To many – cooking is a job, maybe a job that is rewarding in ways other than compensation, but never the less – a job. With more than 1 million free standing restaurants in the United States it is obvious that we (the restaurant business) need cooks who work for a check just as much as those who find cooking to be something more important – more fulfilling. A million restaurants means quite possibly 10-15 million cooks – this is a significant portion of the American workforce. I have a great appreciation for those cooks who show up, do their job, accept direction, consistently work at a quality level and speed that allows a kitchen to function, even if they set aside anything and everything about cooking once they punch out. We need many more individuals just like this.
However, this article is about those who seek a different motivation through cooking and those who may fit in this category but simply don’t realize it – yet. There are the artistic ones seeking an outlet for their talent, as well as those who are truly intent on building their brand and growing into positions of responsibility and the benefits derived from a role such as chef, manager, or even owner. But beyond this, there are many more than you might realize who cook for truly altruistic reasons. Cooks who practice their craft out of respect for the ingredients they use, a desire to make people happy, a chance to build something unique and gratifying, and even those who cook because it is their way of giving something of themselves to others. Some of these cooks make a great living at what they do and some continue to squeak by under the umbrella of an industry that is clearly behind the times with compensation and benefits. These are the cooks whose pay is measured in the impact that they can have on people.
The community that exists in kitchens is something that I have written about extensively. It is truly special to be part of most kitchen teams – teams that feel aligned with something special – a family of sorts. These families sometimes replace a void in individual cooks lives and other times it is a strong extension of their own biological family. In any case, the kitchen family is an organism that acts just like any other living, breathing, functioning group with strong bonds, family friction, avid opinions, strengths and weaknesses, and above all a sense of completeness when they are together.
This sense of completeness is the home for the altruistic cook and chef – a home that stands for some very importance beliefs:
- All for One and One for All
- Support Those in Need
- Agree to Disagree
- Real Caring and Sincere Sharing
- Trust and Honesty
- A Common Goal of Excellence
- Never Give Up Attitudes
When you work for an organization like this there exist ties that are difficult to break. Decisions to leave for another restaurant are always challenged by the desire to support the kitchen family. Restaurants with this type of team find much greater than average stability in staffing. Cooks value the connections that exist in a true kitchen community.
What is fascinating and heart warming is to see how these teams are willing to give beyond the parameters of their own kitchen. I was particularly touched by a recent story about “The Giving Kitchen”. A concept that I had longed for most of my career – a concept that is working and is reflective of that altruistic giving nature of those cooks who do what they do for other reasons than one might expect. I would implore you to take a few moments to watch this link to their story. If you are open, the story will give you hope and provide a sense of pride in the industry that we all hold close. It is this story that drove this article and a challenge to all who read it.
THE GIVING KITCHEN STORY:
The challenge is to occasionally set aside the realistic need that we have to work for compensation, the need to provide for ourselves and the opportunities that lie before us to use our skill and passion with food to help others. This is the Thanksgiving season – a time when most of us have enough while so many others struggle. There are many ways that we can help using food as our vehicle, here are just a few thoughts:
- Start a fund in your restaurant to help your employees that are in need, especially when it comes to areas of healthcare and the provision of life’s basics: food, shelter and clothing. Give $5 a paycheck to set up a fund and ask your employer to match it.
- Share your skills – teach a needy family in your area how to stretch their food dollar and cook nutritious, delicious food without spending more than they can afford.
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen maybe once a month. Help feed the needy and impart your knowledge of how to make some magic in the kitchen.
- Take your after shift beer ration for a week and buy a turkey for a needy family that would otherwise have a Thanksgiving without.
- Volunteer to work one morning a month at your local school kitchen to help provide a nutritious breakfast or lunch for students without that benefit at home.
- Visit a classroom and talk about respecting ingredients, how vegetables are grown, where their food comes from, and how important it is to learn how to cook as a life skill.
- When you shop for your home refrigerator – buy one extra wholesome staple and donate it to a food pantry.
There is no reason why the wealthiest, most advanced nation in the world should find members of our population who cannot find enough food to feed their family. We (restaurant folks) can make a difference. Think about how much impact each of us might have if we shifted to our altruistic side and gave back. We may feel like we don’t have enough and are not compensated adequately for the work that we do – this may be true, but in the big scheme of things we have so much more than so many. Give a little and see how much of an impact you can have.
On Thanksgiving many of my friends will be working in restaurants so that others can avoid cooking at home and bring their families to be cared for by a giving industry. Every cook, server, manager, dishwasher, and bartender is in my thoughts for their sacrifice from family on this day. The saving grace is that you get a chance to spend quality time with your second family.
A Chef’s Thoughts
“On your feet for 12 hour days, standing over a cherry red flat top range with ambient temperatures of 12o degrees, flames leaping at your hands from a charbroiler, cuts and burns from finger tips to elbows, sweat pouring down your back, the cadence of relentless orders ticking off the printer, service staff demanding attention, and yet always taking the time to paint your plate with the precision of an artist – what a life – the life of a cook.”
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training