“The chef really needs to motivate me today”. How often have you heard this type of interplay in the kitchen? People have a tendency to relegate their performance, attitude, and outlook on their job to someone else. A restaurant employee is off of their game, riddled with doom and gloom, prone to make dumb mistakes, or simply miserable to be around and thus looks to those “in charge” for a reason to change.

No person can motivate another. This is the reality that so many choose not to understand. Managers, chefs and coworkers cannot dictate that an employee or peer approach their job and their coworkers with a positive attitude, only the individual suffering from this downward approach can choose to self-motivate. All that management, the chef or that person’s peers can do is to set the stage for self-motivation.

Now, this being said there is much that the chef or manager can do to create an environment for self-motivation. If you subscribe to the age-old theory of Abraham Maslow then you understand that the first three steps associated with his Hierarchy of Needs relates to tangible areas that management and the chef can control to some degree.’s%20hierarchy%20of%20needs

Survival needs relate directly and indirectly to a livable wage. The challenge with a livable wage is that it means something different to every individual. Survival goes beyond the basics of food, shelter and clothing – it relates to the level of food, shelter and clothing that the person has become accustomed to and most importantly relates to the skill level required to perform certain tasks. What chefs and managers can certainly do is provide an environment where individuals can improve their skills and prepare for the next level position that does offer increases in compensation. Training, mentoring and coaching all play well into this formula. The second step in the Hierarchy of Needs focuses on Security. The chef has an obligation to the business to operate in a manner that enhances the opportunity for financial success. This same fiduciary responsibility will create a business climate that protects the jobs of those who actively participate in this process. If the business succeeds the employee can feel more comfortable about their job security and if these same employees contribute as expected then they can rest easy when it comes to longevity. The third level deals with a Sense of Belongingness. Building comprehensive orientation programs, using the in-house buddy system for initial job acclimation, offering on-going training and assessment and developing opportunities for staff members to interact on and off the job will help individuals feel at home with their position and allow the other members of a kitchen team to feel at ease and part of the acclimation process.

The final two steps in Maslow’s Theory are Self-Esteem and Self Actualization: both can certainly be impacted by the chef in a property, but they rely heavily on the individual’s desire to excel, work ethic and willingness to take full advantage of the positive environment that has been created by management. Self Esteem- how a person feels about themselves, their work, the product or service they provide, the perception of others and the value of their existence is one of the deepest topics associated with human psychology. Self-Actualization is in essence the ability to “be all that you can be”. The interesting point about this is that we can never really be all that we can be, so if the environment for this opportunity exists then individuals will be constantly looking at how to improve, reaching eternally for that carrot – the Japanese refer to it as Kaizen, a core principle that they live by as a culture. Not all people are equal in terms of their desire to perform, their willingness to take on challenges or to even seeing the opportunities before them. Self-motivation is exactly what it sounds like. defines self-motivation as follows:

“Self-motivation. Initiative to undertake or continue a task or activity without another’s prodding or supervision. They learn a sense of self-confidence and self-motivation, and it stays with them into their adult lives.”

When self-motivation kicks in there is very little that can get in the way of a person’s progress and eventual success. It is this important trait that separates those who know they can and do from those who think they can’t and don’t. No one has control over this except the individual. Those who try to place the blame on others for their inability to self-motivate will likely never find success.

Sorry, the chef cannot motivate you is something that should be realized by the individual seeking an outside push and must be realized by the chef or the manager as well. Create the environment, hire those who will view this environment as an opportunity and recognize the efforts of those who choose to take the bull by the horns.

As a footnote it should be acknowledged that if the chef or manager fails to create the environment for this to work then the result would be stifling to those who have potential. When the environment for self-motivation does not exist then individuals with potential will seek opportunities elsewhere. To this point, Maslow fails to address some additional components of the self-motivation process. Those properties that provide the physical plant that allows cooks (in this example) to execute their craft effectively and feel pride in the product that they produce will help to set the stage for great things to happen. Additionally, those operations that have a philosophy of operation that aligns with those in their staff who have the raw materials for self-motivation – will have an added bonus of building not just successful employees but loyal ambassadors as well.

Motivation is not a simple concept, certainly not one that can be addressed in a short article, however there is typically agreement on the part of the hundreds of authors who have studied and preached their beliefs on the topic that more weight needs to be placed on the individual than the organization or its management.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



I just finished watching an incredible documentary movie for the second time: Jiro – Dreams of Sushi is a story not to be missed by serious cooks, chefs, restaurateurs, artists, musicians, teachers and all who are seeking a calling in life. This is a incredibly beautiful, soulful, passionate movie that is an education in life demonstrating the importance of dedication to a craft, Kaizen (constant improvement), respect, consistency, being in search of excellence, partnering with others, beauty, rhythm of motion, the art of teaching, patience and completeness.

