To make a difference – this is something that many of us seek and so few of us think that we accomplish.  At some level we all make a difference, even if only in one person’s life, one situation, one community, or even one business.  We should all take some level of comfort in this – there is a reason why we are here.  A few seek to only make a difference in their own lives while others are far more concerned with the impact they have on others but in both cases, there is a cause and effect.  We make a difference through the effort that we are willing and able to give.

I often quote Steve Jobs of Apple Computer who proclaimed that certain people are determined to “make a dent in the universe”, no matter how large or small that dent might be.  Starting out in a kitchen as a dishwasher may not feel like a path to making a difference, but it is a door that can open to incredible opportunity, a lifetime of learning, and immense satisfaction through creativity and making someone else’s day.  If we look at those little steps as the start of something extraordinary then the effort that we invest and the patience that we exhibit can, and likely will pay off.

It is so true no matter what you choose to do with your life – that first open door will show you the way.  When a young Eric Clapton received his first guitar, Michael Jordan embraced his first basketball, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built that first computer in their garage, Michael Phelps dove into a pool for the first time, Tiger Woods swung a club and connected with a golf ball for the first time, or Claude Monet touched a canvas with his first brush stroke they were starting a path to greatness – setting the stage to make a dent in the universe.

Who would have guessed that Chef Jose Andres would wind up one of the world’s great humanitarians with the skills of an accomplished chef and the heart of a saint?  Who would have guessed that the primitive computer built in Steve Jobs garage would wind up creating the worldwide market for personal computers?  Who would have imagined that the first song co-written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon would light the spark that continues to resonate throughout the world?  And who would have ever thought that the idea for a book written on a paper napkin could have created a global interest in J.K. Rawling’s series around Harry Potter and his wizardry adventures?  These individuals made significant dents in the universe, but what about you and me?

Stacking and scraping dishes, pushing rack after rack through the conveyor machine, and restacking hot, clean dishes at the other end may seem like a mindless, boring task, but it is a start – an important start.  Who would ever consider that a 19-year-old working the fry station on a kitchen line could ever aspire to run a kitchen or own a restaurant someday, but thousands, upon thousands have done so?  Talk with those who command busy kitchens, talk with Jose Andres, Stephanie Izard, Daniel Boulud, Sean Brock, Danny Meyer, and Dan Barber about their start and their vision for making a dent in the universe and they will likely reflect on their time in the dish pit – that first open door.

Gavin Kaysen – chef/owner of Spoon and Stable Restaurant and past competitor in the Bocuse d’Or – one of the world’s most challenging culinary competitions, started out as a sandwich maker at Subway.  He knew that if he approached that job as if it were the most important thing that he could do; if he treated his steady customers as if they were special; and if he made every sandwich with the same care as a chef would approach an award-winning entrée in his or her restaurant – that he could step out and go as far as he wanted with a career in food.  He knew he could make a dent in the universe.

Every time that we (cooks or chefs in any type of restaurant) approach our position with the same vigor and commitment that Chef Kaysen shows, then we will always make a difference.  We will make a difference in the comfort and stress level of the chef, put our teammates at ease knowing that they can depend on us, help the restaurant reach its goals, and help the guest enjoy the experience of food and forget about their problems for that one moment when they take a bite of the food that we prepared. 

I have enjoyed opportunities beyond my wildest dreams.  It was that first job washing dishes and then on to helping a breakfast cook work through the daily rush that solidified my interest in the kitchen.  It was that desire to keep opening doors and stepping through that energized me and demonstrated that I might make a difference.  You can do this as well.  There is nothing to stop you except any self-imposed roadblocks that you let get in your way.  Here are some ways to set the stage for making a dent in the universe:

  • If you don’t know how to do something in the kitchen – ask
  • If you are serious about learning – volunteer
  • If you see something that needs to be done – do it
  • If you see a fellow cook in the weeds – jump in and help
  • If your eyes are set on becoming a chef – find a mentor
  • If you are not given adequate opportunities to learn at your current job – find another property with a chef who will teach and train – give adequate notice where you are and open another door
  • If you don’t make enough money right now – be patient and show every day that you are worth more – do so by constantly improving
  • If you are too slow – practice
  • If the chef at your property looks stressed out – ask him or her what you can do to help

There are doors everywhere and you never know which one will lead to an opportunity to make a difference.  Don’t shy away from them – take a step forward and view your next footfall as the most important in your career.  Your dent is based on your effort.  Your confidence is based on your competence.  Your competence is based on your willingness to open the next door and commit.


Make a dent in the universe – start today

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

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CAFÉ Talks Podcast

**Check out my CAFÉ Talks podcast interview with Chef Gavin Kaysen launching on Wednesday, October 20.