It always upsets me to run into a cook with a bleak attitude towards working in a kitchen. When an individual complains about the hours, his or her team, a lousy chef, a restaurant that doesn’t care about them, about how uninspiring the food is, or how poor the pay is and how limited the opportunities, then my reaction is: “it’s so sad that you haven’t found the right kitchen, the right chef.” When the house is operated in the way it should, the way it was meant to be; when the property is committed to doing things right, when the standards are high and the expectations even higher, then a serious cook can find a home to celebrate.
There are many, many kitchens that do it right. A cook who is serious about learning and setting a course towards the position of chef, can find the right property if he or she chooses to do so. There is little reason to accept mediocrity as long as you want no part of it. There are plenty of very good chefs who operate exceptional kitchens, who will welcome those with a high level of enthusiasm and a humble attitude towards listening and learning. When excellence is the most important word in your vocabulary then the opportunities are limitless. Don’t ever accept that mediocrity is the norm. It isn’t!
I, for one, want to believe that pride is a good thing, and that pride is the key to opening the right doors for serious cooks. I’m not talking about that false attitude of pride that keeps individuals from accepting their mistakes or asking for help, the type of pride that pits one against another and leaves little room for celebrating others accomplishments; I’m talking about the pride that will not allow a person to approach any task or situation with anything less that the desire to do it right, to view every situation as a learning opportunity, and every person as a source of energy.
The right kitchen, as I have mentioned before, sweats the details. Everything is important when creating an environment of excellence. There is no such thing as insignificance in the right kitchen with the right chef. In these operations pride begins with clean, complete, professional uniforms, an expectation of perfect personal hygiene, respect for all ingredients, organization, cleanliness, a respect for cooking foundations, professional interactions and communication, well-defined standards and enforcement of those standards, training and teaching, respect for others and consistency in work execution. There is symmetry of motion, almost as if a well-appointed musical score when it comes to teamwork. The right kitchen is a place where everything has a place, and everything is in its place. It is a place where every cook is expected to grow and build on a set of skills so they continue to enhance a portfolio of excellence eventually leading to the position of sous chef and chef. In the right kitchen, the chef feels a responsibility to grow his or her cooks in this manner – it is expected.
The right kitchen is a place where teachable moments happen every day and where the chef is focused on providing the right guidance during those moments. In these kitchens cooks are never treated as replaceable pawns, they are viewed as moldable apprentices with a bright future. As long as a serious cook is willing to learn, respectful of others, and able to invest in personal development – then the right kitchen will be a welcoming place.
In the right kitchen, the cook is shown how to improve and never simply chastised for making a mistake. Critique will replace criticism in these operations – noting that pointing to mistakes has little meaning unless the chef is willing to roll up his or her sleeves and show the cook how to improve. This does not mean the chef is soft on expectations, in fact, just the opposite. In the right kitchen there is typically a higher level of expectation and disappointment only when a cook fails to acknowledge a need to improve and ask for help.
In the right kitchen, led by the right chef, every cook looks in a mirror before starting a shift, adjusts his or her uniform, makes sure that the name tag is positioned properly, maintains his or her knives with real pride, insists on working clean and organized, and approaches every task with enthusiasm. It matters not that it is mincing onions, breaking down a chicken, peeling potatoes, or assembling a complicated pate en croute – every task is done with excellence in mind.
In the right kitchen everyone is aware of the status of their peers and willing to help whenever needed. It is this type of environment that cooks are proud to work in. It is possible! I feel fortunate to have worked in many of the “right” kitchens and hopefully am seen as a chef who operated in such a manner. This is why I am so distressed when cooks express that they feel used, unappreciated, demeaned, insulted, under paid, and void of any opportunity to improve. My answer is: “If this is the case then you are in the wrong operation.” If a cook is truly serious about becoming excellent at what he or she does – there are ample examples of great kitchens and great chefs – move on, show your commitment, and sign on.
I believe that some of the discontent right now that came to a head during the pandemic is because too many “solid cooks” have accepted that the wrong kitchen is the norm. It is not! If anyone needs recommendations on kitchens and chefs, who do it right – send me a request. If you are willing to go where the opportunities lie, then you can find a home in an environment where excellence is present.
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Peter Daniel said:
Nice commentary. When one weighs the hours spent in a kitchen and the rewards of the work, only a good and kind kitchen will do.