The beautiful food that is produced in this landmark restaurant of 10 seats in Japan and the photography that frames this beauty is only a part of the message being delivered. It is a message for all who are seeking their calling or who think they have found it. What comes to mind is differentiating between those who seek to find a job to survive and those who find that purpose in life that makes them whole, gives them pleasure and provides a portal for expression that others want to emulate. The choice might be a chef, but could just as easily be a furniture maker, engineer, writer, musician, painter, writer, doctor, teacher or member of the clergy. One cannot underestimate the importance of work as an extension of a grand design.

Jiro Ono epitomizes the cultural commitment to excellence in simplicity that has long been the standard of the Japanese culture. The movie captures this through the process of building partnerships with vendors of extraordinary ingredients, the reverence given to Nature’s bounty that is exhibited in the open markets of Japan, the exactness and care that Jiro and his staff take in the preparation of every product from the beautiful fish that they handle to the manner with which they prepare rice and even toast nori over a flame. The movement of each sushi chefs fingers are consistent with their touch on rice and fish, the care that they use in putting an edge on their razor sharp knives, the exactness used in determining where each guest will sit when they open and the orientation of plates and chairs designed to maximize their comfort and experience.

Jiro learns a lesson of independence and work ethic much earlier than would be considered conceivable in our country and passes the knowledge from that experience on to his sons who are destined to take on his role when and if he retires. Jiro, at the time of the movie, was 85 years old and still working just as hard, every day of the year except for national holidays. He is the restaurant coach and mentor now, the master finisher of sushi and the face of the restaurant, but most importantly, the teacher of the next generation of Jiro sushi chefs who must commit to 10 years of apprenticeship before they are allowed to prepare any of the finished product for the guest.

The beauty of Jiro and in this case – the movie, is to point out the value of strong foundational skills, the significance of tradition and the connection that a true craftsman must have with the ingredients and tools that they work with.

From a chefs perspective the lessons demonstrated by this master can and should be a guide for others to follow. Learning to build trusting relationships with vendors, building the highest standards of excellence and never wavering from those standards, taking every moment of every day to teach others, and always seeking ways to improve on your skills should be part of any serious restaurants method of operation.

Jiro understands what it takes for cooks to master their trade and takes no prisoners when it comes to standards of excellence. He believes that a cook’s education never ends and includes all connections with the product and the experience. A favorite quote from the film is: “In order to make delicious food you must eat delicious food”, requiring all of his staff to eat the same excellent sushi that he serves guests who wait at least a month for a reservation. The palate is most critical if a chef is to master the craft.

If you have not seen Jiro – Dreams of Sushi yet, then stop what you are doing and either purchase a copy (preferred so that you can watch it frequently) or place it in your Netflix Queue. If you are a chef or a restaurateur then please make this required viewing for every member of your staff: it is that good and that important.


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There is no question that dining is a sensual experience. A perfect meal will always address the full gamut of senses as it is prepared and presented: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Chefs who focus on just a few of these senses truly miss the opportunity to build something special, memorable and replicable.

The business side of operating a restaurant must always focus on ways to create customer traffic, but restaurants with longevity find that it is even more important to focus on ways to create return visits and guest loyalty. The typical business-marketing model refers to five different types of consumers: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and late adopters. The big splash for a restaurant usually comes in those first few months of operation and is focused on those innovators who like to try something new. The upside to appealing to innovators is that the initial rush that they provide can result in positive buzz for the restaurant, good press and potentially more stable customers to follow. The downside to innovators is that they grow quickly tired of your product and jump ship when the next “cool thing” arrives, typically somewhere else. Successful restaurants strive to attract the early majority and late majority of consumers that account for almost 70% of potential buyers. These guests want the whole package and are drawn to those operations that can provide consistency in all areas.

So, why am I mentioning all of this? Although I consider myself fairly open minded when it comes to food and adventurous enough to try new things, I, like many will return time and time again to those restaurants with a real understanding of the five senses and the necessary skills to address them each and every time I dine. I like to be able to predict and depend on excellence. The food press is always spouting about the new and sometimes radical approaches that some chefs are taking towards food flavor profiles and preparation methods. I always find these interesting and usually dig beneath the surface to find something in these new approaches that I might use. The real question to me is always: “is the experience of this food enjoyable enough to create a concept with longevity?” If the answer is “no”, or “maybe not”, then I wonder why that chef has chosen to drift so much from the center.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that creativity is the basis of many new products or services that we only know are necessary and a “must have” until someone dares to make it known. I applaud all who take the chance to move us forward, however, I always reflect back on the long-term impact that these moves will have on the business and the chef. The foundations will never do you wrong! Restaurants that consistently attract the early and late majority are those that understand and practice the foundations. I would also dare to say that those chefs who are experimenting with new products, flavors and processes have, at some point in their careers, embraced and practiced the basics.

Cooks and chefs who have a passion for their craft, who have a desire to pursue a long and fruitful career in the kitchen, who yearn to some day have their own place or at least own the freedom to do what they desire in a kitchen must understand the importance of the foundations.

