First and foremost – congratulations on earning your degree or certificate. This is an accomplishment that over the course of your lifetime will reward you tenfold. Know that the degree or certificate is more than an acknowledgement of the skills and knowledge that you have gained – it represents your level commitment and discipline that will serve you well.
This is a very challenging time for graduates of any program – an unprecedented time when the health and wellbeing of world citizens is the number one priority, but also a time when there is much uncertainty in the workforce. The restaurant industry is being hit extraordinarily hard, unlike any other time in recent history. As we continue to fight this pandemic that we still know so little about, and try to gradually open up the economy with a keen eye on public safety – it will be restaurants and other hospitality businesses that suffer the longest. We are an industry that provides so much more than an opportunity to satisfy physical hunger – we are an industry that provides a forum for people to gather, to embrace, to break bread and clink glasses, to tell stories and to laugh with reckless abandon – this is what hospitality is all about. This is also the environment where a virus can find a fertile home. So, we wait, plan, contemplate change, try to find the funds to carry the burden of closure, and hope that science will find a way for us to return sooner rather than later.
Here you are – enthusiastic, informed, confident in your foundational skills, and ready to start a career in food that will last for four decades or more. Today’s jobs for cooks and bakers are in short supply, and they likely will be for a period of time. The restaurant industry will return at some point, historically it always has after crisis, and it will again. The format that we have become accustomed to may change, in fact it certainly will, but restaurants as gathering places are absolutely essential to a civilized world. The communities where you will live depend on restaurants to provide that respite, that environment for celebration and reward that helps us to be one. So, what can be done now with so much uncertainty before you? Here are some words to the wise:
WORDS OF ADVICE:
 STAY POSITIVE:
It will be challenging for some time – stay positive! Your attitude and confidence in the ability to rise above the roadblocks placed in your way will define your character.
 KEEP WORKING ON THOSE FOUNDATIONAL SKILLS:
A constant focus on improvement is a common trait that all successful people share. It is the foundations, and the mastery there of, that will instill confidence in those who hire you and the seed that defines your self-worth.
 KNOW YOUR END GOAL, BUILD A STRATEGY
Whatever your end goal might be: Executive Chef in a fine dining operation, Corporate Chef, Sous Chef, Restaurant Manager, Entrepreneur, Research Chef, or Consultant – where ever you hope to land in the future – put that goal in writing. Research that goal and establish the skill set those successful individuals in that position must possess, and build that into your strategy. “How can I master each of those skills to position myself as a natural candidate for this career goal?”
 WORK WHEREVER YOU CAN, JUST MAKE SURE THAT IT CONNECTS WITH FOOD – DO IT WITH EXCELLENCE IN MIND
During this crisis and transition to a solid economy once again, the job opportunities will be far more limited than just a few months ago. This will likely be the case for some time. Make sure that you seek out opportunities that involve food. Know what skill you hope to master as a result of working in that operation and make sure that it fits your career strategy. EVERY POSITION IN THE FOOD BUSINESS WILL HELP WITH YOUR CAREER – IF YOU BUILD IT INTO YOUR PLAN. Here are some examples:
- QUICK SERVICE: The type of food and ambience of a quick service operation may not be your ultimate goal, but these operations have great systems and controls in place. Every Chef, Manager, or Owner must understand systems and controls. If you work in quick service for an interim period of time – do so with the intent of learning about their controls and systems.
- FAMILY STYLE: These operations, oftentimes ethnic based, can provide you with an appreciation for the early and late majority of customers who patronize restaurants. This is nearly 70% of all restaurant diners. Dedicate your time to building an appreciation for the taste of the majority.
- BAR-B-QUE JOINT: Maybe your goal is to work in a white tablecloth restaurant and the thought of investing your time in an operation with paper tabletops and bottles of hot sauce on the table does not sit well with your plan. But you can learn a very important lesson in these operations: It’s all about flavor and flavor takes time and discipline. There are no shortcuts to building flavor that is universally enjoyed.
- FARM WORK: The back breaking work on a farm may seem to be a far cry from working in starched chef whites in a stainless steel kitchen, but what is most important in cooking is to understand, appreciate, nurture, and admire the work of those who invest in this back-breaking work. A period of time working on a farm will build a greater appreciation for the source of ingredients you work with and the commitment of those people who do the work.
- SENIOR CARE: Working in senior care facilities can be emotionally draining and too often does not reflect the quality of food that a chef would put his or her signature on. Working in these facilities and approaching the task of cooking with passion and commitment to process is incredibly rewarding. You will learn empathy and how much the “care” that you put into the food you prepare means to others.
- HEALTHCARE: Typically, working in a hospital is not at the top of many cooks’ career lists. Yet, where else can you develop a real understanding of how important proper nutrition can be to the health and wellbeing of others. This is where you can find definitive evidence of the importance of well-prepared food.
- CORPORATE DINING: The corporate “cafeteria” has long been replaced with food operations that provide fresh, well-prepared food that is exciting and packed with flavor and nutrition. In corporate environments these operations are essential ingredients in creating positive work attitudes, important conversation, and a chance to break bread and do business at the same time. Learn how food experiences can set the stage for positive action.
All of these operations, when taken in the right context, can add to your skill set to become a chef, manager, or operator. Don’t pass them by because of ego or pride; they can all “fit”.
 BE THE PROFESSIONAL THAT YOU WERE TRAINED TO BE:
Never lose your commitment to looking, acting, and being the professional that is representative of the best of the position of cook and chef. Make this a part of your character.
 KNOW THAT PATIENCE IS A REQUIRED VIRTUE:
Patience has always been a requirement of success, but in these challenging times of crisis, patience is essential. I know you hope and expect to reach your goals quickly. I know that you have financial needs that cannot be met with entry-level wages, and I know that you expect that degree to pay off on day one, but understand that your patience now is an investment in that future. Your success will not happen overnight.
 UNDERSTAND THE NEED FOR FLEXIBILITY:
Being able and willing to turn on a dime and change directions is the price of admission in a faltering economy. Be flexible and willing to change.
 DEPENDABLE RULES THE DAY:
Be on time, ready to work, and excited about what is in front of you. Be the employee who once given a task – sticks with it until it is done correctly. Trust is earned and dependability is the key to building that trust.
 STICK TO YOUR STRATEGY:
You have a strategy, now ask yourself every day: “Is what I am doing right now bringing me any closer to reaching my goals?”
 BUILD YOUR NETWORK OF INFLUENCE:
Along the way, no matter how long it takes; your commitment to doing things well and demonstrating dependability will lead to a network of individuals who can help you at various stages of your career. Work on that network and DON’T BURN ANY BRIDGES along the way.
 BE A PROBLEM SOLVER, NOT A FINGER POINTER:
Don’t waste any time pointing a finger at others. Help them to improve, do your job to the best of your ability, ask for help when you need it, and use your data bank of experiences to help resolve issues rather than charge others for their lack of commitment.
Good luck, be the best that you can be. Remember that even during tough times – being a chef is a noble profession with loads of opportunity.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
We are all in this together