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An exercise that I have found to be really helpful is to occasionally state/re-state what you believe in as a chef.  Every now and then this can serve as a “checks and balance” activity to keep you on the right path and assess where and why you might have strayed from those “stakes in the ground” that are important to your core.  This is also a great comparative process to use when seeking a new career opportunity – a chance to note if taking a different position aligns with your beliefs or if it causes you to compromise.  I would encourage you to think about this and take the time to write down your beliefs as a “manifesto” and then use it as a guide moving forward.

Here is my manifesto as a chef.  Full disclosure – I have drifted from these beliefs at times and have generally regretted doing so. 

[]         RESPECT:

All people are different – they bring their own set of baggage to work and to life.  They may not agree with you or you may not agree with them but they deserve to be treated with respect as human beings.  You can disagree, even disagree strongly, but they deserve the opportunity to look you in the eye and know that you do not feel superior because of that disagreement. 

Respect for the place where you work, those who own and operate the business and the physical property for which you are responsible is paramount.  Just as is the case with the first paragraph – even though you may not agree with the actions of the business or those in charge – you should always respect that you work for them.  You can disagree, take a stand, make your point, continue to have a unique opinion, but in the end – it is their business.  If this violates your manifesto of beliefs and cannot be altered then look for another place to work – do not slip from your commitment to respect.

[]         COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE:

Anything worth doing is worth doing well; in fact it is worth doing at a level that lives up to your potential.  Whether the task is washing pots, cutting vegetables, or setting up the most intricate plate presentation – that commitment to excellence should prevail.  Writing a memo?  Do it with excellence in mind.  Preparing a menu?  Excellence is the standard that you must follow.  If you are taking inventory on a Sunday night – approach it as if it is the most important task imaginable.

Excellence should never be a goal for which you strive – excellence is a habit that is impossible to break.

[]         FAIRNESS:

There will always be decisions that you will need to make as a chef; decisions that impact people (as most decisions will) – decisions that will not sit well with some.  Such is life and as hard as those decisions might be – just make sure that those who are impacted are treated fairly and justly. 

If you are in a position to reward performance – make sure you are fair in how you decide to reward.  If you need to punish for actions taken, make sure that you are equitable in your approach so that it is not perceived that you play favorites.  In general, people can accept your decisions, but they cannot accept them if they are done with bias.

[]         EMPATHY:

Remember, everyone has baggage that they carry with him or her to work.  The old adage: “When you come to work – leave your personal problems at home” is simply not feasible.  As the chef you are charged with helping your employees give a good days work for a good days pay, but to do that effectively you must understand the environmental factors that impact this work.  This does not mean that you should expect anything less that good work, but you should always try to understand what might be getting in the way. 

On occasion you may need to make adjustments so that an employee can work through their challenges (schedule adjustment, change assignments, send them home, offer advice, refer them to someone who might help, etc.).  Employees that know that you care are always more determined to try their best and less willing to disappoint you or their co-workers.

[]         TRUST:

Trust is something that goes both ways.  If you expect your employees and co-workers to trust you and the decisions that you make then it is imperative that you trust them first.  If employees are properly trained to perform a task then you need to trust them to do it.  Some refer to this as delegation, but behind delegation of duties must lay a willingness to trust.  Trust that is given leads to trust that is gained.

The irony of trust is that it is rarely given without experience and it is quickly lost when violated even once.  Be consistent with your approach towards people and situations so that others can predict and depend on how you will act.

[]         TRANSPARENCY:

When you hide things from employees and/or co-workers then trust will quickly erode.  Obviously, there are some things that are beyond the purview of others, but make it clear when that is the case.  In fact, wherever possible try to share more than people would expect.  You will be surprised at how much they appreciate it.

If you have a need to better control costs then begin by sharing figures and challenges with your staff.  Let them know about sales, food cost, labor cost, changes in vendor prices, increases in utilities, mortgage or lease arrangements, and how profitable or unprofitable the restaurant is.  What will often be surprising is that your staff members will have great ideas on how to save money and increase sales.  Bring them into the fold and they will rise to the occasion and feel ownership for the challenges as much as you do.