There is no question that as we learn more about the science of cooking we can develop a better understanding of how to approach ingredients. This scientific approach is fascinating and intellectually stimulating, but in the end we are part of the service business and are charged with pleasing customer palates and developing consistently enjoyable experiences. The gratification that comes from preparing a meal that stimulates all of the senses and makes people want to return is the best reward that a chef can receive.

Young people today are often drawn to the kitchen because they have seen or read about these new breakthrough processes for creating visually inspirational dishes, using technology that a decade ago was not on anyone’s radar. What I have seen too often are students of cooking who want to jump right to the sizzle of creativity without first understanding the foundations of cooking and food handling that have made it possible for experimental chefs to do what they do. There is still very little that can replace a well-made stock or a perfectly braised lamb shank. The methods that many others before us have developed and passed on will always stand tall under the scrutiny of return guests. A tell tale sign of the importance of this can be coaxed out when you ask those same chefs where they go out to eat and what foods are at the top of their preferred list. I would bet that most would focus on those operations that know how to use the foundations to their advantage and draw out flavors that make them close their eyes and savor the essence of solid cooking.

The lesson here is simple: walk before you run. Learn the foundations, make this the blueprint of your style, spend the years that it takes to master what others for generations have perfected and then you have the ability to truly take those basics to new places, adapt the technology that is rising to the surface and put a fresh signature of the food that people love. In the end, it is all about satisfying guests, creating ambassadors and return clients. This is our charge from an artistic and from a business perspective.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching


PLease SHARE this important topic with your network. There are few things more important than the quality and appropriateness of our educational model in America.

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Progress isn’t always for the better. I have taught for many years that America is now a service-based economy and that this transition is a natural progression that we must learn to adapt to. The problem is that we are forgetting how to make things. We are terrific users of goods and outstanding providers of the services that drive our economy, yet is this really progress?

What was most telling to me was an interview a while back with Tim Cook from Apple when he was asked why so many of their products were outsourced overseas (that is beginning to change by the way) and his response was unexpected. I am paraphrasing, but in essence he said it was less to do with the cost of manufacturing in the United States as it was the difficult time they had finding people with the right skills to do the work. Wow!…

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Progress isn’t always for the better. I have taught for many years that America is now a service-based economy and that this transition is a natural progression that we must learn to adapt to. The problem is that we are forgetting how to make things. We are terrific users of goods and outstanding providers of the services that drive our economy, yet is this really progress?

What was most telling to me was an interview a while back with Tim Cook from Apple when he was asked why so many of their products were outsourced overseas (that is beginning to change by the way) and his response was unexpected. I am paraphrasing, but in essence he said it was less to do with the cost of manufacturing in the United States as it was the difficult time they had finding people with the right skills to do the work. Wow! Ironically, I get a similar response from chefs and restaurateurs when asked why they don’t hire more students from culinary schools.

If you look back, not too far back, you can see how quickly things have changed. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, every student who attended elementary school and sometimes into high school was enrolled in either “shop” (wood or metal) or “home economics” where they built some foundational building or cooking skills. In both cases students were learning how to make things with their hands. There is something incredibly gratifying about building anything that takes form. It is a life skill that allows people to see, touch and experience the power of learning.

As a teacher, I have always found that the tactile experience that students have with making things benefits them in more ways than simply the thrill of creation. Making things requires students to use, really use those core academic skills that will allow them to carrying on with a successful career in the future. To build requires math, communication, physics, sometimes chemistry, problem solving, teamwork, physical conditioning, analysis and in many cases an understanding of history and other social sciences. To build and create is to become a well-rounded individual with opportunities to be successful in a career and in life.

Some students may use this skill of building as a stepping stone for a career in the trades while others utilize the planning and problem solving applications associated with making things in other careers that may not require them to build or fix, but rather lead others in the accomplishment of those tasks.

Physiologically, the human body is designed to build things whether it is a house, computer, automobile or plate of restaurant quality food. Our hands are two of the best tools ever designed with the ability to sense, feel, manipulate and mold a product into something that is wonderful to see, use, experience or even taste. Your body, with its intricate muscle and bone structure is calibrated to move to the needs of instruments of design and construction, lift, carry, turn and deliver. Everything about the body is built to be creative and to make things that work and satisfy. We were not designed simply to hold a keyboard. To not properly use the body in this fashion is depriving that human form of its rightful use. To not allow a student to actively use the body in this fashion, to not demonstrate and teach them how to unleash the potential of this human creative machine is to deprive them of their birthright and an enormous sense of satisfaction.

Teachers are always looking for ways to allow the “light bulb to turn on” in the classroom; I can tell you from experience that it happens easily and often when the student is allowed to apply knowledge to the creation of a tangible product.

I have wondered why there is such a surge of interest in pursuing careers in culinary arts and the more I investigate the more I come to the same conclusion: people love to create, they have a real desire to make things for themselves and for others, to realize that sense of purpose when something that they invest their time in takes physical form.

