The trials and tribulations associated with the restaurant business are many – it is not an endeavor for the faint of heart. Finding the right concept, building in the right location, finding, and training the best staff, nurturing the team, and creating a menu that reflects the needs of the guest and the passion of the cook is only the beginning. This is a profession for those with a need to express, but it is also a business with very slim profit margins so oftentimes the artist and the accountant are part of a tenuous relationship. For some reason the industry tries to convince the artist and the accountant to be one and the same. To owners and operators, the cook for all ages must be both.
I have occasionally been asked what is the composite skill set of the chef or what should a graduate of a culinary program be able to do? What is that cook for all ages like, what list of attributes make up the ideal person for the job? The answer is not what you might think – in fact, from my perspective many of the attributes of the ideal cook/chef will not be found in a training manual or a college curriculum. The ideal cook or chef is no different than the ideal doctor, marketing expert, real estate agent, or entrepreneur.
First, allow me to address the dichotomy of the artist/accountant. Every chef, and for that matter every professional cook hoping to one day become a chef, MUST understand the business component of operating a restaurant. He or she must relish viable analytics, well designed budgets, and profit/loss statements. The chef must also appreciate marketing, the importance of social media, human resource management, business law, and how to be an effective communicator. This does not mean that the chef or professional cook must be expert at any of these processes or skills, or that he or she be the designer and driver of these important pieces of the business puzzle. A chef must be able to read and use analytics in the process of operating a kitchen, and he or she must learn how to contribute to the marketing efforts and always represent the property in alignment with the marketing strategy. Additionally, the chef must operate the kitchen as is dictated by labor laws to ensure fair treatment of all employees, and the messages that come from the chef’s desk must be professional, well designed, and reflective of the standards by which the restaurant operates. HOWEVER, this cannot take the chef or cook away from the primary duty of engagement with food, understanding the history and traditions associated with cooking, and being elbow-to-elbow with his or her kitchen team. This is paramount!
Now – down to the attributes of a cook for the ages – the cook who stands out as timeless and always to be admired and followed. This is what it takes to be truly worthy of the title by any real definition of “successful”:
 A PERSON OF INTEGRITY:
What spells out your ability to function as a member of a team and lead others rests with those character traits that make up your integrity as a person: dependability, honesty, trustworthiness, and your consistent adherence to those stakes in the ground that define your style and beliefs. People follow those whom they can count on.
 A HUMBLE PERSON:
The very best may know they are but they have little need to tell the world that it is so. These are the cooks and chefs, doctors, musicians, athletes, artists, business leaders, and educators who simply focus on constant improvement and always give their best because it is who they are.
 AN INDIVIDUAL WHO PRACTICES EFFECTIVE LISTENING:
Those who are successful in life, especially those in leadership positions share a commitment to listening to what others have to offer. There is a definitive difference between hearing to respond vs. listening to learn. Others will respect you if they sense that you are tuned in to their thoughts, concerns, and ideas.
 A PERSON WHO IS TRUE TO HIM(HER) SELF:
The very best know what is important to them and stay the course – making sure that they never sacrifice who they are when life’s pressures attempt to push them off course.
 A PERSON WHO SETS THE TONE FOR EXCELLENCE:
Giving your best, knowing your weaknesses, and working hard to improve is one of the most attractive attributes of a successful person. Approaching every task, every opportunity, and every problem with the intent of reaching for excellence is a trait that others will gravitate toward.
 A PERSON WHO RESPECTS OTHERS:
Demonstrating that every person has something to offer, that they are due your respect as a human being regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, personal beliefs, level of education, or financial status will set the tone for your business and your home. Be this person and know that a world of opportunity will come your way.
 A PERSON WHO RELISHES THE HONOR OF WORKING WITH FOOD:
Respect for the ingredients that a cook has the chance to work with, the people who grow the food and those who distribute it, and those who have an impact on that finished, plated meal is paramount to holding the title of chef. Know just how privileged we are to tie on an apron.
 A PERSON WHO NEVER SACRIFICES OTHERS FOR PERSONAL GAIN:
If you commit to excellence, if you respect others and the food that you work with, if you seek to constantly improve, listen to others, and help them reach their own level of excellence then you will succeed. Trying to succeed at others expense will never work in the long run – your role is to help others to grab opportunities and succeed, not get in their way.
The cook for all ages will rise to the top – the cream always does.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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