We have all heard it before; it is perpetuated in the media, by our politicians, guidance counselors, professors, our peers, and sometimes even parents.  You know that generalization about the position of cook and the inference that somehow it is less than professional and quite frankly, beneath considering as a viable career choice.  How many times has the job been referred to as “flipping hamburgers” or working in a “greasy spoon”?  How wrong they are, how uninformed, how misleading to those who might find a perfect place to build a terrific career, and how insulting they are to one of the most significant, and impactful careers. 

In some ways we have come a long way over the past sixty some odd years, and in other ways we haven’t budged an inch.  I remember the feeling when I tied on an apron for the first time – washing dishes at the age of 15.  It was a job and a paycheck, a signal that I wanted to take on some responsibility, and the beginning of a six-decade work ethic, but there were no pats on the back for a choice of careers.  The feeling in those days was: “great that you have a job, but what are you going to do when you grow up?”  To a guidance counselor it was a signal to potential college admissions officers that I knew how to work hard, but there was never a word about: “have you considered a career in the kitchen?” My parents were convinced that I needed a college education and without any other indication of a potential career other than “I would really like to be in a band”, they pushed me from the baseline of kitchen helper to maybe try your hand at hotel management.

After college ( it would take another decade before I decided to complete a degree), I tried to find my footing as a young manager (even though it never really excited me at this point), but fortunately found a general manager who interviewed me for quite a few hours, showed me how much I didn’t know at the age of twenty, and told me to return to the back of the house, learn all that I could, and then aspire to move into management.  I have thanked that manager (in my heart) countless times for that advice over the years.  This was the first time that anyone actually referred to the kitchen as a great place to learn, grow, and get a foothold on a career.

Why has this been the case for decades and why are we still struggling to convince others that becoming a professional cook is not only viable as a career – it is important, inspiring, intelligent, enjoyable, and eventually lucrative? 

To those who still doubt that this is true – here are some indications to support my belief:

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT REQUIRES INTELLECT AS WELL AS PHYSICAL SKILL

Professional cooks must be able to see, reference, analyze, prioritize, and make decisions in an instant.  There is a tremendous need for those individuals who have this broad capacity as well as the skill to cook a great meal.  Decision-making is ever present and comes at the cook in an instant.  Everything is fluid and fast requiring agility and the ability to prepare for the unknown and act when even good advance planning takes a side road.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT REQUIRES AN UNDERSTANDING OF APPLIED MATHEMATICS and SCIENCE:

This is absolutely true.  When some may discount cooking as a rote process of following a recipe, they fail to see that this process involves working with fractions, percentages, conversions, multiplication and division, experimentation, analysis, applied chemistry, a process of understanding and respecting biology, and even applied physics on a daily basis.  In fact, there are few careers that blend all of these throughout a typical day like that of the cook.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT DEMONSTRATES THE IMPORTANCE OF TEAMWORK:

One of life’s most important skills is the ability to play fairly with others in the sandbox.  Accomplishment of a successful meal service in a restaurant will never happen unless every cook understands teamwork and works to constantly enhance it.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT REQUIRES AN UNDERSTANDING OF HISTORY, PYSCHOLOGY, AND SOCIOLOGY AND HOW TO APPLY THOSE INTERESTS:

To be able to prepare any authentic dish, to have the ability to design a menu with ethnic authenticity, and to build a restaurant brand that is true to a specific style of cooking requires that the cook understand and appreciate the history behind a cuisine or dish, where ingredients originate and why they are important to the dish, and how the process of preparing items is important to the result.  Success also depends on the cook’s (and later chef’s) ability to understand people, what makes them tick, what excites them and what upsets them, and how their heritage and upbringing, and their self-confidence and socio-economic background influence the person they are and how they interact.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT BUILDS STRONG PROBLEM SOLVERS:

Cooks learn to adjust in the moment (there is little time to waste when that printer is spitting out orders at lightning speed), but also to step back and make longer-term adjustments to avoid problems in the future. When things go sideways, the professional cook finds a way to avoid that situation again.

[]       THIS IS A HIGHLY CREATIVE FIELD, JUST AS BROAD AS MUSIC, ART, ENGINEERING, ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN, AND EVEN CREATIVE WRITING:

Think about it: what other job allows the individual to approach every human sense: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste; communicate, design, build, and set the stage for performance like a cook?  Every day a cook designs and executes a menu that requires an understanding of texture, smell, taste, and sound, while painting a beautiful dish on a plate.  The dining room is the stage, the service staff are the performers, and the entire package creates the flavor of an experience.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT THRIVES ON DIVERSITY AND APPRECIATION OF OTHERS:

Some careers are challenged to create environments where diversity is present – the kitchen has always been a platform for all people regardless of place of birth, ethnicity, race, gender, age, or personal beliefs.  Cooks (for the most part) are blind to differences.  As long as everyone does his or her job – they are all equal.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT IS WELCOMING TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE WILLING TO WORK:

In any given kitchen you will find those with college degrees, those who came up through the school of hard knocks, those from impoverished backgrounds, and those who grew up in affluence, those who were class clowns and those who were serious introverts, and those who are happy go lucky as well as those who are mad at the world.  They all have a place if they want it, and all have an opportunity to grow.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT CAN PROVIDE LIMITLESS OPPORTUNITIES FOR UPWARD MOBILITY:

Cooks who want to eventually become a chef can do so – if they want to commit the time and energy to build their skills, if they are willing to accept critique and learn from others, if they are willing to accept what they don’t know and work to change that, and if they are determined to say “yes” when given the chance to stretch their abilities and build the right skill set over time can hold the position of ship’s captain.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT EVEN AT ITS ENTRY LEVEL STAGE CAN PROVIDE DREAMS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP THAT MAY ACTUALLY COME TO FRUITION:

Many cooks have a desire to be a business owner but may feel that it is out of their reach.  These statistics may provide a different outlook:  According to the National Restaurant Association 1 out of every 3 people in the U.S. received their first job in a restaurant of some type and 80% of all restaurant owners in the country started out with an entry level position in a restaurant (dishwasher, short order cook, bus person, etc.).  Opportunity always knocks for those with the ambition to take the bull by the horns.

[]       THIS IS A JOB FILLED WITH PRIDE:

For those who know the history of the profession and see the opportunities that exist, the act of buttoning that chef’s coat, tying on an apron, and adjusting that name tag provides a deep sense of pride as they represent what has been, what is, and what might be in the future.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT PROVIDES A NEEDED SERVICE APPRECIATED BY EVERYONE WHO SEEKS TO BREAK BREAD WITH OTHERS:

We work so that others can enjoy life, take a break from their busy schedules, celebrate success, comfort each other during tough times, enjoy family and friends, and raise a glass to another day in the life.

[]       THIS IS A JOB THAT ALLOWS THE COOK TO SEE THE RESULTS OF HIS OR HER WORK THROUGH THE PRESENTATION OF A TANGIBLE GOOD AND RECEIVE IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK FOR WHAT IS PRODUCED:

All the planning, all the organization, the accumulation of skills, the recognition of history, the sophistication of a palate and the creation of flavor memory come together on a plate of food in the pass.  When the cook finishes a plate and wipes the rim, when that cluster of fresh herbs tops off a dish and the finished product is presented to a server, the cook knows that his or her signature accompanies the item in route to a guest.  When the plate comes back clean, then a cook knows immediately – job well done!

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Be Something Special – Be a Cook

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