America grew as a country based on our ability to make things better, faster and more efficiently than anyone else. Edwards Deming pushed American industry to constantly look at the creation of value based on the highest level of consistent quality, at the most appropriate price. What he never would have imagined was that we would fail at teaching new generations how to visualize and have the skills necessary to actually make things to manage in this fashion.

Educo is the Latin root word for Education. The literal translation of this word means to draw forth. When education works it is because teachers succeed in building those tangible skills in their students allowing them to participate in their own enlightenment, their own education. As a society we must consider spending more time training as part of the educational process and then allow our young people the freedom to create and build. In his recent book: “Shop Class at Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work”, Matthew Crawford wrote:

“For those who felt hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, Shop Class as Soulcraft seeks to restore the honor of the manual trades as a life worth choosing. On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a “knowledge worker,” based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind.”

This same principle can be applied to those classes in culinary arts or home economics, art and music that build an environment when students can take their acquired knowledge, build things that have substance and demonstrate the innate abilities that everyone is born with.

There is a national debate taking place around “core curriculum” and defining what is important and critical in America’s education model. I would suggest that any core curriculum involve hands on application through courses that show and allow students to participate in the process of making things. Whether our young people take these core skills to a career in the kitchen, the wood shop, the engineering firm, or the computer company is not the issue, the issue is providing them with the skills to chose to move in those directions if they want and to have the ability to do so.

Not everyone can become a chef, but everyone can learn to cook and feel the satisfaction derived from creating a dish. Not everyone can become a woodworker, architect, electrical engineer, computer designer or graphic artist, yet everyone can benefit from the skills that are the foundation of all of these trades. In the process they will learn how applicable all of the “core concepts” are to life. Math, communication, social science, physics and chemistry are essential in any and every tactile profession. Let’s train and teach at the same time, it is what education should be about.

Support the trade and tactile skill classes in your local school – it is important!


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



At the age of 63 I decided to finally take guitar lessons. I have owned a beautiful Fender Stratocaster for years as well as an Epiphone Les Paul without really deserving either. For quite some time I have dabbled in building a repertoire of chords and trying to figure out some leads (without much success). Better late than never, I now find myself taking weekly lessons, practicing a bit every day and building an understanding of scales and how guitar music is put together. What strikes me now is the parallels between learning to really play the guitar (or any musical instrument) and learning to be a professional cook.

Let’s begin with tools. Just as I have no business owning a Stratocaster (hopefully that will change now), young, inexperienced cooks have no real business owning $300 knives. The guitar only makes great music when the player understands how to put together a piece of music and master the beauty of the instrument. A cook can truly only make great food when he or she understands the raw materials, the simplicity and complexity of building flavors and the beauty of the tools that they use. It has always dumbfounded me when an 18 year old walks into a kitchen with a set of Henckel’s (I still don’t own any).

Music, just like great food has a foundation to it that must become second nature to the musician. Until that is not just learned, but understood and appreciated, the music tends to lack a melodic quality. Until the cook understands and appreciates the foundations of cooking, their food will oftentimes lack focus and a balance of flavor. These foundations must become part of conscious memory. The use of the guitar must become an extension of the musician with fingering and song structure that is second nature to the person playing. With the cook, the same is true. The way that they handle a knife, prepare a pan for a piece of fish, build foundational flavors in a stock or even know when to pull a steak from a chargrill must become an extension of his or her conscious memory. On the guitar this is referred to as finger memory and in the kitchen it is the same.

When it happens both with the guitar and on the kitchen range – there is magic. Watching an accomplished guitarist is mesmerizing; watching an accomplished cook on the line, slicing fish for sashimi, sautéing vegetables or even dicing an onion can be just as mesmerizing. In both cases, what they do is second nature, they KNOW what to do and the tools (instruments) that they use become vehicles of a masterful expression.

In the early 70’s Eric Clapton, after time with the Yardbirds and John Mayall, formed a band called Cream. This was, to those of us around at that time, an incredible fusion of blues, jazz, rock and inspiration from some other planet. There is no question that Clapton was talented and creative beyond his years, but the music, although exciting, was hardly melodic and beautiful. Some referred to him, as a Guitar God at the time and even the most accomplished guitarist would bow to his creativity.
Today, chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz and Wiley Dufresne are drawing tremendous attention from the press and from their peers for their incredible creativity and riskiness with cooking. Everyone is turning his or her head to watch just as everyone turned his or her head to watch Clapton in those early days. The question is always – what is the longevity of their work, who will remember what they have done and will their style continue to have traction for decades to come? Fast forward to the year 2000 and beyond: Clapton is now considered one of the gentlemen musicians of an era. His technical mastery has fallen back to the foundations of melodic music and as a result he has transitioned from “Crossroads” in the seventies to “Born in Time” and “My Father’s Eyes” in recent years. His music has taken on a flavor that is well developed, balanced and yet still very exciting. It has finish, just like a great wine.

Blumenthal, Adria, Achatz and Dufresne are all extremely talented chefs but how will their cooking evolve into something more mature, melodic and balanced. The sign of great music is the desire of many to listen to it time and time again and savor the beauty of what is being offered. The sign of great cooking is the same to the diner.

