Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

Avoiding Negative Chef Stereotypes

There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding the role of the chef–and all too many of them are negative. You, however, want to break out of those stereotypes and create a kitchen that’s fun to work in while still maintaining the expectations of the restaurant’s customers. By learning to recognize these familiar stereotypes, you can avoid the trap of becoming one of them.

Stereotype #1: The Angry Chef

You’re probably familiar with the angry chef from comics and television. This typically male character is often the one standing over a new employee, bellowing at them–or perhaps chasing a server who dared ask for a customer’s requested substitution on a meal. In your kitchen, this plays out as a chef who is quick-tempered, hard to please, and who can quickly bring down the mood of the entire evening.

Avoiding the Stereotype: If you don’t want to be the angry chef, there are several things to keep in mind. First and foremost, respond–don’t react! By controlling your responses to everyone else in the kitchen, you’ll quickly deescalate what could otherwise be a negative situation. You can also follow some of these tips:

  • Always take a minute to think before responding in anger. Is that response the one you really want to give the person in front of you?
  • Remember that some things aren’t within the control of your coworkers. Blasting a server for the customer’s order won’t help!
  • Take a break and calm down if you need to. Just make sure the kitchen is covered!

Stereotype #2: The Stressed-Out Chef

Being a chef is a difficult, demanding job. You’re constantly moving, constantly trying to get orders out, and the danger of making a mistake is high. Not only that, many kitchens are stiflingly hot or packed too full to be comfortable. As a result, this stereotypical chef is constantly running on high-stress levels, rarely able to calm down.

Avoiding the Stereotype: You know just how stressful a bad day at work can be. There are days when the crush of the kitchen can get to anyone! That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to live in that heightened state of stress. Instead, try this:

  • Arrange your kitchen so that things run smoothly most days. Know who to ask to take care of specific tasks, have adequate staff on hand to take care of the orders you know are coming in even on busy days, and do as much prep work as possible ahead of time.
  • Let go of the need for perfection. Take a deep breath and be willing to laugh at yourself when things go wrong.
  • Be a little silly, as long as it doesn’t compromise safety. Humor will always defuse tension!
  • Separate life stresses from work stress. Learn not to bring life stress to work, and don’t take work stress home with you.
  • Take adequate breaks throughout your shift so that you can calm down and regain perspective if needed.

Stereotype #3: The Perfectionist

This stereotypical chef is an artist. Everything must be exactly so: the recipe followed perfectly, the plates arranged exactly the same way before they leave the kitchen, and everything moving at exactly the pace he’s set. If things don’t go his way, he’s right there in the middle, micromanaging the little details and insisting that perfectly adequate work be redone until it’s up to his standard of perfection.

Avoiding the Stereotype: Ouch! Did The Perfectionist sound just a bit too familiar? Fortunately, you can learn to let go and avoid micromanaging every aspect of your employees’ performance. Try this:

  • Delegate, then let people do the jobs they’ve been assigned. Don’t hover over them every moment.
  • Don’t insist on perfection. Keep in mind that most people won’t notice many of the differences you’re stressing over.
  • Give your staff freedom. Trust that they know what they’re doing and will come to you if there’s a problem–most of the time, they will!

You don’t want to be a stereotypical chef. You want to be a great, memorable chef with a staff who enjoys working for you. By avoiding these key stereotypes, you can shift the way you respond to your kitchen staff and your customers, making yourself more than a stereotype ever could be.

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Tips For Ensuring The Safety Of The Kitchen Staff

Tips For Ensuring The Safety Of The Kitchen Staff

Working in a kitchen is rewarding, but it does present some dangers. Between sharp knives, hot oil and crowded work conditions, you are daily risking your health. So, you want to stay in this job without injury for as long as possible. How do you do this? Well, it’s actually as simple as following some safety guidelines.

The Right Shoes

The first element in safety is equipment, and one of your most valuable pieces of equipment is your shoes. Invest in non-slip, comfortable work shoes that can take you standing in them all day. The non-slip part will prevent you from slipping on the inevitable spills that kitchens are notorious for. The comfortable part will spare your back, legs, and feet from stress injuries.

You will also want something that repels water, as standing in soggy shoes for hours after mopping up a spill threatens your toes with fungus. Such slip-resistant, water-resistant and comfortable shoes may take time to find and cost quite a bit when you find them, but the investment will save you a lot of money lost in time off and doctor’s bills later on.

Cover Your Arms

Hot water and hot oil flies in kitchens, and they can leave burns worse than actual fires. To limit the damage that hot oil splashing out of a pan and landing on your arm can do, wear sleeve protectors. These are cloth coverings that cover your wrist to your elbow. This will put an easily-removed barrier between you and the heat.

