Look around the kitchen and pause to really assess what you see. The lifeblood of the kitchen is not found in stainless steel, contemporary equipment, or even the ingredients that fill cooler and storeroom shelves. The lifeblood of the kitchen is the people who stand tall in their hounds tooth pants and double-breasted white jackets. Now look more closely at those people and begin to see who they are, what their connection to the kitchen might be, and why they just seem to “fit”.
What I truly love about the kitchen, and what many other “lifers” will tell you is that these people are special. They might also be surprised to find out that the person that they know in the kitchen is a totally different person outside of that environment. There is a comfort level, a sense of purpose, and a camaraderie that exists around a battery of ranges that moves way beyond whatever a person’s life is on the outside. This kitchen to many is a safe place, a place where they no longer feel that they have to be that other person, but rather can breathe free, be expressive, demonstrate a skill that has been developed over time, smile, high-five and fist bump, and know that they are part of a team of like-minded individuals with a common goal.
Think about it for a moment. We have all been around big, rough and tumble cooks with scars and tattoos that tell a story of a hard life, delicately place a fresh herb on a plate of beautiful food, wipe the rim and smile as it is placed in the pass. We have all been around that cook who is shy and lacking in social skills interact as a confident, self-assured person when in their station on the line. We have all been around that cook who is typically stoic and antagonistic tear up when the chef tastes his or her food and nods in appreciation of something that is truly delicious. Why the change in character – the metamorphosis when a person is faced with heat, sweat, incredibly hard work, and the threat of cuts and burns around every corner? Is the kitchen a “Safe Place”, and what does that mean to so many cooks?
Here are some thoughts:
A cook who takes his or her job seriously is on equal ground in the kitchen. No one cares about a person’s past, how he or she acts or is perceived out of work; what their views, beliefs, color, ethnicity, or lifestyle might be – if they put forth the effort they are simply accepted as an equal.
There is always a chance to be great in the kitchen. A cook may have developed a skill that demonstrates loads of potential, potential that may have never been recognized in other settings – but in the kitchen cooks can shine if they so choose. The opportunity is here.
 THE SENSES
What an opportunity the kitchen provides – a chance to appeal to all of the human senses with everything a cook prepares. Every cook is a potential artist with an ability that no other artist has – the chance to appeal to a person’s sense of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Incredible!
Outside of the kitchen there may be very little appreciation for a cook’s potential or the work that he or she is capable of doing, but in the kitchen there is ample room for a nod from a fellow cook, a high-five from someone else on the line, a thumbs up from the chef, and a clean plate coming back from the dining room. Appreciation is something that everyone craves and where it happens becomes that safe place, a place of comfort for the individual.
 BROTHERHOOD AND SISTERHOOD
We are all in this together, this place of hard work, sweat and toil, danger and opportunity, stress and the joy of success – this is the kitchen – a place where we are all in this as a team and as a result are bound in a manner that is only experienced by those with a common goal in mind. The team is family.
 WE MADE IT THROUGH
At the end of every shift there is an opportunity to feel as if the battle was won. We made it through the push, the time when it seemed as if we might be on the precipice of falling apart, yet we pulled it together and put out some incredible food. Every end of shift provides this opportunity to celebrate, to feel a sense of accomplishment.
 THE COMMON CHALLENGE/MISSION POSSIBLE
When those first tickets start flying off the printer the team kicks into action. There is a silent recognition that everyone is ready and focused on his or her role. Everyone knows that it is the sum of the parts that makes the service work, they know that their common mission goes way beyond getting through it, the challenge is to do that with grace, passion, and a commitment to preparing excellent looking and tasting food. It is really mission possible – not impossible.
 CREATIVITY INSPIRES
Even a crusty pirate who sees the world as an unfriendly place responds well to the opportunity to create and make something that others appreciate. People are inherently tactile individuals who love to make things that are sensually stimulating. The kitchen provides this every day.
 MISFITS UNITE
I have always been amazed at meeting cooks that I have worked with off the job and out in the real world. I sometimes scratch my head and think, “Is this the same person that I worked with?” Whatever the inclination of a cook, however they want to act or be perceived outside of the kitchen, once they put on the apron they are transformed into a person of talent, skill, and passion for excellent work. The kitchen is their safe place.
I always remember those times when my children would be on vacation with my wife and I, in a different place, far from their normal friends and associates and how different, free, and happy they were to just be themselves. That is exactly what the kitchen provides – a place for people to be their true selves.
 JUDGEMENT ASIDE
The over-riding sense of comfort in a kitchen comes from these facts alone: there is only one important assessment in the kitchen – “Are you ready to put your best effort into this task, are you prepped for the shift, are you committed to making food the way it should be, and are you ready to support your teammates?” If the answer is “yes” then everything else is unimportant and not worthy of another person’s concern.
Is the kitchen your safe place?
PLAN BETTER –TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
*PHOTO: Dream Team in Chef Joe Faria’s kitchen – Vero Beach