[]         LISTEN:

Sometimes it is far more important to listen than to talk.  As the saying goes – the best leaders listen more and talk less.  Don’t pre-judge a situation until you have heard all sides.  Don’t approach a challenge with a predetermined conclusion or action without inquiring into all of the factors involved.

Give your employees a forum for expressing their opinions, observations, and ideas.  This can be regularly scheduled staff meetings, 10 minute post shift wrap-up sessions, or an open door policy where they feel comfortable approaching you one-on-one.  Even if you don’t act or even agree – the fact that you were willing to listen is a big step in the right direction.

[]         STAY TRUE TO THE FOUNDATIONS:

You started out as a cook and did so because you focused on learning the right approach toward cooking.  The right way to hold a knife and cut vegetables, the right way to fabricate meats and fish, the right way to organize the kitchen and a work station, the right way to apply basic cooking methods, the right way to prepare a stock or a soup, the right way to purchase and control the quality of ingredients, etc.  Don’t ever lose sight of this in favor of short cuts that might interfere with quality or a consistent end result.  “If you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over?”

[]         QUALITY and VALUE:

These two factors are inseparable.  Quality is what built your reputation and quality is what will help to keep it.  Quality quickly becomes the expectation of all involved and reputation is built on it.  When quality is sacrificed then value is diminished and reputations with suffer.

Always remember that the reputation of the restaurant and the reputation of those who work there (including yourself) are based on everyone’s reliance on quality and value.  Once lost, a good reputation is hard to recover.

[]         THINK FIRST – THEN ACT:

There is a major difference between action and reaction.  The factor that gets in the way of good decisions is the emotion that you allow in.  Reaction is poisoned by fear, anger, hate, revenge, and misunderstanding.  Take a moment, breathe deep, and ask why did something happen that requires action, who was responsible, what is an appropriate action, and how should it be implemented and relayed to others.  It is that brief moment of reflection that will make all the difference in how successful you action is.

[]         PLANNING TO ELIMINATE MISTAKES:

Mistakes, more often than not, are avoidable if you take the time to plan.  Murphy’s Law is always applicable:  “If something can go wrong, it probably will”.  Your role as a chef is to think ahead, to run through scenarios that might occur, to take the time to organize thoughts and build a strategy, and then to implement all of that in an effort to eliminate the need to deal with challenges or minimize the impact of those challenges. 

Ironically, there are rarely decisions made that do not impact others.  Reaction without planning will uncover numerous other challenges that you failed to think through.  Take the time to plan.

[]         OWN IT:

Everyone makes mistakes – this is inevitable.  In fact, many people believe that the best overall decisions come from lessons learned from failure.  Failure weighs heavy on those who realize their mistakes, but even heavier on those who fail to take responsibility.  Co-workers, employees, and even customers will forgive your mistakes if you admit them and then work like hell to make sure the same mistakes are not made in the future.  You screwed up – so what!  Own it, ask for help, and learn how to recover.

[]         IF YOU ARE NOT SERVING THE GUEST DIRECTLY THEN SERVE THOSE WHO ARE:

As a chef your plate is always full.  You can’t be everywhere thus you must rely on others to step up and “do their job”.  Ultimately, it is the guest who must walk away satisfied, and hopefully impressed.  You can’t order, organize, plan, cook the food, plate the dishes, and deliver everything to a waiting guest – so one of your primary tasks must be to properly train and provide the necessary tools for others in your organization to attend to the details and bring about customer satisfaction.  “What do you need, what can I do, and where can I be to best support you” goes a long way toward achieving those goals.

[]         KEEP IT ORGANIZED:

Mise en place goes way beyond your personal work area.  As a chef it is imperative that you set the tone by creating an organized kitchen – everything has a place and everything is in its place” is a theme that sets the stage for success.

[]         LOOK THE PART, ACT THE PART:

Finally, a chef must always stand out as the example for others.  A clean pressed uniform, an organized office, a person who carries himself or herself as a consummate professional, a person who acts in a manner that is beyond reproach, a person who is consistent in how situations are handled, and a person who makes sure that everyone is treated fairly and respectfully is a model for others to emulate.  Be that person.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

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