Find The First Aid Kit

Every restaurant should be equipped with a first aid kit that the kitchen staff can quickly access. Bandaging an injury immediately prevents infections and other future complications. If your kitchen doesn’t have a first aid kit or the one you have is running low, get one. An emergency could happen at any time, and you don’t want to be scrambling around for gauze in the middle of a shift.

Handle Knives Correctly (And Generally Be Aware Of Your Surroundings)

Remember what you learned about knife safety when you were learning to be a chef. Tuck your thumb under the hand you’re using to hold something still when cutting. Hand knives to people handle first (or put it in front of them handle first if possible.) Don’t run, especially not with sharp objects in your hands, and just be aware of your surroundings. Busy kitchens can get crowded and have lots of cutting edges. Don’t fall victim to them.

Change Up Your Tasks

People tend to associate injuries caused by repetitive motion with factories and offices, but any job that requires you to make the same motions over and over stresses the joints and muscles in your body. The stress causes inflammation which leads to pinched nerves, weakness and pain. The best way to avoid this is to change activities and give the stressed group of muscles a rest. Let the line cook take an afternoon off of frying to chop vegetables. Give the prep chef’s hands a break by letting them do the dishes. Variety is both the spice of life, and a dose of prevention in this case.

Watch The Heat

Kitchens get hot. Restaurant kitchens can get particularly hot because they are crowded and have sources of heat running all day long. They should be properly ventilated, with a screen door that allows hot air to leave and a fan to move the heat along. A line chef, of course, doesn’t have much control over that, but he or she can take along bottles of cool water to sip from throughout the day and dress in layers. Try to wear breathable clothes as much as possible, and make sure any ventilation available is on.

Every great job has its risks, but you can mitigate them with a little care. Follow these guidelines and you will enjoy a long, safe career in the food industry.

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I am a Culinary Grad – Now What? 20 Essential Tips For Young Cooks

I am a Culinary Grad – Now What? 20 Essential Tips For Young Cooks

Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures blog just released an open letter to young chefs who are soon to graduate their culinary programs and venture out into their career. The letter states 20 pieces of advice that you may or may not have heard before, but regardless are worth repeating. We thoroughly enjoyed it and thought they were important enough to repeat here. To read Pauls open letter in full, head on over to his blog.


True, there was a tremendous amount of information thrown your way during the 2-4 years of college. Some of it stuck and more than you can imagine simply bounced off your shoulders and landed elsewhere. Trust me when I say that there is much more to come. Only experience will allow the important things to stick, sink in, and allow you to grow into the chef that you want to become.


No, you are not the best thing that ever happened to the kitchen that hired you. You might become that person, but right now please accept your role as a humble cook and student of the trade. Keep an open mind and realize that the person next to you is probably far more seasoned than you.


You are not the chef – you are a cook. Start with the intent of being the very best cook that you can be. Take on this attitude with every position that is offered to you during those early years: prep cook, garde manger, banquet cook, the omelet station on a Sunday brunch, line cook, roundsman, etc. Being exceptional at each of these positions will be your real resume leading to the position of chef.


Don’t leave things to chance – have a plan. Where do you want to be in five or ten years? If you don’t know, stop and figure it out today! What kind of restaurant or company, what position, what geographic location, what salary range, etc. Have a plan and write your road map to get there.


Once you have built that strategy then try to stick with it. You can certainly adjust along the way, but make sure that you are always working from a plan.


Your job, at least initially, is to make the chef look good. Learn to take directives, follow the methods that he or she has spent a career developing, accept and learn from critique, and learn when and how to offer your opinions and observations in a respectful manner.


Your instructors taught you the “right way” to work, to prepare certain dishes, to hold a knife, to apply the foundational cooking methods, to set-up a station. This was important, but guess what – the chef who just hired you may want things done a different way. Your way is not better – it is just different. There may be a time and a place to offer your way as an alternative, but keep an open mind in the meantime.


A sure way to limit your success is to try and become a square peg in a round hole. Fitting in doesn’t mean that you should accept bad habits or become part of a group of antagonistic employees, it simply means that before you can help an organization improve, you must win the trust and confidence of those around you. Once this becomes your persona, then you can gradually influence positive change. This will serve you well even as a chef.


Yes, there are things that you have gained in culinary school that others in the restaurant may not be aware of. When the time is right, be willing to share this knowledge with others without appearing to be better than them. At the same time, realize that experience has made other employees very good at their craft – you can learn a great deal from them – keep an open mind.


I know you invested a boatload of money in that education. I understand that you will be paying back your student loans for the next decade or so. Certainly, your diploma means something and should be recognized, but you are not a chef yet. It will take time; you will need to pay your dues and work many positions that might even seem like a step back. All of this “real life” training will prepare you to be a chef – it is the experience of working that makes the title of chef attainable. Be patient, if you work your strategy, the position will be realized in the future.


