From that first moment when I held a spatula in my hand at the age of 15 and was shown how to flip a pancake and how the flick of my wrist could coax an egg to gently change sides in a pan – I knew that the kitchen was a place where I could feel comfortable. Back then it wasn’t “cool” to be a chef, it was just a job that most of the people who surrounded me thought of as a dead end, a place where a young person didn’t want to end up. Since rock musician was already out of reach for me, I resisted the negative thoughts from others and compromised at the end of high school with the road to hotel management.
Two years later, college pedigree on my resume, during my first interview for an assistant manager’s position I was quickly shown that it would be some time before I could wear the nametag of management. I was told to return to the kitchen, learn the ropes and work my way back out to the front of the house in due time. Once back in whites and apron, tongs and spatula in hand, I was committed to stay as close to the range as possible – this was where I belonged. Forty-five years later and I am proud to say that I never strayed too far from the heat, intensity, stress, and shear joy of working in the kitchen – this was my destiny and I have never looked back with regret.
So, I love the food business, and in particular – the restaurant segment. Not everyone can say this, but I can. There have been moments of doubt, but I would always suit up and return knowing that the job was important and every year I was able to get a little bit better than the year before.
Along the way there have been moments of incredible satisfaction, significant accomplishment, laughs, and beaming moments of pride while at the same time there have been those situations and realities that tear at a person’s character, tie his or her stomach in knots, and raise stress levels to the boiling point. Here are some of the many reasons why I love what I do (no regrets) and why today I find myself riddled with fits of anger and disappointment.
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF QUITE SIMPLY BECAUSE I HAVE BECOME COMPETENT
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF BECAUSE I CONTINUE TO BE INTRIGUED BY THE CHARACTER OF THOSE WHO ARE SERIOUS ABOUT THE CRAFT
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF BECAUSE I KNOW THAT I CAN HELP TO MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY, EVEN WHEN THE ODDS SEEM AGAINST THAT
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF BECAUSE I AM ABLE TO PAY RESPECT TO INGREDIENTS AND CREATE FOOD THAT IS BEAUTIFUL AND GRATIFYINGLY DELICIOUS
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF BECAUSE EVERY DAY IN THE KITCHEN IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE A TEAM BRING THE IMPOSSIBLE TO FRUITION
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF BECAUSE THE JOB IS BUILT ON THE SOLID FOOTING OF THOUSANDS OF DEDICATED PROFESSIONALS WHO PREVIOUSLY GAVE MUCH OF THEIR LIVES TO THE CRAFT
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF BECAUSE I KNOW THAT I EARNED WHERE I AM WITH MY CAREER
- I LOVE BEING A CHEF BECAUSE I CAN CONTINUE TO LIVE MY PROFESSIONAL LIFE NOW THAT I AM PARTIALLY RETIRED, THROUGH THE SUCCESS OF THOSE WHOM I HELPED TO TRAIN AND TEACH
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY BECAUSE THOSE COOKS WHO ARE SERIOUS AND TALENTED ARE UNABLE TO MAKE A DECENT LIVING
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY BECAUSE THERE IS FAR TOO MUCH MEDIOCRITY IN THIS BUSINESS THAT DROWNS OUT THE EXCELLENT WORK THAT SERIOUS COOKS DO
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY BECAUSE THE TITLE OF CHEF IS GIVEN OUT TOO FREELY TO THOSE WHO HAVE YET TO DEMONSTRATE THAT THEY HAVE EARNED IT
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY BECAUSE FAR TOO MANY RESTAURATEURS LOOK AT THEIR KITCHEN STAFF IN TERMS OF LABOR DOLLARS RATHER THAN PEOPLE WHO WANT TO PERSONIFY THE VERY BEST SKILLS AND ATTITUDE OF A PROFESSIONAL
- I AM FRUSTRATED AN ANGRY THAT THOSE WHO CHOOSE TO PURSUE A COLLEGE EDUCATION IN CULINARY ARTS ARE SADDLED WITH ABSURB DEBT THAT CAN NEVER BE PAID
- I AN FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY THAT TOO MANY CULINARY PROGRAMS ARE MORE INTERESTED IN FILLING CLASSROOM SEATS THAN HELPING A STUDENT DECIDE IF THIS PROFESSION IS RIGHT FOR THEM
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY THAT TOO MANY CULINARY GRADUATES ARE UNWILLING TO PAY THEIR DUES TO REALLY LEARN WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A CHEF
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY THAT LINE COOKS ARE NEVER GIVEN THE CREDIT THEY DESERVE
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY THAT AMERICA HAS FAILED TO RECOGNIZE SERVICE AS AN HONORABLE PROFESSION
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY WHEN PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE INDUSTRY THINK THAT THE FOOD NETWORK AND SHOWS LIKE HELLS KITCHEN ARE AN ACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF WHAT KITCHEN LIFE IS LIKE
- I AM ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED THAT CHEFS ARE IGNORED WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF QUALITY, CHEMICAL FREE, GMO FREE, INGREDIENTS FROM FARMERS AND PRODUCERS WHO ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT THEIR CRAFT
- I AM FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY THAT SOME LOOK AT THE LIFESTYLE OF A COOK AS SOMETHING THAT IS IMPOSED ON THEM RATHER THAN A CHOICE THAT THEY MAKE BECAUSE THEY LOVE WHAT THEY DO
If it seems like I am on a tirade of complaining, please know that I express these points out of frustration for the next generation of chefs. I still love what I did and what I do, but my time in the kitchen has passed and I am truly disappointed that I did not leave the business in better shape for this next wave of cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs. I don’t regret for one minute the excessive hours, the heat, the cuts and burns, the time spent trying to help a team pull itself out of the weeds, the incredible experiences of team that still give me goose bumps, the competitions where we spent 60 plus hours straight working in a kitchen together, investing time “off the clock” to learn something that I didn’t know before, traveling to work in other friends kitchens for a good cause fundraiser, or consoling a cook who had a problem with drugs or alcohol while convincing him or her to seek appropriate help, or even bail out a cook who made a mistake and needed a friend to help set him or her on the right course. I do regret that this next generation of cooks and chefs may not have an opportunity to feel the same way that I do or the hundreds of industry friends that I cherish who feel the same as I do.
Just as my friend Fritz Sonnenschmidt refers to himself as “A Happy Cook”, I too consider myself the same and only wish that joy for others. My advice to others beginning their professional life is to find what you love to do and give it your all. “Be something special – be a cook” – the rewards are there.
PLAN BETTER –TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training