At some point, fairly early on, restaurant cooks make a decision to either view what they do as a transitional job while they look for something that they really want to do, or decide that cooking is their life calling and they intend to become exceptional at the craft. This is true for nearly any job/career, but quite apparent in the restaurant world as the phrase– “love it or leave it”, strikes a chord. There are too many legitimate reasons to not choose a career in the kitchen if a person doesn’t “love it”.
So, if a cook does choose to love it, then what are the next steps? What must a now serious cook do to work towards excellence – to become exceptional at the craft? Here are a few pointers that will set the stage:
 BE READY
Be ready mentally, physically, and emotionally for a day in the kitchen. Be on time, dressed properly, and geared up from the moment you arrive.
 BE HUNGRY
The best cooks thrive on developing new skills, enhancing the ones they have, trying new ingredients and meeting new challenges – head on.
 MASTER KNIFE SKILLS
Accuracy and speed must align. Every cook knows how critical those knife skills are. Sharpen knives, and build the muscle memory necessary to use those knives as if they were an extension of a cook’s hand. These are the foundations on which great cooking is built.
 BE ORGANIZED – EXTREMELY ORGANIZED
Mise en place wins! If you are organized and prepared with sufficient mise then any challenge can be met.
 BE A SPONGE
The best cooks relish information, food knowledge, concepts and procedures, and techniques that others are willing to share.
 RESEARCH AND EXPERIENCE
The best cooks dig in and seek out experiences that will enhance their understanding and ability to cook well. Great cooks invest in their professional growth.
 DEFINE YOUR BENCHMARKS AND STUDY THEM
Who do you admire, what do you admire, how do those whom you admire do what they do, and how can a cook model his or her own performance as a result?
 REPRESENT THE UNIFORM
Great cooks know that the uniform they wear is representative of a proud history, a history that – as Julia Child once said (and I paraphrase): “Every significant change in society has been paralleled by a change in the way we grow, process, or cook food.” Every professional cook represents this history.
 WORK ON BEING HEALTHY
Great cooks cannot perform at an optimum level unless they are well rested, healthy, and physically fit. Great cooks take care of themselves.
 WORK ON WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
Great cooks know what they don’t know and seek to find answers and build new skills. Obstacles can become advantages.
 BECOME FAST WITHOUT SACRIFICING QUALITY
Speed is essential in a busy restaurant – time is not on your side, yet sacrificing quality for speed is never an option. Great cooks work on both.
 BUILD YOUR PALATE
There are so many variables in cooking (maturity of ingredients, method of cooking used, seasonality, type of cooking equipment used, and – the person doing the cooking) that must come under consideration. In the end, a dish must meet certain flavor expectations and a great cook has developed a palate that is sophisticated enough to allow them to make adjustments to end up with the right results. Great cooks work on building their flavor memory and researching how they might compensate for ingredients or environments that might push a dish in the wrong direction.
 CREATE YOUR COOKING/PLATING SIGNATURE
Every great cook develops, over time, a style of cooking that, to some degree, can be identified. It may be the way that an ingredient is approached, or the manner with which he or she assembles ingredients on the plate. Even in an operation where process and design are prescribed, a great cook finds a way to sign the plate.
 EMBRACE TEAMWORK
Career cooks learn early on that their effectiveness is not a solo act. Great cooks are, first and foremost, a member of a team, and as such they understand how critical it is to communicate effectively, understand each team members strengths and weaknesses, and work to align and support those understandings.
 KNOW WHAT THINGS COST
The cook’s position exists because the restaurant functions in a profitable manner. To this end, every cook must become an owner of the operations cost structure. They must learn and appreciate the cost of ingredients and equipment and understand that profitability is not drawn from the onion, but rather from the onion peel. Everything has an associated cost and as such – value.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC