What does it really mean to be a chef? Is it strictly a position of authority – a position well-earned through time, trial and error, loads of cooking skills, business savvy, and a brand that helps the operation and the person? Or, are there other responsibilities and opportunities that come with the turf?
It was John Mann, the author of numerous inspirational/motivational books who stated:
“Your true worth (and a definition of success) is determined by how much more you give than you take in payment.”
-John Mann from the “Go-Givers”
Do we have an obligation to give back when we have realized a level of success? Is this determination to be humble and thankful through giving something viewed as a requirement of success and of the position? Of course we can choose to focus on ourselves, the job at hand, the need to attain what we can to support our own personal needs – this is our right to do so. But, our opportunities typically take place not just through our own effort, but through others who have chosen the path of giving. Isn’t it payback time?
Pete Townsend of the band the Who posed the question in their 1978 album: Who Are You:
“Oh, tell me who are you?
I really wanna know
Oh, I really wanna know”
Of course, the context of the rest of this song is a step away from the focus of the article, but still I began to wonder how I might answer this question – how YOU might answer it. I am (was) a chef, I produced great food, I ran a successful restaurant, I moved to the pinnacle of my profession and earned the title of Executive Chef, I operated a restaurant of great renown, etc. All important and noble accomplishments, but is this how we want to be remembered? In the end, is this a statement of your(my) value and contribution to making the world a better place?
John Mann talks about how the road to success should always be measured in terms of giving, rather than getting. He states further in his book that:
“Giving is not a strategy (for success), it is a way of life.”
I’m sure we all remember someone in our life who told us that “Tis far better to give than receive”. We all relish the feeling that we have when giving a well thought out gift to another. The knowing that someone’s existence in that moment has been enhanced, even if for a short period of time, because we chose to give and express real thought for their value to others and to the meaning that they have in your life is hard to describe. Doing something to help others simply because we are able to do so is tremendously rewarding.
The road to becoming a chef can most times be arduous, time-consuming, full of patience, and riddled with curves and roadblock. Once you reach that position there should always be time spent looking back at who or what helped you navigate those curves and overcome the obstacles. Helping to straighten out those roads for others is an opportunity and an obligation that we should always consider taking on. This defines the type of person you are and the type of chef you have become. Here are a few examples of exceptional chefs and how they have chosen to give more than they expect in return, simply because they are able to do so and feel that it is an obligation that they should fulfill:
 JOSE ANDRES
Winner of the James Beard Humanitarian Award, Chef Andres, a very successful restaurateur organized and directed an effort to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. He and his team served more free meals to those impacted by the storm than did the Red Cross. He is also an ambassador for immigrant workers who are, in many cases, the backbone of the restaurant industry.
World Central Kitchen
 CHARLES CARROLL
Chef of River Oaks Country Club, past president of the World Association of Chefs, Olympic chef – many times over, and accomplished author – two of Chef Carroll’s most significant accomplishments are organizing Operation Hot that fed and entertained our troops in Afghanistan and his ongoing commitment to teach, train and lead his cooks to become chefs in their own right.
 DAN BARBER
Chef Barber’s connection to giving is through his sustainable approach towards improving the integrity of America’s food supply and bringing attention to the amount of food waste in our country – food that could easily help to feed the poor and hungry.
Thinking About Food Waste
 ALICE WATERS
Alice Water is certainly a household name, a person who has trained a cadre of chefs to be conscious advocates for the Farm to Table movement that began in her kitchens at Chez Panisse in Berkley. Since then she has remained an advocate for getting closer to where our food is grown and has worked to bring gardening and farm to cafeteria efforts into our public school system across the country.
New School Food Study
 BARBARA LYNCH
The Barbara Lynch Foundation is “dedicated to helping Boston’s communities create healthy and inspired futures for its youth by providing leadership and support to build life skills, improve access to nutritious foods, and empower families.”
The Barbara Lynch Foundation
 STACEY WOHL
Stacey, not necessarily a chef, made a personal life challenge a larger effort at helping others. His “Cause Café” has brought awareness to Autism and focuses on hiring, training, and supporting workers who find themselves somewhere on the Spectrum of Autism.
 CHRISTINA TOSI
The pastry chef/co-owner of Momufuku Milk in collaboration with “Hot Bread Kitchen” is intent on working to create jobs for immigrants in New York kitchens.
Hot Bread Kitchen
 RICK BAYLESS
Chef Rick, the most celebrated chef of authentic Mexican food in North America has been on a campaign for years to promote small sustainable farms. His “Frontera Farmer Foundation” makes grants available to farmers.
Frontera Farm Foundation
 COUNTLESS CHEFS as MENTORS, TEACHERS, ADVOCATES
Many chefs without the national reputation or funds may find it difficult to give back in such bold manners, but still are advocates for giving through teaching and training of interns and apprentices who need guidance with their careers. Teaching the next generation of chefs and restaurateurs is by far one of the most rewarding things that a chef can do.
Look in a mirror – Who Are You? Now that you have reached that pinnacle of your career – think about how you want to be remembered and find a way to give back like so many others; it will pay you back ten fold for the effort.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
**”The Go-Giver” – by: John David Mann