One of the most distressing things to watch is a person sacrificing his or her integrity for the sake of a paycheck. I get it – survival is an instinct that is difficult to put aside, but when we set aside those things that we believe in then financial survival seems a bit shallow.
“Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.”
Here are a few appropriate synonyms for integrity: ethics, virtue, decency, fairness, sincerity, trustworthiness, righteousness, strong beliefs, character, etc.
When a person of strong beliefs, a person of high moral character, and a person who has long established the following of trusting co-workers and employees, sets these characteristics aside to “do the job as directed” – he or she loses the ability to feel good about his or her work and self-worth. Strong words? Yes, these are strong words, but absolutely true.
As chefs, there are many aspects to this chosen career that are defined by factors outside of the paycheck. This list is what truly attracts individuals to a life in the kitchen – these are the factors that allow each chef to choose a life that demands everything that they are able to give – these are the factors that inspire chefs to look in the mirror and feel good about what they see. I would suggest that without adherence to these factors, chefs would begin the slow process of drifting away from the career and changing their view of the commitment they originally made.
Take a look at some of these factors and reflect on how many of them are part of your integrity profile:
- A FOOD PHILOSOPHY
Staying true to your belief in how food should be handled, prepared and presented is one of the primary stakes in the ground for chefs of integrity. Never sacrificing these beliefs for the enticement of the moment is a sure sign of a chef who is true to himsef or herself.
- ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Chefs with strong character always know that the reputation of the restaurant and the team are dependent on consistent dedication to getting even the smallest detail right. Chefs of integrity will never accept an ill-placed ingredient on the plate, a thumbprint on the plate rim, a water spot on a glass, a cold plate for hot food, or improper service toward a guest. A lack of focus on the details is the first sign of a property on the decline.
- STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE
Mediocrity is never a part of a chef with integrity’s make-up. Properly handled ingredients and perfectly prepared food with the right balance of flavors, textures, and colors; a wine list that is designed to complement the food and food that is designed to complement the wine, and a service staff who are well trained and enthusiastic about the food that they present are all part of the insistence for excellence and part of who a chef is.
- A QUALITY FIRST ATTITUDE
There are times when every individual needs to listen, learn, and compromise. Quality is never part of the compromise formula with a chef of integrity.
- BEING TRUTHFUL AND TRUSTWORTHY
Chefs, who fit the mold and stature of a person of character, are truthful with their employees, employers, vendors, and guests and as such can be trusted in their dealings. A lack of trust will eventually erode a team and the relationships that a person has with all of those stakeholders in the restaurant experience.
- STAYING TRUE TO THE INGREDIENTS
Today’s chefs of integrity are closely connected to the ingredients and their source. Knowing what they are using, how it was grown or raised, how the ingredient was harvested and brought to market, and how to best handle those ingredients to ensure they are respected and their quality is maintained, is paramount to chefs with integrity.
- TAKING A STAND ON THE INTEGRITY OF THE FOOD SUPPLY
Chefs who take their role seriously are oftentimes invested in supporting and fighting for the integrity of the food supply and ensuring that what they use is good for the consumer and good for the environment.
- SUPPORT OF YOUR TEAM
Chefs with integrity know that their strength rests on the shoulders of those who work in the restaurant and as such will come to the assistance of those in need, invest in their growth, treat them fairly and fight for their rights to a better life. Without this support, the chef will be unable to provide an extraordinary customer experience.
- PROVIDING CUSTOMER VALUE
All chefs realize the importance of profit, but they also understand the difference between making a profit and earning a profit. Earning a profit requires that real value be associated with the food and the food experience. Value is not always reflected in just price, but rather how the guest feels about what they spent for the product, service, and overall experience.
- AVOID SHORTCUTS AT THE SACRIFICE OF WHAT IS RIGHT
Chefs with integrity are accomplished at their craft, are trained in the proper methods of cooking and doing business and know that there is no shortcut to quality and value if it means sacrificing on any part of the experience whether seen and felt or whether it is behind the scenes such as those connections to the source of ingredients, the way that staff are treated, or the advocacy that the chef has for issues related to food integrity.
We should always admire and try to emulate those chefs and chef/operators who stay true to their beliefs, who exhibit integrity, and if they waver from these stakes in the ground, eventually return to those attributes of integrity, those factors that define their success.
Here are some of those chefs and operators who have always been my benchmarks. Some are nationally known, while others exhibit integrity in their local or regional markets: Dan Barber, Alice Waters, Eric Ripert, Tim Hardiman, Eamon Lee, Tom Bivins, Herve Mahe, Ed Weibrecht, Thomas Keller, Walter Zuromski, Gavin Kaysen, Jose Andres, Michael Beriau, Will Beriau, George Higgins, Dan Hugelier, Danny Meyer, David Meyers, John Folse, Kevin O’Donnell, Jamie Keating, Charles Carroll, Joe Faria, Curtiss Hemm, Nancy Silverton, Daniel Boulud, and Alfred Portale.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
“Having integrity means doing the right thing in a reliable way. It’s a personality trait that we admire, since it means a person has a moral compass that doesn’t waver. It literally means having “wholeness” of character.”