Painted in Waterlogue

In recent months I have found numerous parallels in current events with the effective operation of a professional kitchen. Being competitive, innovative, focused on quality first, honest, supportive, and possessing the ability to truly listen to others are always positive traits that we not only admire but also find helpful in establishing a pattern of success. At the same time we seem to be inundated with prime examples of negative traits, such as dishonesty, mediocrity, ignorance, and in connection to this article: arrogance.

Arrogance: “An insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people.”

-Webster’s Dictionary

We find this trait very prevalent in politics, professional sports, music, and even the medical profession. In all cases, at least to me, this is a huge turn off and demonstrates that the individual involved has a warped sense of reality and more than likely, once you peel away the layers of self-importance, is probably quite insecure. The arrogance is a defense mechanism used to hide their real lack of caring and confidence in their own abilities. As distasteful as this might be in other parts of society, it is most evident to those of us who work in the food business when we witness it manifest on a daily basis in our kitchens.

Parents who yell at and demean their children are considered unfit to carry the title of mother or father. Those who hold their own needs and desires above young people who truly need their support, are considered horrible parents. It is no different in business, and in this case a kitchen operation.

I have witnessed far too many examples of young, talented, eager to learn, anxious to please interns be cut off at the knees by arrogant, self-important, demeaning chefs who seem to take pleasure in pointing out mistakes, doing so in a public forum, displaying intense anger in the process, and crushing the soul of those cooks. I have seen the same actions taken against service staff members who make mistakes just like anyone else, but will never learn from those mistakes if they constantly dread the wrath of an arrogant chef. Why do we let it go on?

“Arrogance mixed with anger mixed with adrenaline is a deadly combination. Just as deadly as adding fries and a soda and making it a combo meal.” 
― Jarod KintzThis Book is Not FOR SALE

I have written articles before about ending the yelling in kitchens, but have not, until this point, tried to get to the cause of this antiquated, inappropriate, and ineffective method of dealing with others. What the chef infers, just like those politicians, athletes, and musicians, is that he or she knows everything, is in control, is the only one who should be listened to, and anyone who fails to understand that is somehow less than worthy of respect. Chef’s sometimes require respect, but fail to understand that it must be earned and given in equal doses.

“Arrogance is a creature. It does not have senses. It has only a sharp tongue and the pointing finger.”

-Toba Beta

Now, we should not confuse arrogance with real confidence. Confidence comes from experience and a skill set that cannot be denied (this is then referred to as competence). It is hoped, and assumed that by the time an individual reaches the position of chef he or she would have the skills and experience to justify a level of self-confidence and inspire a level of trust in that confidence from those who surround the individual. The issue lies in two ways that this confidence is manifested:

  • Premature confidence without the skills, talent, and experience to warrant it.
  • Confidence that the individual feels the need to constantly brag about and hold as a point of leverage against others who aspire to grow and build their own level of confidence.

“There is a difference between conceit and confidence. Conceit is bragging about yourself. Confidence means you believe you can get the job done.”

-Johnny Unitas

The end result today is that fewer young people are seeking opportunities in kitchens – whether it is from personal experiences, stories from friends who have worked in restaurants, or watching those absurd reality shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” – the negative impact is there. What is even more disturbing is witnessing those really talented young cooks who truly want a career in the kitchen, have their spirits broken and either succumb to verbal torture or eventually leave their career of choice for something a bit more supportive.

Now some of my fellow “old school” chefs and cooks (I am one of them) might say – it goes with the turf – tough it out – show some backbone –and even quote that classic line “If you can’t stand the heat of the kitchen then get out!” Hey, I had quite a few moments in my past kitchen experience that I am no longer proud of – but now I see that there are other ways to accomplish goals without the off the wall antics of the arrogant chef. Taking a calmer approach should not be considered “pampering employees”. Confidence with competence, and a level headed approach of the guide is one that wins the hearts and mind of others, builds trust, and encourages others to go the extra mile because they want to, know that you will support them and if necessary – show them how to constantly get better.

“Confidence is going after Moby Dick in a rowboat and taking tartar sauce with you.”

Zig Ziglar

Confidence and competence are traits of leaders. The ironic part of this approach is that it inspires active followership. In Moby Dick, even though the odds were against them, sailors followed their confident leader into battle with the monster before them. For a chef to be successful in his or her job, it will be necessary to have passionate cooks, anxious to learn, and in the moment – willing to follow. The most successful chefs know and practice this daily.

Feel free to practice the following:

  • Be proud of your skills and accomplishments as a chef.
  • Let your actions speak volumes without bragging about your ability.
  • Raise your voice when necessary to get a point across, but don’t make a steady diet of it.
  • Listen to others. As much as you may know, others may also have a good idea now and again.
  • Teach and train instead of pointing fingers.
  • Realize that as a chef you are not a better person than anyone who works for or with you, you simply have different responsibilities.
  • Take a moment each day to catch your employees doing something right and let them know that this makes you happy. That is leadership.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting

*Looking for that great new read? Interested in stories about the kitchen and restaurant operations, the challenges facing our national food supply, and a life story of two cooks who made it through some rough waters? Order your copy of: “The Event That Changed Everything”. Click on the amazon link below to order a copy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


%d bloggers like this: