“The fact that “this isn’t just a job" has been the most impactful thing that I have learned from past mentors. You have to treat everything with the ultimate respect as if it’s your restaurant. If you don’t do that now, the right attitude is never going to appear magically.„
Setting a precedent for what your work hours is the key to creating and maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Work six days as business demands, but always keep one day per week for yourself and your family. As this day is usually one of the slowest all week (Monday-Wednesday) and many other departments tend to work on this day, be polite but firm in telling other employees that it is your day off and you are unreachable. Another great way is keeping a weekly hobby, whether it's hiking or a weekly golf match; if you try to "find a day off when you can," you run the risk of burn-out, which is very real.
When hiring, I look for a willingness to learn even if it makes you feel uncomfortable because nobody is a master at any kitchen task the first time they try it. Want to learn to cut onions like a chef? Get a 50-pound bag of onions and practice the method taught to you by your chef.
Organization, delegation, patience, consistency. The kitchen staff will come and go over the years, and new cooks will need to learn the same skills you taught the previous cook. Instruction by example and follow-up on new methods will build a well-rounded, respected kitchen.
Flexibility is a critical trait to thrive in this industry. Being able to adapt to not only in hours worked but also in the changing demands of the business is vital.
My first actual farm-to-table restaurant job in Burlington, VT, had the most significant impact on my career. I worked for Smokejacks, where we made absolutely everything and sourced about 75% of our produce/dairy/meat/fish within 100 miles of the restaurant. Chef Josh would consistently challenge the kitchen with new dishes and methods. Never broke down a goat before? He made sure to bring one in so the entire kitchen could learn.
I read cookbooks voraciously. When I come across a method or word I do not understand, I search out the cookbook that describes that procedure, then proceed to read and test items in that book. In doing so, I usually find myself out of my comfort zone, which leads to some exciting dishes.
I couldn't live without my sous chefs. Hands down, they are some of the most important people in the kitchen and are essential to the successful operation of the business. They are my voice in the kitchen if I'm off working with another team.
Disclaimer: Individuals featured in the Inspirational Career Timelines section have been nominated by peers, colleagues and/or other members of the hospitality industry. It is to the best of our knowledge that each individual has demonstrated leadership and acted as a positive role model for others.
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