THE YIN AND YANG OF BEING A CHEF

me

I have always believed assessing a significant decision that you are about to make or reviewing one that is already part of your history is best served by listing the pros and cons. If there are more positives than negatives then it is (was) likely a good decision. The greater the decision the more likely there will be a significant amount of positive and negative. One of those life-altering decisions revolves around your choice of career.

As I reflect back on my career as a chef, I pause to look at and weigh the decision that I made more than four decades ago. If you are a chef, I might encourage you to do the same and if you are contemplating jumping in the culinary career stream, this reflection might help you to put everything in perspective and make a decision that is best for you.

THE YIN AND THE YANG- THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY:

[]         IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

I could write a book about the people alone. Let me be clear – the best, most interesting, most transparent, compassionate, in your face, generous, hard working, dedicated, rough and smooth, introverted and extroverted (depending on the time of the day), dependably undependable, creative and fun people that I know – work in restaurants. This is true from the dishwasher up to the chef, from the server to the bartender, and includes many of the people who spend their time as guest – they are all the absolute best and the reason that I spent more than 40 years in the field.

[]         ONCE YOU FIND A MENTOR

When a chef or owner takes you under his or her wing, you will be connected for life. Mentorship is an age-old tradition in restaurants – chefs and owners enjoy sharing, supporting, and giving back. They are, for all intents and purposes, natural teachers and every aspiring cook – an eager student.

[]         SOME COOKS DON’T SHARE YOUR ENTHUSIASM

It would be great to say that everyone working in a kitchen is enthusiastic, dedicated, passionate, and patient enough to know that it takes time to get to the position they want, but sadly this is not the case. There is certainly a place for people who are strictly working for a paycheck, but they can bring your team down. Some chefs are able to settle these individuals into a position that requires a pair of hands, but it is a struggle. The goal would be to convert or move them on.

[]         SOME CHEFS DON’T DESERVE THE TITLE

It may seem harsh to say, but I feel that a chef who is not committed to developing people, not focused on constant improvement, not his or her own worst critic, not willing to turn a cooks mistakes into a positive learning experience, not willing to pass on what he or she knows, and not stable enough to stay professional when things go sideways should not have the opportunity to hold the key position in a kitchen. Represent the best, not the worst.

[]         EVERY MINUTE IS DIFFERENT AND EXCITING

Never a dull moment was a phrase that could have been developed for kitchens. There are always challenges, always problems to solve, always opportunities to move in a different direction, and always an opportunity to win and test a chef’s full array of skills and attributes. How many career choices can provide this level of intrigue and excitement?

[]         THERE ARE WAY TOO MANY MINUTES SPENT ON THE JOB

There is no question that chef’s and cook’s who are dedicated to their career must struggle with the insane number of hours that the job requires. For the chef, until the team is fully developed and on the same page, it may seem impossible to leave the operation. Even when the team has gelled, the desire to “be there” is always present. This is a sacrifice that chefs have dealt with for generations. Should it change? Probably. Will it change? Not likely. Does it push people away from the business? No question. Is there an answer? Probably, but it will take a culture change which is not easy.

[]         I HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY

In all honesty, I cannot remember a day spent in the kitchen when I failed to have an opportunity to learn something new. I didn’t always take those opportunities to heart, but for the times that I did – I became the chef that I am today by looking for those chances to add something or to improve on something else. The information and skills are endless.

[]         I GIVE WAY MORE THAN I RECEIVE

Some may wrestle with this and take on the attitude that they need to be compensated better for what they contribute. They are, no doubt, correct, but in the big scheme of things – those who give more than they receive are the ones who advance, are the ones who see those opportunities come there way. The opposite: “I receive more than I give” will eventually lead to the unemployment line.

[]         I RECEIVE WAY MORE THAN I GIVE

The other side is to look at the big picture beyond just compensation (not to underestimate the importance of a solid paycheck) and note what the career has provided. I can easily reflect on a network of professional contacts, the opportunity to be entrepreneurial without the capital investment, the chance to work with highly creative and passionate people, the chance to represent a proud profession, the ability to travel in many cases, and the ability to do what you love. These are priceless benefits.

[]         I HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY

Some may scoff at this positive, but I challenge anyone to say that they don’t care that a guest enjoyed their food, loved the dining experience, paused to take a picture of a chef’s creation, and stood on a soapbox and proclaimed how great a restaurant is. Making people happy is a gift in itself and every chef has this opportunity every day.

[]         SOME PEOPLE WILL NEVER BE HAPPY

OK, there is another side- the customer who will never be happy, finds joy in complaining, feels obligated to ignore talking about their disappointment until they get on social media and attack a restaurant, the ones who insist on insulting a server, sending back food that was properly cooked, and only seems happy when he or she can make others miserable. It goes with the turf, but hurts all the same. Chefs just need to learn how to accept it and move on.

[]         I AM PART OF A UNIVERSAL FAMILY

Everywhere that I travel, every restaurant that I visit, and every cook that I meet – even those who speak a different language, have a bond with me. Simply say that you are a cook, chef, server, restaurateur, or bartender and there is immediately acknowledgement of membership in the club. This connection is invigorating and rewarding. I can’t count the number of extra courses, special preparations, complementary bottles of wine, and tours of kitchens that I have enjoyed simply because I said that I too do this for a living. Welcome to the club.

[]         I HAVE BEEN AN ENTREPRENEUR WITHOUT EVER OWNING A RESTAURANT

In most cases, the owner of a restaurant understands how important the chef is to the success of an operation. Unless the opportunity is abused, this equates to the ability of every chef to put his or her signature on a menu, become the face of the operation, have the latitude to build a team around his or her philosophy, and even (when funds are available) design a kitchen to work for the chef’s concept. Every cook that I know has some level of desire to own his or her food operation. Chef’s can do this without ever signing the papers or investing the personal money.

[]         I HAVE BEEN TO MORE PLACES THAN I EVER WOULD HAVE IMAGINED

Maybe not true for everyone, but my experiences and connections with the restaurant industry have allowed me to visit more than half of the US States, and a dozen foreign countries. I have visited the kitchens of some of the finest restaurants in the world, dine at many, made a connection with renown chefs and wine makers, and am able to call on a network of hundreds of food professionals as a result of standing behind a range and taking my role seriously.

[]         I HOLD A TITLE FOR LIFE THAT MANY PEOPLE HOLD AS A DREAM

It is not ego, certainly not required, and definitely not meaningful to anyone but me, but I have always been called “chef” and even after I entered the world of “semi-retirement” find that people continue to make this reference. What I have found is that it goes beyond a sign of respect for the individual, but more importantly respect for the position. Sure is nice to be part of that club.

Yin and Yang points to many things, but in this case demonstrates that for every positive there is a negative and every negative a positive. They work together and balance each other out. If left alone there will at least be balance. If there are more positives than negatives then we relish a decision or a life, if there are more negatives than positives then we have a life or decision in disarray. To me, a life in the kitchen has been far more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.

“In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (also yinyang or yin yang, 陰陽 yīnyáng “dark—bright”) describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.”

-Wikipedia

yinyang

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting and Training

http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

 

 

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