Take the leap – work in restaurants or food operations that challenge you. Seek out those opportunities that make you uncomfortable with your current skills. Always take on the positions that make you look in a mirror and tremble a bit with doubt. Ask for opportunities that are beyond you in an effort to learn through “trial by fire”. It is this battle experience that will make you exceptional at your job.


Be an ambassador for the operation where you work. Show your pride and seek out any possible way that you can help the operation be successful. Become an advocate for cost control, work to make each task you are given – the most important task in your mind. Accomplish each job with passion and dedication to excellence. Become extremely valuable to the restaurant where you work.


Aside from your need to “fit in” make sure that you hold true to your principles. If others in the kitchen are less concerned with how they present themselves in terms of grooming or uniform care- be the exception and present yourself as a professional. If others spend too much time putting down others and finding their cup half empty – be the one that always sees your cup as half full.


At the same time, when the operation does have standards that are core to their brand, do not ignore them or fight to push them aside. Becoming the exception to well-established rules is a surefire way to relinquish your ability to “fit in” and make a difference.


I do not propose that you attempt to show everyone else up, but rather to be that person that everyone admires for your work ethic. It doesn’t get easier as you move up the career ladder. The Executive Chef should also be the person who works harder than everyone else. This is how he or she got to that position. At the same time, make sure that you work smart. Working harder doesn’t always mean that you need to work more hours than everyone else.


Be the one, from the first day on the job that others look to as the standard bearer of excellence. Apply this to everything – how you set your station, your commitment to sanitation, the way you treat others, your respect for ingredients, your understanding of cost control, your dedication to proper cooking technique, and your desire to always improve should become your signature.


No cook is an island. You will learn this on your way to becoming a chef – you must depend on others if you and the restaurant are to succeed. The first step is to always commit to helping others in the same fashion.


There are loads of temptations that cook’s face. The intense hard work and non-traditional hours will often lead to after work indulgence. Keep moderation as a rule of thumb and do your best to avoid the temptations that you know will lead down a rocky road. Connect with others in your field that share this same approach rather than those who seem to always live on the edge.


This should be a great sign to print and hang over your apartment door. This is a simple reminder to work your strategy. Straying too far from the plan will only delay your objectives.


It seems contradictory to point to a life of balance after reading the previous 19 points, but it is possible. Always find time to live a healthy life. Eat well, see a doctor routinely, exercise, and find some time to relax on your own and with friends. Build this into your schedule as tasks that are just as important as preparing your mise en place for tonight’s service.


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6 Ways to Come Back from a Suspension Like a Boss

6 Ways to Come Back from a Suspension Like a Boss

Getting suspended from your job is incredibly stressful. Regardless of whether you were incriminated for something beyond your control or you deliberately did something that got you in trouble later, you don’t really want to lose your job–especially if you don’t have another one waiting in the wings. Coming back from suspension like a boss is a great way to convince your employer of exactly how valuable you are and ensure that your standing with the company remains intact.

1. Communicate professionally and responsibly with your employer throughout your suspension. You should know going in whether or not you will be paid, how long the suspension will be for, and when you can expect to return to work. Keep communications relevant and professional, and resist the urge to contact them too often in case they’ve “forgotten” about you, but do make sure that you know exactly what will be expected of you in order to return.

2. Clearly define expectations with your employer before your return to work. This is particularly important if you were suspended for something that you didn’t realize would get you in trouble–for example, derogatory comments on social media regarding a colleague. If you have been suspended for behavior that is covered in the employee handbook, make sure that you review it so that you know exactly how to behave when returning to work.

3. Avoid even a suggestion of misconduct. If you have been accused of negative behavior against a colleague–harassment, romantic entanglement, or violence–make sure that you are never alone with that colleague. If possible, avoid being alone with that colleague and close friends of theirs, which could cause a misrepresentation of the facts.

4. Know your rights. If you live in a right to work state, your employment can easily be terminated–and in some cases, you may feel as though you’re in danger of termination soon after returning. If this is the case, make sure that you know your rights and what is considered an acceptable reason to terminate your employment.

5. Be apologetic where appropriate. If you were guilty of misconduct, be apologetic and assure your managers that you’re going to do better in the future. Have a real, actionable plan in place to improve your work behavior so that the misconduct doesn’t occur again. You want to present a capable, competent appearance to your managers to assure them that you’re going to come back and give your best to the company.

