ADDRESSING THE DEVIL THAT PLAGUES COOKS

old-fashion

When we are young, we are invincible. Very little thought is given to the effort required to prevent aches, pains, and serious health problems in the future. Cooks tend to work hard and play hard – their energy level is tapped and expended daily with the assumption that it will simply return again tomorrow. An hourly wage without healthcare –this is no problem when you are 21, single, and full of the energy and adrenaline that courses through your body. Sure, cooks sustain cuts, bruises, and burns – but that’s just the price of admission that will be covered by workman’s comp. Stitch me up, slap on some burn cream, give me a tetanus shot, and I am good as gold.

“I’m working 70 hours this week – bring on the overtime!” Sounds great when you are young. No time for family, missing another important event, no time for that night out with your friends – “Oh well, that’s the job – there will always be another opportunity.” When others point to this not being normal we just shrug our shoulders and say – “You just don’t understand the work that I do.”

The devil that plagues cooks is hidden for quite some time, but the effects of his (her) presence are cumulative and progressively they get worse. We find ourselves, at the ripe old age of 35 or maybe 40 saying – “well, this is a young person’s game – it is really no place for someone getting on in age.” When we see professional cooks or even chefs as they edge into their late forties and early fifties, we scratch our heads in wonder – “I don’t know how he or she does it.”

As you move from your invincible 20’s to your 30’s and beyond – things begin to change. We lose a few steps, our body doesn’t move quite as fast. We wake up with aching backs from bending and standing all day. Those headaches are worse and more frequent, your hands cramp up frequently, and your feet – let’s not even go there. The cuts aren’t as frequent, nor are the burns (at least we don’t feel them as much), but your hands look like 40 year old grape vines – certainly not worthy of a photo shoot for hands magazine. You’re 35 and your face still breaks out because of all the oil in the air, and that hair is starting to thin out on top. Your trim 6-pack abdomen is moving in a different direction, teeth are in need of dental attention, and you just feel tired all the time. What happened?

The silent devil is now front-and-center in your life and he insists on finding new ways every day to make his presence known. Your family and friends have given up on you and no longer even bother expecting you to attend those events or show up for dinner, or a drink to celebrate your bond with them. You really want to go to the chiropractor, but without adequate healthcare – that would mean $50 out of pocket – so just grin and bear the pain. You know that you just don’t feel right and can’t seem to figure out why – a trip to a doctor for that complete physical would make sense, but again, the cost. You tried dating many times, but always wound up disappointing the other person with schedule conflicts or simply being too tired to join in.

So, here you are – an accomplished cook or chef for sure, but at what cost? How did you allow this to happen and what is the solution now? Maybe it’s time to find another line of work – after all – this is a young persons game.

The restaurant industry is constantly losing its best, most accomplished people and it is everyone’s fault. It is the fault of the business for not recognizing what employees need, and it is the fault of the individual for not defining priorities that will impact his or her life for decades. More often than not, the best kitchen people find themselves on the hunt for a change that suddenly becomes more important than their passion for food.

So, what are the solutions?

ADDRESS THE DEVIL AND PLAN AHEAD:

  1. HEALTHCARE:

We all need to engage in preventative health care and it should begin early in life. Yearly physicals and preventative measures that protect those bones, muscles, and internal organs are a first step. This means that when you are seeking employment in the food business – seek out those companies that provide or assist you in identifying affordable healthcare. Don’t push this aside as something that is not necessary when you are young. This is just like a savings account that will pay you back with interest, later in life.

  1. NUTRITION:

What many people outside the business don’t realize is that cooks typically have terrible diets. “You work in a restaurant – you must eat like a king.” Nope – a plate of cold spaghetti eaten while standing up, hanging over a garbage can to catch the scraps – or maybe red beans and rice, or a plate of scrambled eggs – wolf down in 5 minutes and back to work – this is meal time for many cooks. We drink loads of coffee, never enough water, too much soda and energy drinks, grab a handful of cookies from the bakery and stand ready for the onslaught of orders that will tick off the POS printer in a few minutes. We kick back a few beers with the team after work, hit the bed way too late, and wake up to a few cups of coffee and maybe a stale donut on the way back to work. No wonder our bodies start to push back.

Cooks and chefs need to find the time to practice what they know is right: a balanced diet, less fried foods, fewer empty calories, more vegetables and fruit, and portions that are reasonable. Cooks and chefs need to sit down, relax a bit and allow your body to adequately digest this food and convert it into the fuel that keeps the body working at peak performance. Even if the meal is only 15 minutes – we need to dedicate the time to eat well.