It has taken decades for me to be truly comfortable with cooking. The process involved building a better understanding of the foundations and learning to imbed this understanding into my subconscious and conscious mind so that when presented with ingredients I know where to begin and where to end. I hope that in the years to come I can say the same about how I play that Stratocaster.

We can all learn from Eric Clapton. Finger memory, flavor memory, the foundations of a craft and respect for the tools that we use will always lead to great music and great food.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant & Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



Ten hours each day, six days per week (or more), 48-50 weeks per year, 40 years of a career in the kitchen. Each professional cook or chef will likely spend at least 120,000 hours on his or her feet during the course of his or her career. If you were to spend this much time in your car the odometer would read 4.8 million miles. Ouch!

I didn’t really notice anything until I hit my mid-fifties. As a chef I had always looked at my work week as one continuous day of standing, walking, lifting, bending and turning at odd angles when I would move things in and out of an oven, toss vegetables in a sauté pan or reach to grab a pot from an overhead hanger. No big deal. Then things started to change, time was taking it’s toll. It started with sore feet at the end of a day – I would begin dreaming about that soak in Johnson’s Foot Soap the last two hours at work and would walk through the door at home and head right for the hot water. I tried different shoes: some with heals, some without. Some with steel toes and some with extra cushioned soles. I bought expensive Birkenstocks and shoes designed just for kitchens. I invested heavily in Dr. Sholls inserts, tried clogs and even a pair of Doc Martins. My feet hurt!

The interesting thing about the human anatomy and its interconnectivity is that every part of your body seems to carry on a conversation and at some point all parts agree. The feet are connected to the ankles (my ankles began to hurt), the ankles are connected to the knees (I started to have knee problems), the knees lead into the back (this irritated an old back problem) and the back, knees, ankles and feet had a serious conversation with my head causing frequent headaches. At this point many would simply write it off as “getting old”, but my situation was really not unique at all and not so much related to age as it was the abuse caused by too much hard time on my feet.

Talk with any chef and they will likely complain about the same problems. It is not age specific, in fact many young cooks and chefs suffer from the same physical pain associated with not taking proper care of their feet. There are many aches and pains that human beings endure but issues associated with what keeps us upright can be all consuming and debilitating. At some point all that a cook can think about is how much their entire body cries out for relief. Once the anatomical conversation between your feet and the rest of the body begins it is very difficult to change the topic. A cook or chef begins to lack focus, productivity is impacted and the passion that they had for cooking begins to take a back seat to throbbing nerves and aching joints.

Chefs know that their feet are important. They hear the stories from their colleagues, they see the results of poorly cared for bodies in the actions of their co-workers; yet, far too little attention is paid to the root cause. Taking care of your feet is a science and although the business demands might not change, a cook can delay or diminish the impact of foot abuse.
There are even definitive ailments that have been dedicated to our profession. One is even referred to as “chef’s foot”, or medically called “Hallux Rigidus”. This is an ailment that zeros in on your big toe and can be quite painful with throbbing sparks of pain that can at times bring a cook to his or her knees. The cause is foot abuse.

Here are some things that I have found (far too late in my career) that can help to relieve foot stress:

• BUY GOOD SHOES! Make sure that your shoes fit well, they provide adequate support, they are maintained, and they have that important “give” whether through natural soles or added inserts. If you are at a loss on what to buy then Google: “Top 10 Shoes for Chefs” and you will find details from a variety of shoe companies on eBay. DO NOT WEAR SNEAKERS IN THE KITCHEN – EVER!
• CHANGE YOUR SHOES! If you are going to be on your feet in the kitchen all day then bring an extra pair of GOOD shoes and change them half way through the day.
• USE A STEP: When involved in stationary repetitive prep, lift one leg and place your foot on a step or the bottom shelf of a table to relieve some of the stress on feet, knees and back.
• WEAR WHITE SOCKS! The dye in colored socks will seep into your feet that are receptive since they sweat and the pores are open.
• SIT WHEN YOU EAT! Far too many cooks (myself included) would never sit down for a staff meal while working. Instead they would eat while standing so as not to lose a moment of prep time. Your entire body will welcome a few moments off of your feet.
• WALK WHEN NOT AT WORK! Staying active and changing the motion that your work body has become accustomed to will keep you limber.
• WASH AND SOAK YOUR FEET! This should be part of your daily grooming routine. I do recommend Johnson’s Foot Soap.
• WATCH YOUR POSTURE! Much of the work in a kitchen requires us to bend over ever so slightly to chop, dice and fabricate. This will take a toll on your body. When you walk, force your shoulders back and hold your head high. You might even consider a daily exercise routine or Yoga to keep your body limber.
• MAKE FRIENDS WITH A CHIROPRACTOR OR MASSEUSE: Sometimes your body needs outside help to keep from calcifying and becoming accustomed to pain as a way of life.
• LIFT SMART! Bend at the knees, open your mouth and only lift what you are able to handle. When lifting over your head limit the weight to less than 10 pounds.
• ADJUST TABLE HEIGHT! Depending on the task, different table heights will improve posture and diminish the impact of poor ergonomics on your body. Talk with your HR director about recommended heights.
• MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT! The more weight that you carry; the more stress is placed on your feet, knees and back. Check with your doctor or dietitian for the ideal weigh to match your frame and age.
• KNOW WHEN TO BACK OFF! Chefs subscribe to this silly notion that they can do anything by themselves. That 10-gallon stockpot full of liquid will weigh 100 pounds or more. Your body is not too fond of lifting weight like this especially when the contents are sloshing around when you walk. GET HELP!
• CERTAIN PARTS OF THE JOB OF COOK ARE ONLY FOR THE PHYSICALLY YOUNG. At some point in time your responsibilities need to either evolve with less standing time, or it might be a point in your career when you need to do something different for the sake of your physical health.

