chefs, cooks, excellence, kitchen excellence, quality, restaurants
When did the desire for quality fade away; when did it become an option instead of the standard? We are all born with a desire to please those around us from the time we are able to crawl, walk, talk, build, create, learn, and grow. Every achievement is aimed at being great and pleasing to those who have an interest in us. So… at what point does this desire, the commitment to quality, become an option? What changed in our lives leading to choices: do the work-don’t do the work; push ourselves to get better or choose to be complacent; take pride in even the smallest task vs. deciding what is worthy of our effort?
This is not just evident in the kitchen, but rather in any environment: work, school, community, and even the home. Far too many people slip into a world of “good enough”. Why is this so and what is the cause?
Don’t get me wrong – there are still plenty of people who are always reaching for excellence, always focused on quality effort and always committed to self-improvement; but it is far from universal. Is “don’t sweat the small stuff” the rule of thumb and if so – couldn’t one claim that it’s all small stuff?
There are plenty of opportunities to point fingers at parents, our educational model that ranks student performance, our desire to maintain this ranking that tends to categorize individuals as winners or losers, customer apathy and acceptance of mediocrity, the assumption that it costs too much to produce quality and strive for excellence, and a customer’s perspective that “you get what you pay for”, and so on, and so on. Eventually the finger needs to point back to the individual. You can’t relegate your acceptance of mediocrity to someone else – that excuse just doesn’t fly.
“Just make up your mind at the very outset that your work is going to stand for quality – that you are going to stamp superior quality upon everything that goes out of your hands, that whatever you do shall bear the hallmark of excellence.”
-Orison Swett Marden
Everyone can and needs to be taught or trained how to execute excellence and quality – this is certainly true in the kitchen where definitive skills may take years to master, but the attitude of quality and the desire for excellence is personal – this is something that each of us must bring to the table. When this attitude is in place, just as it was during those first few formative years of youth, then anyone can be a standard bearer of great work whether it is the consistency of knife cuts in the kitchen, mastery of building flavors, or the beauty of perfectly soldered copper plumbing – excellence, like cream will always floats to the top.
“Your work is YOU. Don’t let yourself down.”
It is this self-awareness, the knowledge that you never have to let go of that commitment to pleasing others and exceeding your own expectations that keeps our lives vibrant, exciting, and focused. No one else can do this for you, no one else can take the blame, no one else will ever have as much vested interested in the excellence of your work than yourself.
“Hold yourself responsible for higher standards than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself.”
-Henry Ward Beecher
It is far too easy to look around and find examples of mediocrity: restaurant inconsistencies, spotted glassware and flatware in dining rooms, retail stores without a merchandising plan, unprofessional signage in businesses, unkempt building exteriors, poorly maintained landscape, lackluster service, mediocre success rates in school classrooms, misspelled words and little consideration for use of the English language – there are examples everywhere. We can choose to succumb to this lack of focus on quality or maintain the standards of excellence that were first evident when our crawling or first steps drew the applause and smiles of everyone important in our world. It shouldn’t be a choice, but it is where we are.
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to his or her commitment to excellence, regardless of the chosen field of endeavor.”
-Coach Vince Lombardi
In the kitchen, the cooks who stand out and make a difference are the ones who view every task as a direct reflection on their commitment to quality and support of their desire to please others. A cook’s commitment is evident in how he or she maintains their tools, cuts vegetables, adheres to time tested cooking methods, invests the time to develop a sophisticated palate, maintains a clean and organized work area, steps in to help others, and views every plate of food that leaves the kitchen as a canvas that carries his or her signature. This must be a never-ending, always present focus that can be depended on.
Those who claim that they are unable to perform at this level because the chef, owner, or manager doesn’t care about excellence should approach that situation as follows: first, ask yourself: “If I consistently work towards excellence will I have an impact on others to do the same?” If through trial and error the answer remains “no”, then it may be time to look for another team. Do not allow yourself to be drawn from an attitude of excellence to acceptance of mediocrity. Be true to your standards, be a beacon for others, do what you can to have a transformative impact on a situation; but if all else fails – move on to where you can make a difference.
“I have always looked at it this way: If you strive like crazy for perfection – an all-out assault on total perfection – at the very least you will hit a high level of excellence, and then you might be able to sleep at night. To accomplish something truly significant, excellence has to become a life plan.”
-Chef Charlie Trotter
Is excellence and quality a part of your life plan? It was when you were five years old – don’t lose that desire and don’t allow anyone else, or any environment to suck that desire out of you. Be a consistent benchmark for others – the rewards are endless.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
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