  1. CLEARING YOUR HEAD:

Unless you have done it – you just don’t know. The mind of a cook or chef is filled with loads of deadlines, second-guessing, and abnormal stressors that seem to always be present. We have a tough time shutting it off and moving on. Without an opportunity to clear your head, these stressors get more and more intense and complicated and simply wear you down. We all have different ways of clearing our heads, but whatever works for you – make sure that the time is made available. A walk, swim, bike ride, listening to music, yoga, reading, whatever – make the time available otherwise you are headed into some dangerous territory.

  1. EXERCISE:

I found out just how beneficial this is – way too late in life, but now that I have, my exercise routine is my solace, my happy place, and the part of my checklist that allows everything else to happen. When I can’t check off my daily exercise, then my day loses direction and I feel it deeply.

Cooks and chefs need to make the time for that 20-30 minutes of daily exercise – no mater what it is: walking, running, racket ball, tennis, shooting hoops, swimming, weight lifting – it all helps immensely. Do it – take care of yourself!

  1. CREATE TIME FOR BALANCE:

Those missed family events, lost opportunities to connect with friends, or discarded opportunities to start working on a relationship, will catch up with you at some point, and then it will be much more difficult to correct your inaction.

The job is important and restaurant demands are always in a state of flux, but your quality of life, in the long run, is far more important. The opportunities have never been better for cooks and chefs to find the restaurant or company willing to do the right thing with employees and pay attention to these physical, mental and emotional needs. Seek those employers out – it is important. When an employer helps you to find the opportunity to serve the operation and your wellbeing, then he or she is a real keeper.

  1. ADDRESS A SENSE OF PURPOSE:

Finally, maybe even more than ever before, those who are considering a career in food are also seeking to find a place where they can feel whole; where what they do seems to really matter and where they can feel good about making a difference. Whatever your stakes in the ground might be – try to find and employer that aligns with this. If you wake up in the morning, look in a mirror and say: “What am I doing this for”, then it is time to think about new directions. We all need a purpose if we are to keep that devil at bay.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericaventures.com

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

  17 comments for “ADDRESSING THE DEVIL THAT PLAGUES COOKS

  1. July 31, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Well said as usual chef. I was lucky after 35 years in the restaurant business to be able to teach in a culinary school and then move on to healthcare foodservice. Although when you’re young you say to yourself, “I’ll never be a hospital chef, those guys aren’t cool” but when my friends who are still in the restaurant business see me going to interesting conferences and weekends, holidays off, I can see the envy in their eyes. Also, healthcare and retirement facilities are vastly improved from what they used to be. There are some serious chefs from my generation that are making significant contributions in these areas. Check out Association for Healthcare Foodservice.

    • July 31, 2019 at 4:22 pm

      Sense of purpose. You are making a difference in people’s lives. Food is such a powerful medium for good deeds.

      • Matt
        October 27, 2019 at 6:23 pm

        This is great. As an industry person for 21 or my 36 years I adore the thoughts expressed here.
        So.
        If you ever need an extra consultant in the Rocky Mountain area let me know.

  2. Joseph St. Paul
    July 31, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    Thank you Chef
    Your post is cause for thought for the more mature and the young and resilient

  3. Keith Taylor
    August 1, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Facts matter. Great message Chef Paul. At the end of the day I am constantly Sharing one thing with the young men and women under my leadership…Have a plan! Like the many truths you have shared here, taking time to think beyond today is not always a well thought part of the life of a young culinary professional.

  4. Jim Cortina
    October 21, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    Another devil that needs addressing is the pay rate we receive. We’re so used to 20+ hours of OT being the norm that we don’t think twice about being paid very little above the minimum.

    I’m in the highest hourly pay bracket usually. But if I need to get a babysitter or daycare for my two kids then my day’s wage is effectively canceled out.

    We’re supposed to be tradespeople. But I don’t know any carpenters with 20 years experience making within $10 an hour of me. Our skills are in demand. Our skills are popular. We’re constantly paid as though we’re unskilled. What gives?

    Chefs always complain about having to raise menu prices in response to wage increases. But we never seem to have a problem selling our customers on $100 portions of Kobe or $20/lb rice.

    • tom johnson
      November 1, 2019 at 5:03 pm

      supply and demand. There’s a massive need for qualified professionals in our industry but there’s not only a restaurant on every corner, there’s 2 next to it as well. If you had a trained, steady crew that you’ve developed over the years you should be in a position that you could take a couple days off each week and work a 10 hour day but most can’t because they constantly have to be there to run a station or just babysit the crew so the days profit doesn’t walk out the back door. Maybe you could negotiate your terms based on a % of the profit but I know there are a lot of independent operators out there that are happy when they can pull one of their own payckecks out of the drawer to cash.

  5. October 24, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    I am not a Chef. My son is. Your words are spot on, this is a photo copy of him. Great words Chef. Thank you.

