Chefs are famous for possessing many traits. Patient & Understanding are not two of them.
We’re famous for more popular traits like being hot-tempered and overbearing. We frown at critiques, take everything personal. We don’t love change. Especially the change that comes when a cook gives notice.
I have worked for all kinds of chefs. I wanted to work for as many chefs as I could before “becoming one myself.” I saw as many management styles as I did kitchens. The chefs who struck me the most were the ones who pushed, challenged, listened to, grew, mentored, inspired, learned from and sent off their cooks when their “time had come”.
It takes incredible generosity, grace, maturity, humility, confidence and intuition to be such a chef. A chef has to know when a cook can go no further under their wing, in their kitchen, in one location. That chef has to have been paying attention to said cook throughout the entirety of their term from interview to stage to hire.
Do not waste your precious time learning this life-long craft in a kitchen where the chef only looks at you like a warm body. Do not work for one minute more in a kitchen where you are not learning, not being challenged, not growing. There are so many kitchens to work in. You might as well struggle to make ends meet under the tutelage of a chef who matters and to whom you matter.
There are 2 kinds of chefs: The Sharing and The Stingy/self-serving ones. The Sharing Chef will always talk about their sous chef, their chef de cuisine, their staff. The Sharing Chef will eat at other restaurants and talk about other chefs besides the ones under their jurisdiction. The Sharing Chef will tell other chefs about great products they’ve found. The Sharing Chef will share staff. Sharing Chefs sometimes trade cooks before promoting them in their own kitchens. Sharing Chefs do not poach.
The Sharing Chef is not a touchy feely person with only pleases and thank yous and nice things to say all the time and smiling and handing you the beers and giving you sick days and knowing the name of your dog and giving you your birthday off.
The Sharing Chef can kick your ass so hard your spine ends and your thighs begin. The Sharing Chef can make you cry on the line, and keep working. The Sharing Chef can blackball you and call you names in languages you don’t understand. The Sharing Chef can scare the shit out of you, down to your core, and help you to understand that he/she knows everyone in the business and you better not fucking burn that bridge.
The Sharing Chef after all, has the same pressures as the narcissistic one. Food costs to keep down, General Managers to reckon with, owners/partners to keep happy, guests to feed, dishwashers to fix, cooks to train, walk-ins to clean, invoices to log, uniform companies to argue with, fish to butcher, burns to treat, and so on.
The Sharing Chef can help you get the next job as much as The Stingy Chef, but there are distinct differences.
The Stingy Chef barely teaches. The Stingy Chef believes their own hype. The Stingy Chef is often bitter. The Stingy Chef will watch you do something wrong/incorrect/inefficient and never correct you. The Stingy Chef will take credit for your work when it’s great and put your name on what’s wrong. The Stingy Chef doesn’t mind a cook who isn’t growing, learning, asking questions. Sometimes a Sharing Chef will look like a Stingy Chef because you’re so fucking cocky the only way they can put you in your place is to make you ‘beg’ for knowledge.
Some Sharing Chefs are quiet. Very Quiet. Silent even. Sometimes you have to watch them, be in their kitchens, show your dedication, for years, before you realize you are learning from them.
It’s possible that The Stingy Chef and The Sharing Chef are the same person. It’s possible both kinds of chefs are who you’ll be.
But you have a choice. An active, intentional choice. A choice is something you decide, you make. You don’t fall into choice by mistake.
Many chefs are at the helms of stoves are just cooks in disguise. All it takes is a white jacket. Chef is a self designated title. A lot of people can cook in a professional kitchen.
It’s what you do with that position
It’s what you do with that title
It’s what you do with that rush of power
It’s what you decide will be your management style
It’s how you decide to repay what was given to you
It’s how you choose to be remembered by your cooks, your industry
It’s your integrity
It’s your standards
It’s how much patience you have for your own journey in the craft
It’s how much you understand what craft means
It’s how hard of a look you’ll be brave enough to muster the courage for, to see yourself for all you are
It’s how much humble pie you can swallow, whole
It’s how many tears of joy and struggle you’re willing to admit will be on your horizon that matters.
Can you do the same thing day after day, kitchen after kitchen, city after city, year after year?
Craft. A verb. A noun. A daunting task. An unforgiving journey. Un unattainable goal. A life spent asking unanswered questions.
These are the chefs I aspire to be like. Not the chefs who put their name all over my work every time I received press under their roofs. When a cook gives me a proper notice I honor their last weeks, days, hours, with the same respect they’ve shown me in their resignation.
I want to to teach cooks what I was taught!