I was giving thought the other day to how I might describe the qualities of a serious cook or chef and how this description might change an outsider’s image of what makes these individuals so unique. As I wrestled with a description that gave justice to kitchen professionals I found that what cooks and chefs bring to the table is what so many employers and investors are looking for – even outside the business of food. My bias is probably at play, to some degree, yet those who are in the business or have spent time in kitchens over the years, would likely agree with my attempt at profiling those who take their kitchen jobs so seriously.
Some of this description is skill based, while much more falls under the heading of attitude and focus. I would encourage anyone who reads this to take the liberty of adding anything that I may have left out. To those who “fit the mold” I would suggest that you hang on to this and use it as a guide to reworking your resume. Break away from the traditional and present yourself through the lens of what truly makes you unique.
A serious cook or chef is:
 A THINKER: Cooks and chefs are faced with analyzing situations and making decisions constantly. As much as the job of cooking is physical, it is just as mental. Determining timing, prioritizing steps, adapting to variables in the flavor profile of ingredients, trouble shooting staffing issues, and solving equipment issues requires sharp minds as well as accomplished hands.
 INTELLIGENT: “Intelligence has been defined in many different ways including one’s capacity for logic, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, learning, emotional knowledge, memory, planning, creativity and problem solving.”
Cooks possess an innate intelligence demonstrated through their ability to sift through various situations and factors that lead to rapid-fire decisions. As stated in the description above, cooks and chefs are consummate planners, masterful problem-solvers, highly creative artists, great students of food, and in possession of fine-tuned memories that allow them to keep multiple tasks and procedures close to their chest.
 INQUISITIVE – WILLING TO QUESTION: Serious cooks and chefs are constantly looking for the answer to “why”. It is this quest for answers that makes a cook better at his or her craft, and a chef able to meet the demands of the job.
 A DREAMER: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Although it is usually advisable for cooks and chefs to prepare food that customers are comfortable with, it is the culinary professional who pushes the envelope and introduces food that we will learn to love and become excited about. This is what continues to allow restaurants to grow and remain significant.
 COMPETITIVE: Great cooks are inherently competitive. Sometimes they focus on competition with other restaurants, other chefs, or even their peers, but the most successful cooks and chefs are first and foremost, in competition with themselves. “How can I improve? How can a dish that is well supported by guests become even better?”
Great cooks and chefs are never satisfied with how well they are performing today. They are always seeking to stay relevant and improve.
 A PERSON WITH UNQUESTIONABLE WORK ETHIC: To define a cook or chef as “serious” is to always look to their commitment to the work. Great work ethic is second nature to great cooks. We might complain about the long hours and intensity of the work, but underneath we know that anything less is not enough. Total commitment to doing what is necessary is the essence of professional cooking.
 GOAL DRIVEN: If the ultimate form of business assessment is results, then cooks and chefs should be the poster child. Some goals are small, while others might determine the longevity of a restaurant as a business, but to a cook they are all the same. A goal is a goal and it is their job to meet or exceed expectations.
 CREATIVE: Having addressed this many times – I only need to briefly reiterate that cooks are the consummate artists. Appealing to every human sense in a way that brings enjoyment is an every day job for kitchen professionals.
 DEPENDABLE: Quite frankly – no other part of a cooks profile is more important that his or her desire and total commitment to trust. To be a great cook or chef is to be dependable without exception. Trust that they are present and ready when needed, trust that quality will never be sacrificed, and trust that the best interests of the team and the operation are of paramount importance to each and every cook who carries the label of “serious”.
 ANTAGONISTIC: “He that struggles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.”
– Edmund Burke-
The best cooks push others, critique others (while offering solutions), ensure that everyone remembers what the big picture is, and never turns his or her back on doing things right. He or she might be a thorn in other cooks sides, but they help to make everyone better at what they do.
 A REBEL WITH A CAUSE: Unlike James Dean – the cook who is often seen as rebellious, pushy, crusty, hard, confrontational, and a real pain in the ass is really a proud professional with a stake in the ground that helps to ensure that everyone remembers what they are in the kitchen to do: respect the food, work as a team, produce exceptional food, please the guest, and help the restaurant to build a brand and reach its goals.
 YOUR BEST FRIEND OR YOUR WORST ENEMY: I have never found individuals who can fit the description of “friend” better than a cook who has learned to trust me. I have never found a higher level of commitment to friendship and respect than in the kitchen but at the same time, it would be hard to find someone more intent on taking another person down than a cook who feels that another has violated this trust or commitment.
 HIGHLY ORGANIZED: Without methodical organization in a kitchen you are only left with chaos. Since mise en place is at the core of what we do and the first skill that a cook learns, it only makes sense that serious cooks find that organization is the essence of what they do.
 PROTECTIVE: All for one and one for all – cooks are protective of other cooks. This level of protection may even go beyond the walls of an individual kitchen. If you wear whites then you feel support from anyone else who wears the uniform and stands before a range.
 STREET SMART: Those who are street smart are individuals who can separate truth from a line of bull, fact from fiction, honest from dishonest, opportunity from danger, and inherently good people from those whom you should avoid. I am not sure if it is the work of the kitchen or the diversity of characters that call it home – but most serious cooks that I know are as street smart as they come. This is a skill that allows them to survive and thrive. A cook who is dedicated to the craft and street smart is more likely to become an effective chef/leader than one who lacks this breadth of experience.
 IN TOUCH WITH THE FIVE SENSES: Of course, unlike the vast majority of people, cooks are tactile artists who understand how to incorporate taste, touch, sight, smell, and sounds into the experience of eating food and dining in restaurants. Cooks are the complete artist package.
 TOUGH BUT TENDER: Crusty and tough as nails, serious cooks are tender underneath. They are emotional bandits who feel deeply, care wholeheartedly, and give more than they take.
 A FANTASTIC STORYTELLER: Chefs, in particular, use their story making skills in numerous ways. Most significantly, a restaurant menu is a compendium of stories that depict a chef’s career and the impact that food and specific dishes have had on his or her life. Sometimes this is made obvious through a theme or stated philosophy, but even when this is not the case, the menu will reflect a chef’s comfort level with certain preparations and the stories behind them.
In a more obvious way, cooks and chefs accumulate stories of the kitchen (the good, the bad, and the ugly) over a period of years, and are always willing to share them with others. The longer that a cook spends in professional kitchens, the better he or she becomes at telling, and sometimes exaggerating these stories. It is these stories that serve to attract others to careers in the kitchen and fascinate those who dream about what it must be like to cook for a living.
 PROUD AS HELL: Above all else – cooks are proud of what they do, what they are capable of, the people with whom they work, and the impact that they have on others. It is the chef’s greatest pleasure to point this out, shake hands with his or her team, hug those who give it all every day, and celebrate this pride every day with some of the best, most talented people anyone could know.
**This type of person is valuable, appreciated, respected, and on the road to success. BE THIS KIND OF COOK and watch how many doors open and how many opportunities come your way.
Plan Better – Train Harder
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting & Training
If you are interested in stories of the kitchen, learning of the challenges associated with operating restaurants, focused on issues related to the integrity of our food supply, and enjoy learning more about a cook’s life – then order your copy of Paul Sorgule’s latest novel: The Event That Changed Everything”. Click on the amazon link below to order your copy TODAY!