  6. Patrick
    October 26, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    Too true brother. 27 yrs of high end cooking does a toll on the mind and body. Alone time works for me.

  7. Sydney Stewart
    October 27, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    I’ve watched my son , an extremely talented chef, as he’s gradually started to self destruct. (Or be destroyed by his chosen profession). Makes me so sad and I’m helpless to create the needed change. This should never be.

  8. Chris Conklyn
    October 27, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    Good article, much truth inside.

  9. Dave kealey
    October 28, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Well written and poignant article. Myself, I am pushing retirement age and still pull those 60+weeks with little to no end in sight. The elephant in the room is not only the lack of $$$ for cooks or the mgr/chef pushing for OT, rather it is the lack of guests that will pay the real price of a meal. Sure they will go to alinea and Instagram the hell out of a $300 meal and the next day go to the neighbourhood pub and wonder why the burger is $20.
    Restauranteurs need to change the business model so that all staff can have a life, weekends off as well as holidays. There is a new open in Toronto that is closed on friday/saturday so that very thing happens! It is only one but the journey starts with one step. We need to heal as an industry and realise that there is not an endless supply of new cooks.

  10. Julian
    October 30, 2019 at 6:06 am

    I see you delete comments that challenge you points. What is the use of an echo chamber? If you really cared about the well being of cooks you would host meaningful discussion. Instead you put the onus on us to engage in activities that we don’t have time for, for reasons out of our control and that we don’t have the resources for because we’re underpaid and not offered health benefit packages. How do you suggest we get that extra time and extra resources for self care, proper nutrition, balance exercise, etc? The real devil in the kitchen is unregulated exploitation of the work force. Why don’t you write about that?

    • October 30, 2019 at 10:10 am

      Julian,

      I have never deleted a comment. In response to your thoughts – yours is not a challenge to my article, in fact I agree with you. My point was that you have an opportunity in a market where full employment challenges a restaurants ability to find employees, to seek out others that do. Additionally, there are loads of other career tracks in food that do not exploit employees – maybe it is time to redirect a career towards other facets of the food business: contract feeding, healthcare food operations, corporate foodservice, etc. These segments are in need of quality employees and offer a much better compensation package and employee care. The private restaurant business is way behind the curve and will need to change if they expect to continue to attract and retain employees. Thanks for your comments.

  11. tom johnson
    November 1, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Something that remains unsaid in many of these posts. There are simply far too many restaurants in the USA. Here are some staggering total restaurant sales by decade;
    1970 $43 Billion
    1980 $120 Billion
    1990 $239 Billion
    2000 $379 Billion
    2010 $590 Billion
    2019 $863 Billion

    1970 USA population 240 million
    2019 USA population 329 million

    1 in 10 working in this country are employed in the restaurant industry.

    Our country is saturated with quick service restaurants fighting for market share along with 1000’s of independents that have no business being IN this business because they don’t have a clue what they’re doing but money is cheap and everyone thinks they’re going to become rich.

    The sales figures DO NOT include schools, corporate cafeteria’s, hospitals, Sunday church dinners, on/off premise catering, etc.

    In 1970, the average American spent $180.00/year in restaurants
    In 2019, the average American will spend $2,623/year in restaurants

    One way of looking at this and comparing it to the “Good Ol’ Days” in the kitchen, to keep the same balance and per capita spending as in 1970, we would need a current population of 4 billion people in the USA. Food for thought.

    • November 1, 2019 at 10:43 am

      It is an interesting topic and one that does create many significant challenges for our society and for those who call themselves restaurateurs. We could invest considerable time studying the ramifications of this from an economic and sociological perspective. I will certainly think about how I might approach this, but always wrestle with the challenge of getting in the way of free enterprise. I have approached the topic on the fringe before, but will think about it some more. Thanks for your comment.

      • tom johnson
        November 1, 2019 at 4:45 pm

        Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t advocate any governmental or ngo control over who should or shouldn’t open a restaurant. We live in a free market and must remain so. Another theory (or claim of mine) that is sure to be a controversial but a debatable point is that our industry is a refuge for the unemployable and undesirable. This also has made an impact on the lifestyle of culinary workers. This may be a little direct for some but where do you work when nobody else will hire you? Junkies, drunks, criminals..most are welcomed with open arms because for the last 20+ years we simply needed the bodies. My property does a background check on every hire but the “felony barrier” has been ignored more than a few times. It’s literally down to bad felonies or really bad felonies for some. Should a person’s right to make a living be taken away because of a felony? Certainly not but the bar has lowered to such an extent that for some the threshold is now whether violence was involved in their felony conviction(s) and even then if it was domestic or spousal, it can be dismissed as isolated incidents.

        I am enjoying your writing. Most I agree with, some not so much but that’s probably more of an issue of how I see things vs the norm!

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