At the core of every person is a foundation of beliefs. Some of those beliefs are based on facts and experience while others are somewhat hollow beliefs that are loosely based on perceptions rather than a deeper understanding. Perceptions left unanswered can become beliefs that are quite rigid and hard to change. So – what perceptions and beliefs do many line cooks have?
 NO PAIN, NO GAIN (PERCEPTION)
The culture of a kitchen seems to support the perception that if a line cook does not wear the badge of honor in the form of cuts, bruises, burns, swollen feet, or strained back, then he or she is somehow not ready for prime time. As much as this may be part of the reality of working in a kitchen some of the pain associated with a cook’s work can be prevented by using a reasonable amount of caution and protection that must be drilled into a person’s consciousness.
 BRING IT ON (BELIEF)
Once a cook is comfortable that his or her mise en place is spot on then the feeling is that he or she can handle anything. That feeling of comfort and confidence comes from experience and the knowledge that success is in a cook’s own hands and mental state.
 COFFEE WORKS (PERCEPTION)
Many cook’s use coffee or other caffeine laced drinks as fuel to keep their engine running at 10,000 rpms. There is a feeling that if focus and energy are at a low point then caffeine can be the savior. One of the problems with this perception is that with caffeine – what goes up must come down. The crash after too much caffeine is a price to pay.
 40 HOURS PER WEEK IS A PART TIME JOB (BELIEF)
Cook’s have been conditioned over time to feel as if they are part of a unique club that disregards what other industries have determined to be a full workweek. Cooks tend to shun those who have jobs that only require the 40-hour commitment. While it is true that most kitchen positions require that extra effort it is also true that productivity drops off pretty quickly once you get much past that 40-hour mark.
 MY STATION IS MY STATION – DON’T MESS WITH MY MISE (BELIEF)
The line station to a cook is no different than the cockpit of a plane or racecar. Once a cook has everything in the location that works for him or her (down to how side towels are folded, the direction of handles on ladles, and the location of pans and tongs), the execution of cooking is a process that happens with exactness. If someone interrupts that symmetry then things start to fall apart. This is 100% true and falls under the heading of “critical rule”.
 100 COVERS IS JUST GETTING STARTED (BELIEF)
There is a fair amount of machismo in a kitchen that will probably always be there. This feeling of strength and power comes from a high level of comfort with a cook’s own ability and the confidence that comes from solid mise en place. Sometimes it is felt that this façade is important even at times when a system starts to crumble. There should always be a bit of trepidation and caution when approaching service knowing that the unexpected is always looming around the corner.
 I COULD DO THE CHEF’S JOB BETTER (PERCEPTION)
Through the eyes of some line cooks the chef’s job seems less stressful, especially when younger cooks know that even though the chef might step on the line now and again, he or she will not likely be as fast or efficient as the person who holds that position every day. In reality, many cooks have little idea of the scope of a chef’s job until they find themselves in that role later in their career. The weight and breadth of responsibility is different even though the work of the line cook carries some of the same feelings.
 FIRE IS MY FRIEND (BELIEF)
Cooks love fire. Cooks relish the heat and claim to not only endure it but thrive in the environment that is hot enough to cook a man. Fire is what changes the farmer’s ingredients into that special dish that carries a cook’s signature. Fire induces the Maillard reaction that through caramelization brings out those wonderful flavors that are under the control of every cook. Fire is beautiful and dangerous at the same time and a cook is often times caught up in the power associated with being able to direct fire to positive results.
 I CAN PULL MYSELF OUT OF THE WEEDS (PERCEPTION)
Things happen that are sometimes beyond a cook’s control, other times those things are a result of a cook’s lack of preparation and planning. When it starts to fall apart we often refer to that moment as a cook being “in the weeds”. Especially when a cook knows that the situation is a result of their lack of preparation the inclination is to try and tough it out, rely on skill and experience, and pull through the situation alone so that others do not think less of him or her. The perception that a cook can resolve these situations independently is more often than not – erroneous.
 ASKING FOR HELP IS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS (PERCEPTION)
Tying in with the previous perception – line cooks in the weeds seem to feel that asking for help is somehow a sign of weakness or inability to be a problem solver. When this perception exists the problem will typically get worse resulting in failure on a larger scale, the whole line going down, and unhappy restaurant guests. Asking for help when needed is always the smart approach followed by an assessment of why things went wrong and a strategy for future solutions.
 I CAN HAVE A FEW MORE DRINKS AND STILL BE SHARP TOMORROW (PERCEPTION)
Ahhh… the after hours shift drink that is continued at a local watering hole. Cooks need to unwind after the adrenaline rush of a busy night on the line. This is what kitchen people do. You can’t go from 90 miles an hour to a complete stop – a cook needs to ease off the accelerator and slowly apply the brakes before he or she calls it a night. Cook’s tend to relish that first drink, appreciate the second, and sometimes start to convince themselves that a few more will be just fine. Typically, those additional cocktails become self-destructive short and long term. Short-term rears up its ugly head the next day at work and long term that dependence on alcohol medication can become all too familiar. Moderation is usually the best approach.
 COOKS WORK HARDER THAN SERVERS (PERCEPTION)
I’ll go out on a limb and state that most line cooks feel that server work is less difficult and more financially rewarding than working in the kitchen. From my experience this not the case – the jobs are different with different stressors and rewards. The cook’s position is physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, but so is the position of server. Most servers would never choose to work in a kitchen and most cooks if required to do so would tremble at the prospect of actually facing a customer and their unpredictable requests and reactions. Both jobs are difficult and the reward system is different as a result.
 I AM OVERWORKED AND UNDERPAID (BELIEF)
This is a belief that is based on the reality of many careers. It is likely that most people, regardless of their job, would say that they are overworked and underpaid. The rates of pay for all restaurant employees does not match the skill set or effort, but, to a large degree it is tied to the relatively low level of profit and high rate of failure among restaurants. It is an issue, maybe the most important issue that the restaurant industry, as a whole needs to address. This “overworked and underpaid” belief among cooks is real.
This is a taste of what cook’s believe or perceive. Some are valid while others are perceptions that need to be understood and addressed by the chef in charge. Perceptions left unchecked will become beliefs that are much harder to change.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
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