It is May and all across the country students from the more than 1,000 culinary schools will be graduating and starting their careers in the business of food. You have accomplished a great deal, assimilated more information than you thought would be possible, and built a suitcase full of skills that will serve you well in the years ahead. The world is your oyster and the way that you approach every day will determine just how far you are able to go and what you are able to achieve.
Some graduates will find, after a brief period of time, that the food business is not for them – it happens – don’t fret because many of the skills that you have acquired are transferrable to other professions. Others will struggle to find their niche, but will persevere; and some will hit the ground running and make their mark in a reasonable amount of time. In all cases, these next few years will be critical to your success and to your happiness.
At graduation time I always like to pause for a few moments and offer some words of advice. These will, from my experience, serve you well whether you move on to another career or stick it out and become a sous chef, executive chef, food and beverage director, restaurant manager or even owner. So, here are my words of wisdom: PATIENCE
I’m going to be harsh – you are not a chef yet and you won’t be for some time. You will need to pay your dues, make lots of appropriate career choices, learn a great deal more, work with great people and some who are difficult, fall down numerous times and bounce back, and most importantly – experience what it is like to be effective in a complex kitchen environment. Be patient, work hard, take every opportunity to learn, and you will reach your goals.
“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” -Joyce Meyer STAY TRUE TO YOUR BELIEFS
Remember you will look in a mirror every day. Make sure that you like what you see. If you have strong beliefs about people, service, cooking, ingredients, and how to act as a human being – then stay true to those beliefs. Sacrificing those beliefs is not compromise – it is abandonment. WORK HARD and WORK SMART
By far – the greatest attribute of successful people is that they give more than they receive. Hard work is a given – smart work is a career path. BE PERSISTENT
You can if you will. Whether it is a new idea for a menu concept, an investment in the people who you work with, or a skill that is not yet realized – you have the capacity to get it done and make it work. Persistence is a trait that separates the good from the great.
“Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in. “
-Bill Bradley DEFINE YOUR GOALS AND STICK TO THEM
Early on it is important to define where you want to be: the type of position, the company, the people you want to work with, your earning potential, or the style of food that will become your signature – define them. They can change as you move forward, but it is essential that you have a plan. Stick with that plan, determine what needs to happen for you to get there, and be true to the plan.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
-Lewis Carroll BE PROFESSIONAL – ALWAYS
Look like a chef, act like a chef, work like a chef, treat others in a professional manner, and invest in yourself and others like a professional. Becoming a professional chef is not a goal it is a way of life – you can’t turn it on and off. THE FOUNDATIONS NEVER DO YOU WRONG
Trends in food will come and go, styles of cooking will change, what sells today may not sell tomorrow, and it is easy to get drawn into being current. Underneath all of the excitement of being fresh and different you will find that the foundations of solid cooking are there. Ask any professional chef and they will agree- the foundations never do you wrong. BE THE PERSON YOU WOULD WANT TO WORK FOR
Don’t fall into the trap of the angry, better than everyone else, hard-nosed, pot throwing, cursing and demeaning chef. Those people are no longer acceptable as role models. This is NOT HOW TO RUN A KITCHEN! Aside from the fact that this approach is not legally acceptable – it is not a way to attract, inspire, and keep good employees. Stay above this Machiavellian style. YES CHEF
As you move up the career ladder know that “yes chef” always applies when in the moment. There will be time to learn more about “why”, or when you reach that position of chef to explain “why”, but with so many challenges coming the chef’s way in any given moment it is important for cooks to do what needs to be done in that moment. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR CAREER – NEVER STOP LEARNING
You formal education is only a start. Throughout your career you will need to take responsibility for enhancing that education, developing new skills, and learning new techniques. Invest in yourself and never remain idle. Take classes, attend workshops, and read as much as you can, work for those chefs who can teach you the most, spend the time, and never allow yourself to accept stagnation. DEPENDABILITY ABOVE ALL ELSE
Right from day one – be the employee who can always be trusted to be there, be ready, and get it done. When the chef knows that you are the person he or she can count on then opportunities will come your way. NEVER ACCEPT MEDIOCRITY
Excellence must be your middle name. Excellence applies to everything you do – always. If you wash dishes – be the best at washing dishes. If you cut vegetables – cut them with passion. If you work the grill – make sure that every cut of meat is cooked to perfection. If you expedite – be relentless at orchestrating the line and making sure that every plate in the pass is perfect. The minute you accept mediocrity with any task – you are starting down a slippery slope. FIND A MENTOR – BE A MENTOR
Seek out a person or persons who will give you sound career advice – a person you can learn from – a person who will critique you with the highest level of honesty. Every successful person has an exceptional mentor. Once you reach your career goals – make sure that you are there to mentor the next generation.
“I encourage all of you to seek out teachers and mentors that challenge you to think for yourself and guide you to find your own voice.”
-Renee Olstead LOOK AT YOUR CUP AS ALWAYS HALF FULL
There are plenty of negative people in the world – don’t go there. Stay positive – look at your cup as half full, not half empty. Be that person who adds sunlight to situations – not dark clouds. Negativity is addictive, but so is a positive attitude. FOOD IS MORE THAN A COMMODITY
Remember that you were attracted to the kitchen because of the ingredients and what they might become in your hands. Learn about and appreciate the source of those ingredients. Respect the work that farmers, ranchers, and fisherman engage in and treat the ingredients they provide with respect and care. We are privileged to work with them. SERVICE IS HONORABLE
Above all else we are in the service business. We are able to receive a paycheck because customers buy what we make. Before you criticize a guest think about this. Service is honorable and your decision to work in foodservice is an acceptance of a life of service. If you do not serve those guests directly then make sure that you serve someone who does. EMBRACE EVERYONE’S DIFFERENCE
Finally, one of the greatest aspects of working in kitchens is the diversity of race, ethnic background, gender, and beliefs that abound behind those swinging doors. Embrace this, learn from others, accept everyone’s difference as an asset, and enjoy the incredible opportunities to learn from each other.
PLAN BETTER –TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training