When all is said and done, when we push aside the challenges that face us as career cooks, when you take the time to brush aside those things that can be pointed to as “negative”, there is a common bond that allows serious cooks to smile and acknowledge that this work is their destiny. Maybe that’s a big leap to refer to cooking as a person’s destiny, but the evidence is there. I had previously referred to the four basic types of cooks, but to make the distinction even simpler I could easily refer to two categories: those who are passing through and those who have found their destiny.
What I enjoy the most about working in kitchens is this environment that attracts, nurtures, develops, and feeds the soul of those individuals who are in the process of, or who have already found this to be their purpose. Feeling that “this is what I was meant to do” changes everything when it comes to a job. When a person, after giving serious consideration to all of the abnormal behavior and challenging anomalies that are attached to kitchen work, can look in a mirror and state, “I can’t imagine doing anything else”, then you know that a special connection has been made.
There are many other “callings” in life with similar rewards and challenges: doctors, nurses, law enforcement, veterinarians, the clergy, etc.; but few that can provide this same feeling of “purpose” that being a cook does. Let’s take a look at the field of individuals attracted to the kitchen and why working there can be so intoxicating (no pun intended).
WHO FINDS THEMSELVES DRAWN TO THE KITCHEN?
- LOST WITHOUT DIRECTION
Look around the kitchen and see how many wandering souls there are who found a haven of purpose in the kitchen, a sense of direction that may have been lacking otherwise. Look at your cooks and see how they stand a bit taller when that chefs coat is buttoned up, the bib apron tied in front, houndstooth pants belted with a piece of rope for a belt, and shoes with a dull polish. It is direction that all people seek in life – to many that comes from time in the kitchen.
- THOSE WHO TEND TO FIND TROUBLE AROUND EVERY CORNER
Some of the most deeply intelligent people around us find themselves in troubles way when they lack purpose and direction. The kitchen is a draw because direction is not only available – it is required. Trouble is only energy without direction.
- CREATIVE SOULS WITHOUT A CANVAS
So many cooks are inherently creative people. They might tinker with the guitar, keyboards or drums; dabble in drawing or painting; or even keep a journal of creative writing, but in the kitchen this innate talent finds a home and an audience. Every plate is a cook’s canvas.
- THOSE WHO LOVE TEAM SPORTS
There is an interesting mix of people in the kitchen who either love or hate sports, but universally crave the discipline of a team. You can certainly find a taste of former school football, basketball, baseball, and soccer players in the kitchen who miss the organization of team.
- THOSE WHO WERE THE LAST TO GET PICKED
You can also find a healthy dose of individuals who never quite made the cut on any of those teams and as a result felt left out and a bit angry over never getting “picked”. The kitchen provides a team environment for these individuals as well. The joy of team is everywhere in a professional kitchen.
- SMART AS HELL BUT LACKING A PURPOSE
Get to know a line cook and you will likely find a person with deep thoughts, well developed opinions, an understanding of the world around him or her, and a thirst to learn more. It may take time to dig under their skin and discover what’s inside, but it is there. Time on the range will make room for smart people to find a purpose.
- GLUTTONS FOR PUNISHMENT
There are always a few cooks that simply enjoy getting beat up every night on the line. The heat, the stress, the intensity, and the cuts and burns, are all part of a somewhat sadistic banquet that somehow demonstrates their strength and resilience.
- INTROVERTS WHO NEED TO FIND A NICHE
There is usually a reason why cooks tend to shy away from the dining room. As crusty and bold as they seem in front of a range, they are equally shy and nervous about interactions with those outside of the pirate alliance in the kitchen. The kitchen is a safe haven for many an introvert.
WHY WORKING IN A KITCHEN IS FILLED WITH PURPOSE AND REASON FOR MANY
- GIVING A PATH FOR CREATIVE ENERGY
The kitchen is the most creative place on earth. No other art form is so complete that it allows the consumer to eat, smell, or drink the work of the artist. Additionally, where else can an artist receive immediate feedback for what he or she produces?
- TANGIBLE, PHYSICAL WORK
Cooks, like many other people, are tactile learners and workers. They enjoy seeing and touching the fruits of their labor. The kitchen allows a cook to produce a tangible example of their talent with every plate that leaves through the swinging doors.
- REALISTIC PROBLEM SOLVING ENIVRONMENT
Those highly intelligent employees with chef’s coats and aprons crave an opportunity to face a dilemma and come up with an answer. Every cook has an opportunity to make a decision through experiential problem solving every minute while on the line.
- STRESS THAT PUSHES PEOPLE TO THE LIMIT
For those who enjoy excitement and challenges, digging themselves into a hole or on the edge of the abyss and then scrambling to find a way out, and living on that edge every day at work, then kitchen life is really attractive.
- THE ADRENALINE FIX
Talk with restaurant cooks about what they do and why they do it and at some point in the conversation the adrenaline rush will come up. Like a runner who hits that point in a race when their body’s turbo chargers kick in, a cook on the line will feel the gas pedal to the floor at some point and this energy is quite intoxicating.
- THE BUDDY SYSTEM
Knowing every day that the person on your left and the person on your right is there as part of a team, a team that has your back, and a team that shares in a common purpose – this buddy system gives a cook a true sense of purpose – to be there for others.
- EVERY DAY IS THE SAME, EVERY DAY IS DIFFERENT
Cooks find satisfaction in knowing that there is a routine that is somewhat predictable, that there is a plan that can be executed consistently, and that this plan will usually lead to success is a comforting part of purpose. On the other hand, knowing that every day can also bring a few curve balls that will make a cook adjust, problem solve, and jump into the deep end of the pool is that sprinkle of excitement and danger that keeps cooks coming back for more.
- BEING PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOU
Just like identifying with an organization whose intent is to make a difference, the restaurant does have an altruistic objective – to help guests feel good, enjoy a part of their lives during the execution of a meal, bring them together with others as they break bread, and give guests an opportunity to pay homage to a cook’s ability to respect ingredients through cooking. This is a real purpose and a noble one.
- A CRAVING FOR ORDER AND THE CHAIN OF COMMAND
Finally, cooks – who tend to typically be somewhat distant from a semblance of order and structure, still crave a need to fit into a system. This system in the kitchen that was refined by Escoffier more than 100 years ago provides a unique sense of order whose only parallel might be the military. It is this sense of order that allows the chaos in the kitchen to work and unity to rise from craziness. This is the food that fuels the passion and the purpose that cooks seem to seek.
What a strange and unique field of work. It is no wonder that those who dedicate their career to time in the kitchen find the lifestyle uniquely theirs and quite purposeful.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training