Everyone loves to cheer on a champion. I live in a community that has been host to two Winter Olympic Games (and more homegrown U.S. Olympians than most any other part of the country), University and Empire State Games, Can Am Hockey tournaments, Ironman competitions, Lacrosse Tournaments, and National Rugby Tournaments. This, of course, doesn’t even take into consideration the love that many residents have for their favorite professional baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, or football team. You could say that champions and those who love to cheer them on, are at home here. What is it about our passion for the highest level of success – even if it is the success of others?
To so many people success breaks free of the boundaries of “satisfied”, or “good”. There is a desire to be around and to relish the feeling of “greatness” and the ability to push the limits beyond what seems likely. Fast leads to a desire to be faster; creative must be pushed to reinvention; and excellence must naturally move on to perfection. Most people want to make that dent in the universe – some sit back and hope for it to happen, while a few choose to put in extraordinary effort to make it happen. It is to the latter group that this article is offered. Champions don’t happen organically, they are made, usually self-made, by people who are willing to be: “All-in”. This applies to athletes, artists, academics, scientists, doctors, businesspeople, and yes – COOKS and CHEFS.
What does it mean for a cook or chef to be a champion? We typically associate champions with being uniquely exceptional or different in one or many areas. In the kitchen this might relate to how a cook functions at a particular station (broiler, sauté, garde manger, etc.) or in a specific approach towards the job (organization, speed, efficiency, plate presentations, palate). In the case of a chef, it could very well refer to excellence in all or most of those areas with an added caveat for creativity, cost control, leadership, or persona in the eyes of the guest. No matter how specific or broad the list of performance skills – the way professionals in the kitchen approach their craft is very similar. Champions act universally, like other champions do. So, for those cooks and chefs who have visions of being champions in their field – here is a BAKER’S DOZEN of attributes and efforts that can lead to the prize.
Champions are positive people. They always see the bright side even when circumstances appear to be bleak. Champions almost never say “Can’t or Won’t”, but instead find a way to boast “Can” or “Will”.
Champions know they will find a way to get things done at a very high level; they understand they can and will solve the problem before them and find a way to win. They possess this confidence because they worked hard at becoming COMPETENT.
 A DESIRE TO LEARN:
Champions are excited to learn and grow. They seek out opportunities to improve through learning experiences. They never feel as if they know it all, but rather are humbled by how much is still left to learn.
Champions are totally focused on the task at hand, the job they are scheduled to perform, the people around them and how their work intertwines, and the expected results. “Being there” physically, mentally, and emotionally is the only way they approach their work.
 BEING PREPARED:
Champions make it their responsibility to know what lies ahead and to prepare for what might occur. They also prepare for what they don’t know is ahead realizing life sometimes throws a curve ball. Measure twice and cut once is not just a rule of thumb for carpenters – it applies to the kitchen as well and champion cooks insist on thinking things through. If it can go wrong and you don’t prepare for that outcome, then it will definitely go wrong.
 GRACE UNDER FIRE:
Champion cooks and chefs are able to keep their cool regardless of how busy it might be, how many different directions they are being pulled, and even when situations begin to unravel. They know that others depend on their coolness and know if they succumb to panic, then panic and chaos will result.
Champions believe in the Japanese commitment to constant improvement, or kaizen. However good they become at a certain task or job; they always know they can be better. Champions are never totally satisfied with their own work.
Champions act in a manner others can depend on. They are disciplined in how they look, act towards others, approach their job, implement proper procedures, and align with standards of excellence.
It is always obvious that champions love what they do. For cooks and chefs, it is total immersion in the craft, the ingredients and their source, flavors, presentations, and how their work impacts the dining public.
 YOUR OWN WORST CRITIC:
Championship cooks and chefs never need to be critiqued for their performance – they have already done so themselves. However, a supervisor or guest might point to how a dish might be improved upon, the champion cook has already dived into self-critique and poked and prodded until he or she has a plan for improvement.
 WORK ETHIC:
Hard work is always a given with champions. They put the time and effort in and rarely need to be told to do so. They practice and review, practice and review, practice, and review until it gets as close to perfection as it seems possible and then they go back to it and work even harder to find that elusive goal.
Champions are never self-proclaimed winners – they know that their success is attributed to others, and they show respect for those who are part of the process, the ingredients that make their work possible, the tools that give them leverage, and the work environment that brings it all together.
Finally, but not to infer championship ends with this list, the respect champion cooks have is closely aligned to the existence of and connection with a team of equal caliber champion teammates.
“A true champion is one who sweats from exhaustion when no one is watching.”
Are you a champion? How closely do you connect with these attributes and skills?
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
(Over 800 articles about the business and people of food)
CAFÉ Talks Podcast
More than 50 interviews with the most influential people in food