Back to the opening line in this article: Your Feet are the Most Important Part of a Chef’s Body. A person comes to the conclusion that there is nothing more important than your health usually when something goes wrong. Preventative maintenance is the pro-active approach. Know this: without preventative foot maintenance every cook or chef will suffer the consequences at some point.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting & Training



In 1996, Richard Carlson wrote a very successful book on stress relief entitled: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. His approach was to de-emphasize those tasks and issues in our lives that drive us crazy and are, from his perspective, not that important in the big scheme of things. It was a great read and honorable attempt at making our lives less stressful and more enjoyable. Unfortunately, in business and in particular – in restaurants, it is the small stuff that adds up to business success or failure. It will always be the details that separate the business leaders from the lagging followers, the ones that thrive vs. the ones that hang on for dear life.

A chef’s day is filled with important details that must be focused on because it is the accumulation of well-executed details that will build the restaurant brand and create loyal followers. The chef must have a laser sharp mind that can zero in on the minutia and create the experience that guests expect. It will be the small details that differentiate one restaurant from another.

Let’s walk through a chef’s day to point out the incredible detail that leads to success and allows a true professional to look him or herself in the mirror and acknowledge a job well done. Sweating the details is part of a process tuned into striving for excellence. In the book: Lessons in Excellence, Charlie Trotter was quoted:

“I have always looked at it this way: If you strive like crazy for perfection – an all-out assault on total perfection – at the very least you will hit a high level of excellence, and then you might be able to sleep at night. To accomplish something truly significant, excellence has to become a life plan.”


It is 5 a.m. and the alarm clock cries out in a chef’s bedroom. As the fog of a restless nights sleep begins to dissipate and clarity comes into play, the chef starts the process of preparing for another day. After a few stretching exercises, a respectable breakfast, shower and two cups of coffee, this restaurant careerist is off and running.

At 6:45, the chef’s day has begun. The initial walk-through of the kitchen is a mental follow-up on how the evening crew finished their shift, a review of last night’s service, check-in with the prep crew already at work and run through of the BEO’s hanging in waiting for today’s execution. The chef checks the cleanliness of stoves, rotation and labeling of product in the coolers, spot checks glassware and china for water spots, peers under counters to ensure that the floors were attended to, verifies that coffee makers were cleaned properly, looks at the reservation book for the day and runs through the deliveries of product scheduled to arrive. While completing the tour the chef notes that stove top cleaning was not up to par and no one ran the hood filters through the dish machine as was scheduled last evening. He will need to come down pretty hard on the evening crew when they arrive. Failure to clean every day, as was the plan will build into a significant problem if left unchecked.

He or she spends time with the prep crew as it is noticed that far too much flesh is left on the bone structure of fresh fish after filleting. It will be these small “misses” that will make the difference between profit and loss. Stocks are already simmering and breads are coming out of the oven. He points out to the prep cook that his mirepoix was not adequately caramelized and will have an impact on the flavor and color of the stock. Since this is the basis for the restaurants soups and sauces, the stock quality is of consummate importance.

Orders begin to arrive by 8 a.m. and the chef makes sure that he or she is there to check the quality of ingredients, the weights and amounts, the sourcing of the raw materials ordered and the prices that should match what the vendor quoted. Carrots, green beans, and asparagus should be of the right size, color and texture (so the chef will snap and taste), oranges of the right count and when cut open bursting with sweet flavor, scallops must be sweet smelling and dry, eyes and gills on the fish should be clear and vibrant, meat eyes on the strip loins and the marbling of fat – indicative of the USDA Prime grade that was ordered, and any canned goods free of dents. This is a very critical part of the day because the quality of raw materials will determine the quality of the finished product.

The chef reviews all BEO (function sheets) with the prep staff and makes sure that recipes are adjusted to the amounts needed. Yes, the chef uses recipes to ensure that the quality and cost is consistent and well managed.