6. Abide by any restrictions placed on you. These restrictions may be inconvenient for you. They may be equally inconvenient for your colleagues. Dedication to abiding by these restrictions, however, will assure your managers that you’re committed to doing what’s necessary in order to restore your place within the company and go forward with a much better view of what is expected of you. Whether the restriction is that you’re unable to be alone with a specific individual or that you’re unable to enter certain areas unsupervised, be gracious and stick to the restrictions. The better you are about adhering to the rules, the sooner your position will return to normal.

Returning to work after suspension can be awkward, uncomfortable, and difficult to manage. You can’t know what’s been said about you while you were gone or how your colleagues are going to react to your return. You can, however, move forward professionally with confidence: your employer likes your work enough that they were willing to have you come back in spite of an indiscretion, and that says something!

By putting on your most professional attitude and committing to a solid work ethic from the day of your return, you can put your suspension behind you and improve your employer’s vision of you in the future.

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How to Master Food Plating: Five Videos to Help You

How to Master Food Plating: Five Videos to Help You

When world-famous chefs plate their masterpieces on television they make it look easy, so people don’t realize how difficult it actually is to put food on the plate in an attractive, appealing way. It’s somewhat easy to copy a more experienced chef’s style, but most new chefs really want to have their own unique plating style to represent their food.  Just as an artist signs his work of art, so do chefs add a signature to their stunning plates of food through their plating techniques.

Mastering food plating doesn’t come without knowledge and practice and the Institute of Culinary Education has produced some videos that can help. Let’s take a look at what these five videos have to offer.

1. Essential Elements of Plating

In the first video, Essential Elements of Plating, Michael Laiskonis, who is the creative director of the ICE, talks about presenting food as a creative means of expression. He discusses four important presentation elements: composition, balance, shape and texture and gives tips for each of these elements.

Composition tips:

  • use an asymmetrical food arrangement on the plate
  • arrange items in odd numbers
  • use complementary colors

Balance tips:

  • change the focus of the dish, moving away from the expected
  • leave negative space on the plate
  • choose a plate that will creatively showcase the ingredients

Shape tips:

  • create a theme using similar shapes
  • less is more
  • keep it simple and refined

Texture tips:

  • combine different textures: crunchy, creamy, chewy, etc.
  • include contrasting temperatures
  • use a plate that allows elements to intermingle

2. Plating Reimagined

The second video, Plating Reimagined: One Entrée. Three Ways, presented by James Briscione who shows viewers how to present an entrée of duck accompanied by beets, squash, mushrooms, pearl onions and micro-greens in three different ways.

  • The Classic Approach, in which the chef plates the entrée in the center of the plate in a circular fashion
  • The New Nordic Approach which is asymmetrical. In this style, plate the entrée only on one half of the plate, the other half is clean
  • The Linear Approach, or simply, line it up. The chef plates the food across the center of the plate in a line

3. Five Must-Have Plating Tools

Five Must-Have Plating Tools is the third video, also presented by James Briscione who is the Director of Culinary Development at ICE. In the video he shows viewers what his five essential tools are and how to use them to turn simple dishes into visually inspiring and exciting dishes.

  • A large metal spoon for placing large objects on the plate and for dropping sauces and purees as well as creating a spread of puree
  • A small offset spatula for fine placement of smaller things and for spreading purees with the edge of the spatula to create a wider, more dramatic look
  • A squeeze bottle for a more controlled application of thicker sauces and purees
  • A ring mold for either punching out shapes or for stacking food to create height on the plate
  • Tweezers for fine tuning and delicate placement
  • James’ bonus tool is a kitchen towel which is for cleaning the edges of plates from smudges or fingerprints

4. Plating Reimagined: One Dessert. Three Ways.

In the fourth video, Plating Reimagined: One Dessert. Three Ways, Michael Laiskonis uses passion fruit, almonds, cocoa and sugar as his base flavors to create chocolate cake three ways and shows viewers three different plating techniques.

  • The Classic Approach, chocolate-passion Entremet. He assembles the prepared ingredients in a large ring mold, freezes it, covers it with chocolate and places it in the center of a round plate
  • The Contemporary Approach, chocolate-passion Verrine. The chef pours all the prepared ingredients, which are in semi-liquid form, in layers into a glass
  • The Nouveau Approach, chocolate-passion a la mode. The chef places prepared ingredients in a bowl, off-center, in odd-numbered groups

5. Tips for Buying Restaurant Dinnerware

In the final video, Tips for Buying Restaurant Dinnerware, Kate Edwards from ICE, explains how dinnerware acts as a bridge that connects the food, service and ambiance with the guest. She has excellent tips and tricks to follow in order to make the best choices when it comes to buying restaurant dinnerware.

Mastering food plating may seem daunting, but with practice and knowledge it is very possible to learn how to put your personal signature on your amazing plate of food.

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