Is it part of a person’s DNA? Is it a result of the environment where a person grows up? Is it due to unique social interactions or inspiration from role models? What is it that sets the stage for a person to select a career and to be truly passionate about that choice? Specifically, how does a person choose to become a cook and possibly a chef?
There are few who, at an early age, make the choice of cooking. When that second grade teacher asks the class to pick a future career, cook is not likely to trump firefighter, policeman, circus performer, carpenter, doctor, or baseball player. But, at some point, many do choose cooking as a career, or maybe, the career chooses them.
There are certainly countless examples of professional cooks and chefs who simply stumbled on to the career out of necessity. They needed a job early on in life and found ample opportunities to work in a kitchen. Dishwasher, prep cook, breakfast cook, and then the stepping-stones to line cook and chef were there and they grabbed on. Once you catch the cooking fever, it is hard to shake it. Once you see that you “fit in”, then there is no turning back. Cooking has sunk it’s hook into you and refuses to let go.
I thought that it might be valuable to outline the profile of a good line cook. I truly believe that this profile is far more important than a stale job description and even though the profile points to many generalities that may not apply to every cook, it is a great tool to use when assessing whether or not a job applicant is “right” for the job, or even as a self-assessment tool to help determine if you have made the right decision to cook.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD LINE COOK:
- Most good line cooks are rebels at heart, but individuals who still need structure to be able to play in the sandbox with others. They tend to actually crave the structure of the kitchen, even though it might not reflect their persona outside of work.
- Good line cooks are somewhat insecure but are able to mask this with a false sense of confidence.
- Good line cooks exhibit a bit of swagger because it is essential for survival in an environment that takes no prisoners. This swagger is only detrimental if the cook doesn’t have the chops to back it up.
- Good cooks are excellent multitaskers. Don’t even think about cooking professionally unless you can manage a half dozen projects, or more, at the same time.
- Good line cooks are quick thinkers and great problem solvers. This comes with time, but efficient lines depend on this ability.
- Good cooks may have some swagger, but they are dedicated team players at the same time. The rest of the line will eat a cook up if he or she doesn’t think about the team first. Good line cooks have an innate need to be part of something bigger than themselves. From my experience, many line cooks were not likely to be first chosen on pick-up baseball, football, or basketball games when they were younger. The kitchen gives them a real chance to belong and contribute.
- Good line cooks are frustrated artists with a need to express their creativity.
- Good line cooks are usually on edge. This edginess allows them to respond quickly to bumps in the road. The double espressos throughout their shift might help a bit.
- Good line cooks are resilient. They take disappointment hard and feel the weight of any failure on the job, but can rise to the occasion and move forward (with a bit of encouragement from the chef – sometimes loud encouragement).
- Good line cooks are very sensitive and work hard to hide their emotions while the POS continues to click off another handful of orders. These cooks have a real need to please (probably something that a psychiatrist would have a field day with).
- Good line cooks have a mentor that they would follow into the fire, or they are still searching for that person. They crave direction, advice and support and thus will often attach this need to the chef they work for.
- Good line cooks are inquisitive and anxious to learn new skills, given the opportunity. They may not seek out these opportunities, but the need still exists. Chefs need to pay attention to this and feed their desire to learn.
- Good line cooks are dependable soldiers. They would not think of “no show-no call”. If your line cooks are constantly late or call out sick on a regular basis then, rest assured, they don’t have the right stuff.
- Good line cooks tend to be extroverts at work, but introverts outside. They can continue with the extrovert persona as long as they are around their kitchen teammates. In the presence of others, they tend to fade into a corner and lack the desire or ability to interact.
- Good cooks love food, the heat of the kitchen, the sounds of clanging pots and pans, the razor edge on their knives, the uniform and its history, the smell of onions and garlic and a slowly agitating stock, the fond in the bottom of a roasting pan, and the sweet aroma of bread coming from the oven. They love the kitchen, period.
- Good cooks understand the importance of food and good nutrition, but fail miserably at taking care of themselves in this regard. They need someone else to keep their health in order.
- Most importantly, good cooks are proud. Proud of their profession, proud of the restaurant they work for, proud of their teammates, proud of the work that they do and very proud of their position in the kitchen.
Now, not every cook is a cookie cutter version of this profile, however, if chefs were to analyze their team, I am confident that most would fit the majority of these characteristics. How this happens, why people choose this direction in life, what impact chefs have on molding these individuals is unclear. Are cooks, individuals who made an active choice to avoid becoming a firefighter, doctor, lawyer, banker, or professional ball player, or did life’s circumstances leave them with no other choice. Hmmm.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
COMING SOON: “THE EVENT THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING”
A NOVEL BY: Paul Sorgule
Available late 2014 or early 2015