The dishwashing crew arrives and the chef spends some time checking the cleanliness of the machine, calibration for cleaning chemicals, machine wash and rinse temperatures and organization of the area. Clean plates are the hallmark of a well-run kitchen. The chef reviews the process of making sure that plates are double-checked before being placed into service, stacked and stored in the proper location and free of any cracks and chips.

Throughout the mise en place phase of preparing for service, the chef is inspecting knife cuts and cooking methods as well as tasting items to help cooks build their flavor profile while making sure that the restaurant’s standards are consistently adhered to.

At 4 p.m. the dining room crew arrives for set-up and the chef does a walk-thru with the front of the house manager inspecting table levels, the crispness of table cloths, table top appointments, repairs needed on any chairs, clean windows, appropriate temperatures in the room, music levels, lighting, bathroom cleanliness, bar set-up and the quality of the physical menus.

When 5 p.m. arrives the chef does his final tasting of items on the line and takes part in dinner pre-meal to make sure that the service staff is familiar with evening features, suggested wines, and the manner with which they should approach upselling items to guests. By 5:30 when the doors open and service is about to begin, the chef feels comfortable that they are ready to service the guest and exceed their expectations. All this before a single dish is ever cooked and presented.

It will be this focus on everything that makes a restaurant successful. The cleanliness of the parking lot, attention to landscaping, polishing of the exterior sign and the brass hardware on the entrance door, arrangement of bottles on the back bar, crispness of server uniforms, first aromas when a guest enters and the sincerity of the host welcome will all play into a restaurant’s ability to turn a guest into an ambassador and leverage this for on-going business success.

This is an every day, every minute process that is at the heart of a chef’s job description. Sweat the small stuff-everything matters.

by: Richard Carlson

by: Charlie Trotter


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting, Training and Coaching

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kristin Parker Photography – Saranac Lake, NY



Work ethic is one of those concepts that has been frequently thrown around when discussing the foundations for individual and group success. There are likely as many books written on the topic as there are styles of management but that does not stop others (including myself) from promoting the importance of this basic premise: “a strong work ethic is paramount to professional and personal success”.

The question at hand is whether or not people are genetically inclined towards work ethic – is it part of their DNA, or can work ethic be taught? Is a strong work ethic environmental, cultural, a result of strong family values, built through a progressive educational system or representative of something that is encouraged by others whom an individual respects?

Work ethic is certainly apparent in many fields from construction to engineering, from the medical profession to Wall Street and from the farm to the household. The focus of this article is to point out the need for and the definition of a strong work ethic in food establishments. One of my favorite quotes relates to work ethic and states: “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” To this end, the dictionary defines work ethic as: “a belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and its inherent ability to strengthen character.” This, of course, goes beyond the benefits of dedication to a given profession, it promotes work ethic as being an essential part of a person’s character. Does this mean that the opposite of work ethic is being lazy and shiftless? Is a lack of work ethic a character flaw that permeates every aspect of a person’s life? Does a lazy person, considering this definition, lack worth and/or character? Actually, Bill Gates was quoted as saying that he would always hire a lazy person for they would spend their time finding the easiest way to accomplish a task. In any respect, work ethic is harder to define than one would think.

There are a handful of characteristics of a strong work ethic that I feel are important to seek out in food service employees. These characteristics are, by far, more important than the specific skills required of a position. I would go so far as to say that these are the attributes that should be sought from any staff member, should be the focus of the search process and the interview and should, to a large degree, be what an employee is evaluated on.

Amelia Adams identified five components of work ethic in a Small Business article for Demand Media: Each of these certainly applies to any industry (Integrity, Responsibility, Quality, Discipline and Teamwork) – including foodservice, but I would add a few more specifics: a member of your food team should have an unwavering commitment to Service, a true appreciation for the Source of the Raw Materials that they use and a desire to Constantly Improve their Skills.

Back to the question at hand – is a person born with a strong work ethic or is this part of character development that comes from the environment that a person is exposed to? Work ethic is, for all intents and purposes, a behavior not a condition. Behaviors can be molded through the example and action of others. Our work ethic will help our children and our staff members establish a standard in their own performance. Chefs are teachers and as such need to set the example for others in the kitchen to follow.

Here is the reality check: if a person wants to pursue a career in food operations he or she must understand that the commitment is unique. Yes, other careers do require a strong work ethic, but foodservice is unusual in that the requirement for work typically exceed what one would normally expect. It is what it is and will not likely change. Here is why: we work so that other people can play. This is our charge, this is what is required and is the nature of hospitality. Holidays are busy days in restaurants – there is no getting around it. Dinner happens after 5 p.m. when others are done for the day – this is the time when we gear up for a long night. Weekends are not for foodservice staff – in fact our weekends are typically Monday and Tuesday, if at all. Accept it – this is what we are about. Food positions are not for the weak at heart. No matter what some might promote as a need to change, this is the reality of work in hospitality. Now, all that being said, those who can make that adjustment will share in the lifestyle of a unique, very special group of people who are hard-working and fun loving – people who are committed to service and do enjoy making others happy. Those who do not fit will move on to something else, those who stay are the heart and soul of the service business and the nurturers of others enjoyment. Work ethic in foodservice must include an understanding and acceptance of this.

