of cook types (you may have a few others to add on your own) – see where you fit.

  1. PIRATES

Ah…the kitchen pirate. These are seasoned veterans of the line with all the battle scars to prove it. They have fantastic stories to tell (some of them might even be true). The pirate is crusty, seemingly uncaring about anyone who doesn’t tie on an apron, impatient with others, and always ready to walk out if things start to go sideways. On the other hand – these are the battle veterans who can pull you out of a jam when the team would otherwise crash and burn. They probably won’t stay with you very long, but they will make their mark while they are with you. They have likely worked at nearly every busy restaurant in the area and are known to all.

  1. MYSTERIOUS UNKNOWNS

Most cooks are pretty transparent – they tell you more than you really want to know about their past, present, and future; who they like and why, and who is not on their Christmas Card list. The mysterious unknown is different. They are quiet and reserved, no one in the restaurant seems to have a clue about them and as a result there is no shortage of illicit theories of shady pasts, possible criminal records, and worries about when they might snap. Ironically, they are usually there when they need to be, prepped and ready, and consistent in their work – so, we gladly hire them (whomever they might really be).

  1. CULINARY CAREERISTS

Usually, a recent graduate or a current school intern with starched white uniforms, polished shoes, and perfectly sharpened knives. They want to do the right thing and are quick to tell more seasoned cooks how to “do the work properly.” What they know is untested, and speed is typically not their forte. They have lots of books, know all the hot chefs, have a well thought out career path, and want to be the star. Typically, the more seasoned staff will find ways to temper their unbridled enthusiasm, prod them when they get behind, and even try to get them to stumble and become humble. They mean well, they just don’t know any better. They will learn from their mistakes and unless they lose that enthusiasm along the way – will probably reach the position of chef some day (it just doesn’t seem like that is possible right now).

  1. DEPENDABLE LONERS

Always at work on time and ready to go, always properly prepped, and always on top of presentations – the dependable loner is an important part of every team. When another cook calls out sick – the chef knows that he or she can call in the loner to cover a shift. They do not socialize with the rest of the group, they rarely engage in conversation, they never have a joke to share – but they do their work, and do it well. Who knows what ghosts are in their closet.

  1. ANNOYING PERFECTIONISTS

Obsessive/compulsive cooks seem to find their way into every kitchen where I have worked. They are usually great cooks, and very dependable. Their base of knowledge is typically better than most, and their execution is flawless. Their methods evolve around very structured approaches to the work, an exactness that they try and impose on others, and obsessive behavior that works in strange ways. Their mise en place is precise and they will correct everyone else’s if given the chance. When they see something out of place they can become distraught and even unraveled.   If that towel isn’t folded just so, the knife placed in the right location each time, the handles on pans pointed in a particular direction, or plates assembled precisely each time – they can become abusive to others or at least to themselves. They are a strange lot, but in some respects – the standard bearer for others.

  1. THE CHEF’S PET

Occasionally, “yes chef” goes beyond a simple communication that everyone understands, and a sign of respect for the position – sometimes “yes chef” comes from that individual always seeking extra attention from the chef and being needy for recognition. Cooks deal with them, but roll their eyes.

  1. SIMPLY CONTENT TYPE “B”

The simply content are just solid cooks. They know their work, they can do much of it without even breaking a sweat, they are astute technicians, and they are always there when scheduled. Type B’s have the ability to work their shift, immediately decompress from the chaotic adrenaline rush of a busy restaurant, and forget about the job until they tie on an apron tomorrow. They have little interest in hanging around to laugh about a good service, have no interest in working an extra shift, and have little to no desire to move up the kitchen career ladder. They just want to do their job well, receive a paycheck, and go home.

  1. IN NEED OF ANGER MANAGEMENT

You know them – every restaurant has at least one. The cook in need of anger management walks into the kitchen with a black cloud above his or her head. Their eyes are steely and cutting, the frowns are pronounced, and the aura around them says: “don’t mess with me today.” After a while other cooks, and even chefs tend to just avoid them and hope that they can get through another shift without an incident. The black cloud cook can grate at the chemistry that holds a team together and create negative work environments for others. Even if they are very good at their job – this type of cook may need to go for the good of the team.

