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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The Life of a Line Cook: Traits for Success

The Life of a Line Cook: Traits for Success

For many people, becoming a Line Cook is a dream. The idea of being able to practice cooking in an environment where they can get paid is very appealing to many people. However, this career path is often demanding, requiring long hours and a great deal of mental and physical fortitude. But for those who are determined to try to make it through to becoming a line cook, a little introspection is warranted: thinking about your own traits can help you to figure out if you have all of the necessary characteristics to succeed. Here are some commonly important traits for success in the life of a line cook.

Showing Up

This one sounds easy but too often employees, and especially cooks, just ditch out on their shift or no call no show. This type of attitude and lack of effort will prevent you from succeeding in both the short and long term. Just showing up to work and being a reliable teammate can make all the difference in not only your life but how management sees you. Afterall, as long as you show up to work and have a good attitude, you’ll beat out just about everyone else for that promotion!

Managing the Lifestyle

As previously mentioned, even though being a line cook can be very fulfilling, it has its fair share of difficulties. For some people, the long hours or physically draining quality of the work can prevent them from succeeding. After all, if you have a family, you probably want to be able to take time off from work to see them, too. And many cooks realize that the salary is not what they want. But for those who truly want to be a line cook, these issues often become immaterial.

Loving to Cook

This is a little self-explanatory but certainly worth reiterating: because you are working with food each day and preparing many different dishes, loving to cook is a must for any line cook. And further, having a working knowledge of different foods, techniques and technologies in the kitchen is important to succeeding as a line cook — and loving to cook is a good way to make learning about all of this easier.

Ability to Succeed in a Fast-Paced Environment

Working in a kitchen, especially at busy times of the day, can be hectic. Different customers have different requests for all of the different orders, there are many things going on at once and people are moving all over. Being able to succeed in this kind of environment is essential to succeeding in the life of a line cook. Similarly, being able to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously or multitask is important, too — it would be bad to forget a part of an order during a busy shift.

But beyond just being able to succeed in a fast-paced environment, the life of a line cook is just as much about thriving in that environment. After all, the best line cooks do not just make the food on time — they make it well so that customers are satisfied and return later for more. And in life beyond cooking, too, being able to thrive in a dynamic environment is good, because many different professions require this skill.

Attention to Detail

This is particularly important for line cooks. To make a good-tasting dish, there is a necessary recipe that must be followed. Deviating from this recipe can be disastrous, so being able to pick out the individual details and follow them is a necessary trait for a successful line chef. But being able to modify things while still paying attention to detail is important too: many customers want their dishes created in a certain way, and being able to accommodate that while still producing a good final product is very important.

Of course, there are other important qualities for line cooks to have, but these are a couple of the especially important ones that are necessary to finding success as a line cook. For some people, these requirements are onerous, but for many, love of food and cooking brings in enough gratification that whatever sacrifices come with the job are worthwhile. It takes a certain mentality to succeed as a line cook, but the work is satisfying when all is said and done.

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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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Is Teaching Butchery the Secret to Keeping Good Chefs?

Is Teaching Butchery the Secret to Keeping Good Chefs?

For any profession, employees need professional development. There needs to be a feeling that an organization, or in this case, the restaurant is invested in them and their growth in the culinary world. The food business is evolving, and there will always be a need for diverse skill sets and new techniques. It is fast becoming clear that while there are establishments opening up at a rapid pace, finding employees that have the right skill sets is becoming a challenge.

In order to set yourself apart from the crowd, whether as a restaurant or as an employee within a restaurant, there needs to be constant cultivation of new skills and techniques. It might not seem important to care about what other kitchens need, but thinking about what your kitchen needs – both short-term and long-term, is incredibly important.

There needs to be constant cultivation of new skills and techniques

Hiring talent that is right for you, as well as a good fit is key. This also means that there must be a sincere effort in cultivating a good work environment, and ensuring that your staff has the right tools for the job rather than opting for the cheapest tools. But the ultimate secret in keeping good chefs is to invest in them.

In the article, Why Teaching Butchery Is the Secret to Keeping Good Chefs, the author touches upon several key points that demonstrate the sheer importance of investing in chefs. The articles states that, “We try to take quite inexperienced chefs at the lowest level in the kitchen and train them in all the aspects that we do…We also like to promote from within because it’s good for the culture and good for morale to see you and your colleagues getting promoted.”

There are two important notes to take from this. Not only is there a significant amount of training provided that pushes employees out of their comfort zones, but there is also constant effort to improve overall morale. Once the push has been made to invest in employees, it is also imperative to show them real life examples and incentives of what their newly acquired skill set can bring them.

The author underscores this point, writing that “it’s also about giving someone the opportunity and showing faith in people. If we’re seen to be giving people opportunities and promoting people when we could go external, it means that they’re less likely to look elsewhere because they enjoy working with you and are able to grow and develop.”

In this article, butchery is what the restaurant is offering these inexperienced chefs. But this is just one example of how restaurants should work with their chefs to understand what their needs are, and what measures are needed for long-term, sustainable growth. This benefits both your business, and the employees and makes them feel like they are not just cogs in a machine but nurtured and cared for.

With professional development opportunities though, many establishments are afraid to take the risk. What if it is too successful and chefs end up leaving? What if there is time and resources invested but all it results in is chefs finding other opportunities?

These are certainly risks, but those are associated risks no matter what. Chefs leave restaurants for numerous reasons, most of which are difficult to predict. However,  if these professional development opportunities are not offered, perhaps chefs will get bored and decide to leave where they are challenged and cared for. Giving them the chance to acquire new skills gives them an incentive to stay and use these skills to help grow the establishment for the better.

Giving them the chance to acquire new skills gives them an incentive to stay and use these skills to help grow the establishment for the better.

Ultimately, it may seem like a risky move at first but investing in your people is the best way to show them that they are valued. Both inexperienced and experienced chefs will always benefit from cultivating new skills and directly applying them – whether it is butchery or something else.

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Lessons from Las Vegas

Lessons from Las Vegas

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, it’s important to refresh yourself and your staff on the best practices that have been in place for many years.

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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.

  1. KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

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.

  1. BE HUMBLE

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.

  1. ACCEPT YOUR ROLE TODAY

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.

  1. HAVE A STRATEGY

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.

  1. FOLLOW YOUR STRATEGY

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.

  1. LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK

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.

  1. THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO ACCOMPLISH A TASK

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.

  1. LEARN HOW TO FIT IN

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.

  1. SHARE WHAT YOU KNOW AND KEEP AN OPEN MIND

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.

  1. BE PATIENT

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.

  1. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW

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.

  1. DEDICATE YOURSELF TO THE RESTAURANT

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.

  1. BE THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE

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.

  1. DON’T IGNORE THE RULE

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.

  1. WORK HARDER THAN EVERYONE ELSE

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.

  1. BE THE EXAMPLE

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.

  1. HELP OTHERS TO BE SUCCESSFUL

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.

  1. CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY

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.

  1. ASK YOURSELF “IS WHAT I AM DOING RIGHT NOW BRINGING ME ANY CLOSER TO ACHIEVING MY GOALS”

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.

  1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND LOOK FOR THAT BALANCE EARLY ON

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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