Hire work ethic, be upfront with those who apply, enjoy the company of those who are willing to commit and celebrate the dedication that they have to the enjoyment of others.

Strong work ethic is the price of admission in food service.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training



OK, so I like, no I love to write. I am far from a perfect technical writer and any teacher of English would probably cringe at the number of grammatical and structural issues in any one of my posts, but to me, writing is all about expressing “feeling”. It is rare that I find a topic that I am so pumped about that I can’t wait to get to my computer to “weave a yarn”, so to speak. I am in Chicago, a food city that I truly love and one that was part of my yearly itinerary for over 20 years. It has been six years since my last visit and I was ready. The nice thing about Chicago in comparison to New York is that the restaurant scene is just as robust with a little less pretention (don’t get me wrong, I love New York as well).

It is Saturday night and although I am in town for a conference, I find myself pleasantly alone on the town. I don’t have a reservation for a restaurant (unusual for me); I am just fishing for a place to go. I can’t bring myself to just fill my stomach; now that I am here I need an experience. I was walking down Ohio street when I ran into the Chicago version of “Eataly”; the brainchild of Joe and Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali. I was in the New York version two years ago and although I was very impressed, it was so crowded that I couldn’t truly enjoy this combination restaurant mecca and incredible gourmet Italian Market. So, I walked into “ Eataly Chicago” with high expectations.

Now, dining anywhere by yourself is always difficult. Time by yourself at a table moves painfully slow, but here I could get lost in the crowd. It was very, very busy, although not as crazy as New York. What first struck me was the first impression of an operation that had it together. The product displays, layout, colors, smells, architectural features and food presence were spot on.

I just had talked at a conference about the creation of VALUE in an effort to define a customer experience and take the focus away from price, and this place was textbook. It was fresh, exciting, dynamic, interesting, consistently focused on quality and reminiscent of the first walk into a Disney property. My first reaction was to stop and think: “WOW”. I pulled out my iPhone and started taking pictures.

There was a concierge station (kind of unique in a food market) with support materials and a map of the operation. The first floor had displays of market foods, kitchenwares, books, and last impression food outlets (gelato, Italian desserts, espresso, etc.). All the traffic was headed for the escalator to the second floor where the multiple restaurant concepts were prominent. Restaurants featured crudo, salumi, cheeses, pizza, pasta, wine tastings, and a pesce (fish) restaurant that were supported by a craft brewery with flights of in-house beers, a superb bread bakery, wine shop, butchery and Italian cheese market. Every restaurant was cranking. I chose the fish restaurant after watching the plates served to guests at tables and food bars. The wait would have been 20 minutes (they took my cell phone number so that I could walk around) but I managed to get a food bar seat within five minutes with a bird’s eye view of food preparation. I ordered a glass of Barolo, grilled octopus, and featured sea bass with cauliflower puree. It was spectacular! The service was not formal, but warm and efficient, the server was knowledgeable, the line team of cooks was well orchestrated, the food was served with perfect timing, and the flavors were enticing. I talked with the cooks while they worked their magic and noted that EVERYONE was having fun!! It wasn’t cheap. But every aspect of the EXPERIENCE oozed value. I walked around and came upon a classic Italian coffee kiosk and ordered an Italian Caffe Macchiato. The woman who was the barista was an accomplished coffee artist who smiled constantly despite the volume of business. I told her the coffee was spectacular and she blushed with pride. Continuing to walk around, despite the fact that I was full, I had a need to experience more. I stood in a short line to have a classic tiramisu and another coffee at the Lavazza stand – both exceptional, when I notice that I had left my very expensive topcoat at the fish restaurant. As I wormed my way back to the restaurant, my server saw me and walked up to say that he had taken the coat to the customer service desk and to let me know if there were any problems. I didn’t have to ask, they were on the alert for me. My coat was there and it was passed on with a smile.

As I began to leave the operation I was struck with a sense of regret. I didn’t want to leave. I really wanted to find a shirt or something with the Eataly logo on it to say that I was a fan. I didn’t see anything but was committed to go back tomorrow to find something that would allow me to be reminded of a company that got it right.

Great food operations create experiences and Eataly understood that. The packaging was memorable, the layout was memorable, the food was memorable, the staff was excited to serve and every inch of the operation was focused on promoting the brand. I was in awe.

Chicago is a great restaurant town, but Eataly will help to redefine what it means to be in the hospitality business. The attention to detail was incredible and like others in this fantastic town like Richard Melman and his “Lettuce Entertain You Group” and Levy Restaurants, it was apparent that they truly understand the importance of brand. My only parting comment is WOW, WOW, WOW. Like Disney, Apple Computers, Harley Davidson, Mercedes, Ritz Carlton Hotels, Anthropologie, and Nike, they “get it”.

Beware all who are content to be acceptable, the game changers are in town and you had better step back and look and learn.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Training and Consulting

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