  1. EVERYBODY’S CHEERLEADER

Then there is the person who tries to be the sunshine in everyone’s day (sometimes successfully). The cheerleader enters the kitchen with a smile and a good word, looks for every opportunity to give a high five or a fist bump, complements others for quality work, and gets excited when the team tops another record for covers served, or check averages beat. When things get tough, the team looks to the cheerleader for a little encouragement.

  1. DEEPLY PARANOID

The conspiracy theorists are alive and well. Whatever the reason is for a change, they are uncomfortable with the methods used and leery of anyone who makes a decision. When someone pays them a complement, their reaction is: “why are you complementing me?” They are always looking over their shoulder for someone to find fault or something to go wrong. They look at every successful night as one more where they didn’t face disaster.

Ironically, this is what I have always enjoyed the most about working in kitchens. The chance to work with, and find common ground with all of this diversity is fun and invigorating. On the surface it may appear that synergy is impossible, yet with common goals and a chef who understands the complexity – chaos can turn into harmony.

What kind of cook are you?

**By the way, if you are one of those cooks enrolled in a culinary program and wondering what course will be of greatest benefit to your career – try psychology and sociology.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

WHAT RESTAURANT OWNERS GET WRONG

me at dinner

I have the privilege of working with many different restaurants and food businesses. Some are very successful, while others are hanging by a thread. Some are owned by individuals who have the knowledge and the wisdom of seasoned business people, while others struggle to find a path to survival. Some have their feet planted firmly on the ground with a system that is time tested and solid, while others tend to drift in and out of consciousness. In all cases they begin with the same goals: prepare and serve great products that are consistent and offered with a smile, build success on a steady flow of sales and controlled profitability, and do all of this with pride. So why does it sometimes go wrong?

The following provides some “food for thought”, maybe even a “look in the mirror” checklist for those who are drifting away from those initial goals.

[]         THINKING THEY CAN MANAGE THROUGH OTHERS

Of course, the right approach is always to hire, train, and build up your employees until they can take on more responsibility and reach some level of fulfillment for themselves, but, when an owner of a small restaurant operation begins to think that he or she can operate at the same level and reach those somewhat baseline goals without being there, is when the business begins to show signs of wear and tear.

[]         LOSING SIGHT OF DEPENDABLE HOURS OF OPERATION

One of the most important goals of any restaurant is dependability and consistency. Even the most loyal guest will start to drift away if they can’t depend on the service, the product, or the hours of operation. Before you close and shift hours of operation think completely about the potential domino effect.

[]         NOT INVESTING IN COMPETENT EMPLOYEES

Even when the owner is present – he or she must depend on the consistent interactions between customers and the restaurant’s employees. Those employees must know their job, know the product, and have a welcoming personality that helps to create loyalty. Every restaurant must constantly invest in training.

[]         PUTTING ALL OF YOUR EGGS IN THE CHEFS BASKET

I am proud to be a chef and always will be, but a common mistake that restaurateurs make is to turn over the concept and the reputation of their business to that great chef that was just hired. Unless that chef is a partner there is a high probability that he or she will leave at some point and take the restaurants positive reputation along for the ride. Make sure that owners retain ample ownership of the concept, standardize as much as possible, and constantly train a strong bench of people who can step up to the plate if the chef departs.

[]         FAILING TO ASK THE CUSTOMER

We should never underestimate the importance of customer perceptions, expectations, and new ideas. Engage them and they will become your ambassadors. Ignore them and they will find someone else to pay attention.

[]         CONFUSING LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT

You might and should train your staff to move into stronger management roles – this will keep them interested in remaining a part of your organization, but they should never take the place of your vision and inspiration as a leader. You can delegate management responsibilities, but it is rare to find a successful owner who delegates leadership.

[]         NOT SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY

When business is strong the tendency is to spend, to raise wages, remodel, buy that new piece of equipment, or add staff. The problem is that at some point business will soften, the economy may go south, inflation will settle in and impact on the customers ability to spend, or unforeseen repairs will come out of nowhere. The best restaurants keep tightening their belt until there are ample contingency funds that serve as a cushion for hard times. Far too often restaurants are swallowed up because they are cash flow poor.

[]         PAYING TOO MUCH FOR RENT

Use this simple rule: the cost of rent for your restaurant should not exceed 6% of your annual projected sales. When rent is too high then something will suffer: raising prices to the consumer driving them away, cutting necessary staff, lowering the quality of ingredients or cutting portion sizes, minimizing your contribution to marketing, or ignoring those equipment repairs that will eventually haunt you.

