Desperation is never a good approach towards hiring. I know how difficult staffing is right now, believe me – I hear it every day from every chef that I communicate with. But desperation hiring is, more often than not, a terrible way to staff your kitchen. Your goal should never be to simply fill in a blank space on your schedule, but rather to find the right people to balance out your team. For the individual cook – the same holds true. Do you really want to work in an operation where desperation is the primary motivation for hiring?
Push aside, for just one moment, the temptation to just find a warm body and begin to look at building an environment where committed cooks want to become part of your team. Yes, let’s start there.
First, and maybe most importantly, chefs want to hire people who cook for the right reasons, or at least know what their motivation is. For the dedicated cook, you want to work in an operation where your peers are also cooking for the right reasons. To this end, I would suggest that you consider relegating your interview process to one question – a question that reveals so much of what you need to know – a question that some who apply have never thought about and as such they may have a difficult time determining the answer that truly reflects the person and the cook that they are.
“WHY DO YOU COOK?”
Simple question, right? A question that some will think is too basic, maybe even contrived or even trivial in comparison to the typical array of questions like: “What are your strengths or weaknesses”, “why did you leave your last job”, “what would others say about you”, “what is your educational background”, “where have you worked before”, “what is your favorite style of cooking”, or “where do you want to be in five years”. “WHY DO YOU COOK” is an all-consuming question that gets to the heart of who the person is and what he or she will likely bring to the kitchen position.
Without thought, the answer might be:
* “Because I need to work”
* “It’s all I’ve ever done”
* “I went to school for cooking”
* “I’m an adrenaline junkie and I live for the energy” or
* “I like the lifestyle”
Certainly, there is room in most kitchens for these individuals, but will they prove to be a strong foundation for building a successful team? Have they really thought beyond “the moment”, the needs that they have right now? Are these the individuals who will help the operation reach its long-term goals? Will they mesh with the other players in your kitchen? Or will you be looking to fill those same positions again in just a few months?
Think about the question yourself? WHY DO YOU COOK? What firmly held answer(s) would define the type of person who would complement your team? Here are some answers that would make others pay attention:
 Since the first day I entered a kitchen, I knew this was where I belonged:
When this is the case then a cook will always be looking for a way to fit in with the team and contribute. There is a sense of appreciation and wonder; acknowledgement that this is a special environment that is calling he or she into service.
 I enjoy the teamwork, the focus, and the passion for creating exciting food that makes people happy:
This is an all-encompassing answer that speaks to the cook’s desire to be part of something bigger than one person, the desire to have purpose and commit to a larger goal, and an understanding that as cooks we are in the business of bringing joy.
 There is something special about the energy and the engagement that cooks have with a process that makes me proud:
Pride in one’s chosen profession is a powerful tool. The energy that a cook experiences is a direct result of this pride. Self-motivation (the only real motivation) happens when cooks can look in a mirror and admire the person they see.
 It’s hard work that requires me to constantly improve my skills and learn about the ingredients I work with:
A real important answer – this relates to a strong work ethic, a desire to feel the gratification that comes from physical, mental, and emotional involvement in the work. This will be the type of person you want by your side when things get difficult.
 Cooking is how I am most comfortable communicating with others. Whether it is a restaurant guest, my peers in the kitchen, or my family – cooking is what I do to tell them I care:
The kitchen can be a melting pot of characters- some are extroverts that thrive in an environment where they can shine, and others are introverts who are looking to contribute, but find the kitchen is where they feel safe, wanted, and important. They are not looking for the limelight, but rather a place where they feel valued and secure.
 I’m good at this. When I am in the kitchen, I feel confident in my abilities:
Confidence is a real asset in any work environment, especially if the person can back up that confidence with results. Confidence comes from competence and competence is a result of commitment, practice, and great listening skills while the individual builds his or her portfolio of abilities.
 I have always admired the symmetry and interconnectivity of the kitchen and the complexity of what it takes to excel. I want to be a chef some day and I know that I must invest in learning as much as I can to reach that goal:
Sometimes individuals find great joy in being part of a well-oiled machine. In a kitchen I would always prefer someone who finds greater satisfaction in playing baseball or basketball that golf. This is not to slight golfers (I try to be one on occasion myself), nor is it meant to infer those cooks need to play sports at all – it is a reference to wanting to be part of a team versus standing on a soapbox as an independent. This also shows that the person has a goal and knows what it will take to get there. Not everyone wants to reach for that position, some are perfectly happy to be excellent cooks – both are needed, and both will find a home in a great kitchen.
 Whenever I put on the uniform of the kitchen, I feel proud of what I do and who I have become:
Maybe this seems trivial to some, but to those who are truly dedicated culinarians, pride in the uniform and what it represents, the history of the profession, and the membership feel that exists when the uniform is worn properly can lead to a more focused, cohesive team. Pride in how one looks will oftentimes result in how that same person acts and performs.
As long as restaurant owners and operators learn that recognition, training, supportive work environments, fair compensation, and concern about work-life balance are essential, then building a team of professionals who can answer the question: WHY DO YOU COOK will set the stage for a bright future and a successful operation.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
CAFÉ Talks Podcast
“I cook, therefore I am”