There is another side to the challenges of labor in the restaurant business. From a cook’s perspective there has never been a better time to work in a kitchen than right now. This may seem contrary to all the clamor around an acute shortage of help, a loss of sizzle for those considering a life in front of the range, and all the one-sided press that depicts restaurant work as too demanding with little payback. From adversity comes opportunity.
The real joy of cooking comes from a person’s ability to express their history, their life experiences, their family heritage – on the plate. Your best cooking is never contrived. It doesn’t come from a recipe book, or a menu designed to appease a restaurants clientele – it comes from the heart and soul; it is cooking you connect with. The plate represents who and what you are and how you got to this point in time.
When the restaurant cycle is stressed by poor economics or over saturation of competition, when there are more cooks than there are kitchen positions; cooks accept employment to survive. When there are more opportunities than there are available cooks, then those who are strong representatives of who and what they are, are in a much better position to be selective of those opportunities and even impact what restaurant serve, and the type of food they represent. This is exactly where we are today.
This is a time when restaurants who want to thrive and move from good to great must seek out the very best, passionate, accomplished, serious cooks – ones who are looking for an opportunity to represent themselves on the plate. Those restaurants must thus consider giving some latitude for cook’s and chef’s to be who they are and cook what they know. This is the time for cooks to be themselves, to be authentic and express their love of the craft.
If your heritage is growing up on a farm, then your style is drawn from ingredients that were on the vine, the tree, or in the earth a few hours before they wound up on the plate. Relationships with farms and the source of those ingredients is essential, anything less is contrary to who you are. If you grew up in the Carolinas, Georgia, or Alabama then grits, heritage beans, bitter greens, bacon, game birds, pork, and all things barbeque are the essence of your identity. This, in many cases, will be you, your background, the food that you grew up on, and the food that gives you pleasure. This is what you need to cook and what defines the cook you are.
If you had the opportunity to travel then each of those travel experiences builds your portfolio of skill, but also the heart that drives your cooking. It is the travel and connections with different cultures that defines your style. If you were raised in New England then it’s all about lobster, cod, oysters, clams, and scallops. This is you, this is part of your core, and this is how you cook best. You cook in the same manner that you breathe; it is second nature; to step away from this is to lose your uniqueness.
With this opportunity comes responsibility. What are you trying to say with your cooking. Without your voice and your experiences behind it – cooking can be quite shallow. You need to decide if you are serving food or bringing guests into your story. To be authentic you must immerse yourself in everything that defines your life, your family’s life, your point of origin, and those life experiences that are part of your time on this planet. Find your story, know your story, live your story, and tell your story to the world through your food. It’s that important for serious cooks. It is your opportunity and your responsibility to study, to get to the roots of that heritage, to know the people that surround it, and to become one with that background. Only then will you be authentic.
This is the time of the serious cook and chef. This is the time when you can shine and when others must listen to who you are and how you need to cook, to represent, to be expressive.
We cook what and who we are. Anything less is simply not right for the serious cook. Be that person and others will respond with a smile; and by the way guests will line up to share in your story.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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