[]         NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE EXPERIENCE

As a full-time leader who is always present in the operation – your two primary goals are to set and enforce standards of excellence, and invest time in ensuring that the guest experience is comprehensive (product quality, ambience, service, value).

[]         GIVING THINGS AWAY

Restaurants always seem to be the first target for charities and fundraisers. Too many assume that restaurants are flush with profit when just the opposite is true. Restaurateurs are notoriously generous, sometimes to a fault. Don’t get caught in the trap of giving away the store. Budget cautiously for donations and stick to the budget. It is OK to say: “I’m sorry but we have already donated all that we can for this year – please feel free to contact us earlier next year.”

[]         NOT FOLLOWING THE UNIFORM SYSTEM OF RESTAURANT ACCOUNTING

Restaurateurs and chefs are not always the best bookkeepers. If you can’t find the funds for a full-time bookkeeper, then align with a CPA who can handle your deposits, taxes, payroll, accounts payable, and analytical data such as a P and L, balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow report. Many, many small restaurants fall victim to failure to pay sales tax, Department of Labor audits on payroll, or overdrawn accounts due to poor money management.

[]         NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE COMPETITION

No restaurant is an island. Every operation that serves prepared food is your competition. If customers are grabbing a pre-made sandwich at Starbucks, they are not making a reservation at your place. Watch what your competition is doing, analyze it, use their operation as part of a benchmark study, try their product and service and use it to see where you can improve, etc. Owners need to know exactly what is going on around them.

[]         BECOMING TOO COMFORTABLE WITH THE STATUS QUO

“It has worked for years, why would I ever change?” If this sounds familiar, just look around you at any other industry or type of business to find a clue as to why change is inevitable. How many storefront retail shops suddenly close their door because they ignored the convenience of on-line shopping? How many taxi companies turned their nose up to Uber until it was a company that had changed this industry forever? How many hotels never gave AirBnB a second thought, until it was too late? You get the picture.

[]         FAILURE TO COMMUNICATION USING TODAY’S MEDIUMS

Communication still ranks the biggest problem within organizations regardless of their size. Communication with customers and with employees is an essential part of leadership and management. You MUST become savvy at using social media, effective websites, YouTube, email blasts, and public forums to get everyone apprised of your intentions, challenges, and opportunities.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Becoming Successful is the FIRST STEP – Staying Successful is HARD WORK.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

A COOK’S NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS

me

Yep – another year, another moment in time to reflect on where you are and where you might be going. To many people a resolution is a futile attempt at changing poor behavior, lost opportunity, broken promises, and failed attempts at positive change. Making a resolution is often a noble attempt at making corrections, while knowing that there is little chance that you will actually follow through.

The three most perplexing statements in life are: could have, should have – didn’t. Most of us can relate to this assessment of a previous year, an assessment that is depressing and self-limiting when we expect that it might be the norm – just the way it is. What is even worse is when we relegate the responsibility for inaction to others: “I didn’t do that because so and so – held me back, placed limitations on me, didn’t support me, or got in my way, etc. More often than not, the responsibility for inaction is ours alone.

“We don’t grow when we stay inside our comfort zone.”

-Unknown

So, if you choose to set a path for the future, knowing that you are in control – then here are some thoughts:

[]         TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY CAREER

Have a goal, determine what will be needed to achieve that goal, set a course, and work the plan. So, if you know you don’t want to be a line cook all your life and have a desire to be a chef of a property some day: talk with other successful chefs and ask what it takes to get to that point. Should you build your skills by seeking out cooking positions working with certain chefs or restaurants? If this is the case – then send out your resume and ask for an interview. Should you develop your background in some type of culinary program? Then apply to a school and sign up for any scholarships available. Should you enroll in an apprenticeship program? Then do it – you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. If you really want to reach the goal – then you can. So much of success is attitude and commitment to stay the course. Take the leap!

“If it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you.”

