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line cook

I was listening to some older music the other day and reconnected with a then super group – Blind Faith. When you put Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Steve Winwood together – great music is bound to happen. One song became the inspiration for this article. The lyrics were simple, but poignant as they introduced an extended jam that these musicians were known for.

“Do right, use your head.
Everybody must be fed.
Get together, break your bread.
Yes, together, that’s what I said.
Do what you like.”

-Eric Clapton

I connected the meaning to the life of a cook and began to think about the three most important components of a successful career. This can, I believe, apply to any profession, but I sensed an above average synergy with life in the kitchen. When these three components are aligned then a cook or chef feels fulfilled, when any one is missing then that emptiness and angst will eventually creep in.

Professional cooks are a unique breed, and as such I must delineate those who simply have a job in the kitchen, from those who are compelled to be cooks and truly desire to make the kitchen their permanent home away from home. Both can find a place in any busy kitchen, but the job seeker will not be as connected to the three components of a fulfilling career.

Ironically, the impact of these components can be controlled by both the cook/chef and those for whom he or she works. To this end, it is important for both parties to understand the dynamic of work, passion, and those factors that contribute to daily living.


“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”

-Vince Lombardi

From the cook’s standpoint:

There is something uniquely gratifying in hard work, in accomplishing a goal – no matter how small or large, in being physically sore and tired from pushing yourself to a level of accomplishment, and to witness the fruits of your labor. This is truly the life of a cook – every day. The job is physically and mentally demanding and more often than not – relentless. Cook’s feel the intensity of heat, tend to sore muscles from standing and lifting all day, wrestle with the wear and tear on hands and feet through repetitive motion, and can experience significant mental fatigue from sifting through a multitude of processes and demands that seem to attack with reckless abandon. Yet, at the end of all of this – professional cooks tend to feel a level of satisfaction that only comes from pushing yourself a bit beyond the threshold.

From the employer’s standpoint:

Well-seasoned chefs understand these phenomena and when they operate a kitchen that is humming with energy, they know that it is because of the environment set for hard work and successful endings. Hard work, physical and mental exhaustion without the experience of accomplishment (winning) can be counterproductive. “Why did I push myself this hard only to feel the disappointment of failure.?” It is the chef’s responsibility to set the stage, build in the systems, and orchestrate these hard working cooks towards a positive end. This is accomplished through training, facilitation, and support.


“Growing up, I learned that if you are passionate about something, that you can move mountains. Passion is more precious than gold, and it’s a currency that everyone craves. It’s something that’s hard to fake, and when it’s real, everyone wants to be on that train. It’s about giving people something that they can believe.”

-Stephanie Allain

From the cook’s standpoint:

When all is said and done – if you work very hard at a career that you don’t enjoy, if you work for a property where there is little opportunity to express your passion for cooking, if the style of management inhibits your ability to grow, learn, and be expressive – then why are you doing this to yourself? In the long run it is important for you to feel good about your investment of time and energy.

From the employer’s standpoint:

The success of a restaurant has a much greater connection to the passion of the employee than the content of the menu. When cooks are connected, when they feel the joy of creating and presenting food that they want to put their signature on, and when there is that opportunity to grow and be exceptional – then there is no question that the product will reflect this enthusiasm. It becomes very easy for a restaurant guest to note the level of passion that is present in the kitchen. This passion is present in the visual presentation, and the flavor of each bite of food. It is thus imperative for owners and chefs to create this environment that supports a cook’s passion.


Now here comes the tangible – the component that can bolster the other two or tear them apart. Daily living is the wake-up call that affirms that a career decision was correct and fuels the fire of creativity and hard work. As Abraham Maslow pointed out in his Hierarchy of Needs – without the ability to Survive, Feel Secure, and Sense that an employee Belongs – there will be little room for self-motivation and happy productive employees. Every employee needs the ability to make a decent wage, depend on baseline benefits, work for a business that can provide a level of employment security, and experience a sense of being part of the team. These are the building blocks of a comfortable life – essential for productivity at work.

From the cook’s standpoint:

“As much as I love this business, as much as I want to cook more than anything else, as much as I am willing to work hard in a physically demanding environment – how can I do so unless I can support myself and my family in a reasonable manner?”

– Every professional cook

From the employer’s standpoint:

We (the restaurant industry) continue to skirt around this issue and sight numerous reasons why cooks and service staff cannot be paid a fair wage (certainly dependent on the position and skill level), enjoy very basic benefits that employees in other fields take for granted (healthcare, some sick and vacation time, and an opportunity to contribute to some form of retirement savings plan). We all understand the tight margins that restaurants work within and the requirements of a very labor intensive business, but the fact remains that unless we can find a solution to this issue, then hard work and passion will always take a back seat and it will become increasingly difficult to find and retain good employees.

Hard work, passion, and the ability to live in a reasonable manner are the building blocks that must be addressed – they are the components of a successful career and a successful restaurant.


Plan Better – Train Harder

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting and Training