When a chef reflects on his or her major responsibilities, it would be hard to ignore the ever-present requirement to continue to enhance skills and knowledge and share what is gained with others. Chefs will remain students of the craft and keepers of traditions and processes for as long as their position is held.
Here are some “Food for Thought” learning recommendations for 2019.
BECOME A STUDENT OF THE SOURCE
When does a cook truly appreciate that beautiful prime steak that is placed on a cherry red char grill, or when that same cook trims a strip loin of excess fat and fabricates various size steaks for an evening shift? The answer is much more significant if it involves spending time on a ranch where cattle are born and raised, at the feed lot where they are bulked up the last few months or their lives and on to the processing plant where an animal gives up its life for those sub-primal cuts that wind up in restaurant coolers.
That beautiful halibut ready for fabrication is much more meaningful once the chef spends a day on a fishing boat off the coast of Alaska. The vegetables that are too often treated as a commodity become a true wonder after a cook or chef spends a day on the farm, working the land, and caring for crops. A wine list takes on new meaning if the chef spends time working the harvest on a vineyard and after 12 hours of back-breaking work, sits down with the family and crew of the vineyard to break bread, enjoy a meal and clink glasses filled with the wine produced from that vineyard.
The best chefs are students of the source and as such are able to treat the ingredients with greater respect during the cooking process.
SPEND YOUR CAREER BUILDING FLAVOR MEMORY
Most cooks and chefs will never master the preparation of all styles and methods of cooking. Most chefs will always find new dishes to master and new flavors to tuck into their subconscious mind. All chefs must commit to maintaining an open mind to this process of flavor memory development. This flavor memory will include the fine-tuning of the sense of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. Flavor is, after all, a combination of the full gamut of senses.
COMMIT TO THE TRADITIONS OF CUISINE
To really understand a cuisine, or for that matter even a specific dish, it is important to experience the culture and traditions that surround it. A chef who connects through occasional travel, builds relationships with other food professionals, learns about cultural influences and studies the history and traditions of others is a chef who is on track to master the preparation of those dishes.
KNOW THAT SKILLS CAN ALWAYS BE IMPROVED
As much as chefs know from years of being on the front lines, there is always so much more, so many more stones unturned, and so many skills to add to their repertoire. The best cooks and chefs are constantly seeking new ways to approach the field of cooking.
REMAIN AN ADVOCATE FOR TEAM BUILDING
In the end, it is all about the team that surrounds a chef. The most accomplished chefs are consummate team builders and team leaders. Understanding people and the chemistry that leads to a cohesive, supportive, and successful team is the most important part of a chef’s job. Chefs can always learn more in this regard.
BECOME A SAVVY BUSINESSPERSON
As important as mastery of the range might be, as critical as a deep understanding of cooking and service surely is, the best chefs are also strong business people. They seek to constantly improve their ability to plan, budget, control and market their operations in an effort to remain viable.
UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE THE TEACHER, THE TRAINER, AND THE GUIDE ON THE SIDE
The common transition of chefs to the role of culinary teacher is very logical. Great chefs are always teaching and training. Learning how to encourage young cooks to build their repertoire, showing people how to improve, building confidence while never sacrificing the importance of high expectations, is a constant process. The best chefs invest the time in becoming great teachers and trainers.
DEDICATE YOURSELF TO LEARNING HOW WHAT YOU DO IMPACTS OTHERS
Great chefs are acutely aware of the systemic influence that their decisions have on others. Chefs, over time, begin to understand the impact of their efforts. A menu change may be exciting for the chef, but unless he or she understands that this decision impacts the skills and comfort level of cooks, the actions of vendors, the profit potential of the restaurant, the confidence of the server, the effectiveness of a complementary wine list and the experience of the guest, then the chef will always face challenges in implementation.
TALK LESS AND LISTEN MORE
Chefs will learn, over time, that the most important skill that they can acquire is the ability to truly listen to employees, fellow managers, vendors, competitors and guests. If they fail in this regard then they will constantly deal with the negative impact of rash decisions.
UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR ACTIONS OVER-RIDE WHAT YOU KNOW
The most knowledgeable chefs are not necessarily the most effective. What you know and what you say pales in comparison to how you act and what you do. Your employees, employers, and guests judge your effectiveness on your consistent, dependable actions. The best chefs learn to think before they act.