-Unknown

[]         WORK ON MY PHYSICAL HEALTH

This is probably one of the most frequently defined resolution and one of the first ones to fall by the wayside. Make this goal realistic if it is to stick. Try a one-mile walk every day as a start. Sign up for “myfitnesspal.com” (it’s free) and start tracking your calories towards a weight loss goal. Ride a bike to work, cut back on the after work drinks, take the stairs instead of an elevator, start with 10 sit-ups each morning and add two more at the end of each week. Do something that allows you to have a goal and reach a goal. Small steps work.

[]         WORK ON MY MENTAL HEALTH

Try not to bottle things up inside. Life is stressful – so is working in a kitchen. To some – the kitchen is a safe haven, a place to escape to, an environment where everyone is accepted and where you can push aside all of life’s challenges and focus on the task at hand. When work is over then all of those life challenges rear up their ugly head and they can be overwhelming. Some are able to cope, while others hit a wall. Some of those challenges are ones that can be rectified by seeking physical assistance or identifying a new source of funding, while others are far deeper and more difficult to address by yourself. Share your issues with a family member, friend, welcoming ear of a coworker, or in some cases – professional help. This is a serious societal problem, but one that there are solutions for. Don’t try to deal with it on your own.

[]         ADD A SKILL – SHARE A SKILL

If you fail to commit to improving then you relegate yourself to a stalled career. Adding a skill can be invigorating as well as career enhancing. Align with a coworker who is accomplished with a particular skill and commit to learn, attend a workshop, read a book, watch a YouTube video, stage’ with an expert, and then practice until you get it down. The pride associated with mastering a skill should never be downplayed. Do it for yourself.

[]         LEAVE MEDIOCRITY BEHIND

Take the pledge: “I promise, from this day forward, to strive for excellence in all that I do. To treat the smallest task as if it were the most important, and treat the largest task as if the details were just as important as the volume of work. Excellence is a habit – not a goal.

[]         FOCUS ON TEAM

Life is a team sport and life in the kitchen is an ultimate team sport. Spend more time developing the attributes of team: listening, respecting each others strengths, and helping every member with their weaknesses, jumping in when and wherever needed, offering critique without being critical, applauding others when they exceed expectations, and patting them on the back when they fail – this is what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself, this is what it means to be part of a kitchen team.   Invest the time in this process and it will pay back in benefits.

[]         FIND SOME BALANCE

Commit in the New Year to finding ways to balance your kitchen life with a daily routine that takes into account your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Commit to finding that balance point of spending time with friends and family, clearing your head, exercising, taking part in a hobby, reading, listening to music – something that gives you a chance to take a deep breath, push aside the challenges of the job, and feel good about yourself.

[]         DON’T SETTLE

If you wake up in the morning, look in a mirror and think: “what am I doing”; if you walk through those kitchen doors and feel the drudgery of the “same old, same old”; or if you find little excitement in what you are doing or how you are doing it – then make a change. You know what you are capable of, even if others may not – never feel as if “this is it” and relinquish control of your destiny. You have the ability to step out of your current situation and move to something that inspires, aligns with your capabilities, challenges you, and brings that excitement that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning. Even if it means moving on from the food business – DON’T SETTLE!

[]         SIGN MY WORK

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Everything that you do carries your signature and is a reflection on your personal brand. No matter how small or large the task – do it as if it were the sole determination of your professional reputation. Peeling onions – make them perfect and do it fast – this is your signature. Filleting fish – do so with care and speed, paying due respect to the fish. Make sure that you work at being the best fish butcher around – this is your signature. Plating up orders on the line – do so as an artist would while presenting a painting – this is your signature. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

[]         STAY PROFESSIONAL / BE THE EXAMPLE

Stay above the fray – don’t succumb to the pettiness that sometimes takes place in the workforce. Don’t criticize others behind their back, don’t allow your work habits to stray from being exceptional, never demean others, always be on time, make sure that you look the part of a professional cook and earn the respect of others in the process. Be the example for others to follow.

[]         STAY TRUE TO THOSE STAKES IN THE GROUND

If there are parts of being a cook and a caretaker of Nature’s ingredients that are important to you, then don’t set them aside when it is convenient or inconvenient. If they are important then they are part of your character – this is how you want to be perceived and how you are perceived. Stay true.

[]         LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO BE NEGATIVE

It may seem easy to drift from viewing your cup as half full and begin to look at life as if it were more difficult than it is. Remember it takes far more facial muscles to frown than it does to smile. In the big scheme of things it is always much more gratifying to find the positive in a situation than to relegate your attitude to being negative.

