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Painted in Waterlogue


It was quite a few years ago that I walked down the hall of an office building in Buffalo, New York and stopped to read a faded poster with dog eared corners that seemed out of place on a wall without any other adornment. The poster was simple, yet remarkable because it has stayed with me for more than thirty years – it asked: “Would you be willing to sign your work?” I thought about the significance of that statement that established a challenge to everyone who worked in that building – would they be willing to put themselves out there and say: “I did this work”.

Think about the simple significance of this statement and the impact that it could have on anyone responsible for completing a task. Would any person perform at a higher level if they knew two things?

  • That what they did was important in the big scheme of things, that others cared about the quality of their work, and that everyone would know who completed the task.
  • That a signature meant this was the best that they could do and as a result they were willing to let everyone know that.

As soon as a young person signs their work and finds it posted on a wall for others to see, then pride becomes paramount. Are you proud of your work? Would you be willing to sign it and put yourself on the line by saying – this is the best that I can do?

More often than not, kitchens allow us to hide behind the swinging doors and remain anonymous. Unless you are the chef or owner whose name appears on the menu, this remains so for everyone except the server who is charged with the task of delivering the food and facing the guest. How would things change if everyone knew who made the dish? What if every cook was required to place his or her business card on a plate stating their responsibility and how every guest could get in touch if they were or were not happy with the work? Now I am not suggesting that this become policy, however, the act of ownership does play a major role in how much attention a person pays to the work he or she does.

The work that a cook does is representative of the house and the chef, but more importantly it is, or should be, representative of his or her personal brand. This goes for the individual who peels vegetables in prep, makes the stock for soups and sauces, as well as the one who finishes and plates a dish for the pass. If the chef holds individual cooks responsible for their work, lets them know how important their work is to the success of the restaurant, and recognizes each person as the owner of that task, then it would be fair to assume that cooks would step up their game.


Just as was the case when we were little tikes, we all want to post our work on the refrigerator door for others to see and marvel at, this need for approval of what we do never really goes away. Is your work worthy of posting for others to see? Cooks may not receive the traditional comments from admirers, but they do receive feedback that is far more meaningful. If a cook performs, as he or she should, then the guest rewards the preparer with a clean plate and a return on another night. This is the single act that sets the stage for restaurant success, the single act that falls in the hands of each and every cook and server.

It is also important to note that success goes beyond the line cook who may expertly finish and plate a dish. Signing your work involves the prep cook for his or her role, the purchasing agent and vendor who arrange for the right raw materials, the dishwasher who ensures that every plate is prepared like a canvas for the artist, and a knowledgeable and enthusiastic server who sets the stage for the customer experience. The plate represents the work of many, the commitment of everyone, and the willingness of every player to “sign their work”. It is the role of the chef and the manager to play to this importance, train to excellence with all tasks, and recognize each person for the role they play and the work they do, and design a system to ensure that everyone shares in the commitment.

I have always promoted the practice of letting the staff and the guest know who the members of the team are. Placing the names and positions of each person in your kitchen on the menu creates an environment of recognition and the positive pressure that signing your work brings. Let everyone know that what they experience results from each individual performing at a level that warrants this recognition. It also clearly states that if the end product and experience does not meet or exceed expectations, that it is the group that must be held responsible. All for one and one for all.

Whether the cook wants to or not, each plate that leaves the kitchen carries his or her signature. The work is a reflection of a commitment to excellence and the understanding of and appreciation for the role that each individual plays in the process.

“Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence.”

Author unknown


Harvest America Ventures, LLC


Restaurant & Culinary School Consulting and Training