Nine Steps to Being a Great Chef

We’re going to break with tradition a little this month and offer some direct career advice to all the new and old chefs out there. In our business, we meet, observe, and work with many chefs, and have found that the good ones, the really successful ones, all share some common characteristics. So without apology, here’s some food for thought:

Have a vision

Being a chef is a difficult, and let’s face it, underpaid job—if you don’t love it, why do it? You could probably make as much as a truck driver or mail carrier, with a lot fewer hours and less stress. Think about what drives you to do the job, and capitalize on those aspects of it. What are you going to be the best at?

Talk to your people all the time

Managing food and ingredients is easy. Managing people is hard, and requires a lot of communicating. Your cooks should know exactly what you expect from every aspect of their work, and the only way for them to know that is for you to tell them. If you aren’t teaching your cooks, if they aren’t learning something, they’re going to leave, and your life in the kitchen will be miserable.

Be changeable

All successful people have this quality. There is almost always a better way to do something, and being open to the advantages of change will move you further and faster than you can imagine. To put it a little more forcefully, the opposite of change is death.

Look at your food and your kitchen from a distance

It’s easy to lose perspective in the kitchen, which is essentially its own world, largely invisible to the dining room. Make a point of eating items from the menu, in the dining room, as if you were a guest. If you do this once a week with the GM, your relationship and your restaurant will definitely improve.

Study constantly

Not just books, either. Pay attention to all the things you are responsible for. What’s the fastest, most efficient way to slice mushrooms? Is a steak better the day it’s cut or the next day? How do you get a saute cook to really understand what he or she is doing?

Be ferocious about ingredient quality

There’s no one but yourself to blame for working with sub-par ingredients (particularly produce!). You’ve heard about chefs who are at the market at 4:00 am? There’s a reason for that – as they say in the computing field, ‘garbage in, garbage out.’

Recognize that it’s a business, and a collaborative one at that

You can’t be successful unless your whole team is. Your restaurant can’t exist if it’s not profitable. If you’re not doing something every day to help your other managers or the front of house staff, you’re hindering yourself.

Strive for excellence; push the limits

If you’ve gone to sleep, if you’re bored, then for sure, your staff is the same way. If the cooks are uninspired, so is the waitstaff, and they’re sending the same message to the guest.

Laugh and have fun

No one enjoys working with a grump. Enough said.

For assistance in this and other areas of restaurant management, please contact us.

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