[]         CHECK THESE RESOLUTIONS EVERY DAY

“Is what I’m doing right now bringing me any closer to achieving my goals.”

Happy New Year!

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON

IMG_3193

There are aspects of the restaurant business that have always made me feel whole. The opportunity to hone ones craft, to create something tangible with your hands, to have the privilege of working with Nature’s ingredients and pay respect to the farmer’s work, to bring out flavors and paint a cook’s art on the plate, the satisfaction of working with a team in what are sometimes impossible situations, and to make people smile as a result of your work – these are priceless benefits of investing in a food career. On the other hand, there are certainly aspects of the business that are less inspiring, oftentimes frustrating, and to some degree – just not right.

This is not an article focused on complaining – in fact, just the contrary. This is a moment in time when we should collectively think about turning back the clocks to a time when everyone paid respect to the meaning of the holidays. This negative associated with the restaurant business is not driven by the industry or the owners of restaurants, but rather by a shift in society over the past few decades – a shift with much more lost than gained.

Over the next week or so, from coast to coast, restaurants will be gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year. To a large degree, this has always been the case, and as such an important part of being in the business of food. We help people celebrate, we feed them when they are shopping for others, we give to those who have very little, we offer a place for groups – small and large to pay tribute to their employees and their clients, and at the same time we feed the bank accounts of owners who desperately depend on holiday traffic to make ends meet. This is an opportunity for restaurant employees to celebrate success and help guests enjoy this festive time of year.

What has become distressing over the past few decades is the shift from holiday celebration to holiday isolation for those who work in the restaurant business. As busy as this time of the year has always been, we now see actual days of giving thanks, days when families need and want to be together, and days when many yearn to pay respect in a more spiritual manner – become some of the busiest days of the year for restaurants.

There was a time, just a generation ago, when Christmas, Hanukkah, Las Posada, Kwanzaa, or Winter Solstice, were sacred days for families to spend time together, to collaborate on meals in home kitchens, to bring out treasured family recipes again, to exchange thoughtful gifts, and to break bread and clink glasses in support of family, while offering true thanks for the passing year and the one to come. More and more it seems that the thing that families make for dinner on these days is a reservation.

It is fortunate that restaurants are here to accommodate this shift, but what have we lost in the process? We have lost that opportunity to crowd around the family stove and laugh about memories, share those generational recipes, invest that sense of caring into every dish, hug each other and occasionally shed a tear, and be truly thankful for what we have and where we are. Employees have given up an opportunity to share this with their families (maybe their family holiday will be celebrated at another time) and we have shifted the meaning of these holidays to a business decision. Restaurants cannot afford to not open on these special days – the loss of business and reputation would be too great. So, we put on a smile and welcome families to enjoy the fruits of our labor while putting aside our own family traditions. This is a societal systemic issue, not one that lies solely on the shoulders of restaurateurs. Isn’t it time to talk about turning the clock back?

IMG_0695

A return to cooking at home for the holidays is a tradition that makes sense.   Returning to a time that reflects the history of families, and the true meanings of the special holidays that we hold so high, is long overdue. What greater joy is there than breaking bread with family, giving thanks for our time together, and laughing with reckless abandon?

This dilemma is not exclusive to the restaurant business. We now expect retail stores to be open on many holidays – requiring employees to leave their family traditions behind so that a holiday sale can meet expectations. Public servants are on the job to protect us and provide lifesaving services if and when needed (doctors, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, utility workers, and road workers), leaving their families behind in the process. While many of these individuals work for legitimate reasons, there are many who are behind the range, behind the counter, at the cash register, and waiting on tables as a convenience to some, rather than out of real need.

I always think about those people who work so that we can rest easy and enjoy our own lives on days when family should come first. So, at the very least – I give thanks this holiday season to chefs, cooks, servers, bartenders, dishwashers, delivery persons, cashiers, stock clerks, police officers, road workers, doctors, nurses, military, taxi drivers, firefighters, and thousands of other public servants who give up time with their families during this season to maintain the lifestyle of others.

If you see any of these individuals over the next week in particular – stop and say thanks – they give up a lot for us.

Food for thought

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Las Posada, Happy Kwanzaa, and Praise to the Winter Solstice.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Make a Difference in the World

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

%d bloggers like this: