8 Traits of a True Kitchen Professional

By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC

Escoffier was known to have a temper, but was able to control it by taking a step back, sometimes taking a walk, and really worked to maintain the type of demeanor and professionalism that he expected, and even demanded, of his kitchen employees.  It was likely this commitment to positive behavior that was the seed that grew into the Ritz Carlton credo of: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

Since the times of Escoffier, many kitchens have drifted from this standard, evolving into the stories of pirates and angry cooks and chefs who were determined to create a modern day Dante’s Inferno. It is this environment that many of today’s seasoned chefs grew up in–places where there was little tolerance for mistakes, where feelings were always on edge, service staff were cautious about what they said when entering through those swinging doors and the language of the kitchen was spiced with more than a few four-letter expletives. Although many of the stories were exaggerated, some were not. To those of us in the 1950s and 1980s kitchen brigade, the term hostile work environment was a pretty close description.

We may reflect back on those experiences with some level of crusty pride knowing that “We made it through hell,” while others chose to bail out of kitchen life because it wasn’t worth it. The long-term problem is that, just like poor parenting, if a chef allows this type of environment to exist, or if he or she creates this type of environment, their employees will grow to emulate this behavior in their kitchens, just like children reflect the behavior of their parents when they grow into adults.  If this environment exists in a kitchen, then all fingers should point directly to the chef.

Today there is no excuse for this type of environment to exist.  In fact, if a hostile environment of take no prisoners exists, be prepared for a visit from your local Department of Labor. The new generation of sous chefs and chefs are responsible for changing the perception that others have about life in the kitchen. We must ensure that future employees and the general public learn that “Hell’s Kitchen” is a bad dream–this is not what kitchens are like or should be like in the 21st century.

What are the traits of today’s kitchen professional and what should we as industry leaders expect, teach and demonstrate to those who will carry the torch of the new generation of cooks and chefs?


One essential of kitchen life that will always remain at the top of the list is respect for the kitchen brigade that was developed by Escoffier, which was influenced by his time in the military.  Everyone has a unique set of responsibilities, yet everything is everyone’s job.  You may not like the person who you work with or work for, but it is essential that you respect the role that he or she plays. “Yes Chef” is the response that will allow every kitchen to reach down deep and accomplish the impossible. Critique of your colleagues’ work or decisions should come after the guest is served. In the heat of battle all cooks must respect the chain of command.


By far, one of the great aspects to working in a kitchen is that the only real measurement of the person next to you is whether he or she is dependable and whether they give their best every day. Kitchens must always remain the example of respect for a diverse workforce–realize that everyone’s success depends on the success of everyone else.


As cooks, we are privileged to work with exceptional ingredients that farmers, ranchers, cheese makers, charcutiers and butchers, vintners, fisherman and distributors painstakingly worked to bring to your back door. We owe respect for each and every one of them as well as the animals and plants that gave their existence for a great meal.


When you are the one signing the checks, you understand how expensive it is to build and equip a kitchen. Today’s cook and chef must learn to treat the equipment with the same respect as if it were their own.  The way a cook treats his or her personal knives should be no different than the way he or she treats the large and small equipment in the kitchen where they work.


Yes, sometimes they are frustrating, but the vast majority of guests in restaurants are simply looking for a well-prepared meal and honest, caring service.  Without the guest, none of us receives a paycheck.  The rule of thumb in today’s restaurant economy is to always be prepared to say “Yes” to a guest request (within reason, of course).


Professionals in other fields who have an opportunity to wear a uniform know that it represents history and pride. The cook’s uniform represents the work and dedication of the generations that came before–chefs who built our industry and defined what great cooking means.  We must, as professionals, respect that history and show our pride by ensuring our uniforms are always clean, crisp and complete.  Let the world know that you are proud of your profession.


Every cook wants to reach a point in his or her career when they can place a signature on a dish or create a style of cooking that defines who they are as a kitchen professional. You must learn to walk before you run.  Established, time-tested procedures are at the heart of every cooking style and represent the key that unlocks a cook’s ability to make a statement when the time comes.


The restaurant business is one of the largest in the country.  There are more than 1 million restaurants in the United States generating more than $780 billion dollars in annual sales.  As a cook you are a member of a club that currently employs 14.4 million people–that’s 10% of the entire U.S. workforce.  We are important, we are essential and we are powerful, professional cooks who share the trait of pride for a business that is truly exceptional.

we are chefsPaul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at www.harvestamericaventures.com.

11 thoughts

  1. Hi Paul, good to read you. Love your comments and ideas about our industry. The last quote you left on the ACF web page is the Ritz Carlton credo! This is most likely a registered phrase. Be careful! Love all you do and stand for including of course our founding father and mentor to all Georges Auguste Escoffier. Alain


  2. We’ll and truly said.
    Comes back to the basics
    Treat others the way you like to be treated.
    I think this aspect should also become part of the Michelin star rating criteria.
    In which case many of those rated would loose a star or two.


    1. This actually is an article I wrote when teaching at CIA (Hyde Park, NY) and could be directed to Marsha, not finding support in what she is hoping to accomplish. One thing I’ve learned over my 46 year career in the industry is that we all see ourselves surrounded by well trained, smiling, professional, knowledgeable associates who are ready to perform their assigned duties everyday. I have revisited that though countless times… Happy reading and of course looking for your opinions. Best regards, Alain

      Mom, Dad, I did not get the job!

      Let’s set the tone first shall we? The following casual conversation is taking place around the dinner table. Mom and Dad just came home from work and you cooked dinner for them as you do often. Both parents are so proud of you! You are a chef! Their own son, a chef! They gave you the opportunity to join a famous culinary school or college, knowing that you’ll do well. And they were correct. You finished the program with flying colors. Accolades from your peers abound, certificates and diplomas adorn your mock office wall. Needles to say, you are talented and posses the “it” factor employers are looking for. Dinner is fantastic. You really showed Mom and Dad what you are made out of. Everything you prepared was done right. Then, out of the blue, Dad asks “by the way son, how did the interview go today? “. “Very well Dad” you reply with confidence. There is no doubt in your mind that you will be the next star at this up and coming establishment. Mom and Dad are again stating how proud they are of you and your accomplishments. The evening ends after several casual conversations covering all the topics of the day. A few days later, the much expected correspondence is finally delivered. The said correspondence is addressed to you of course, the applicant. Your heart is beating harder and dreams of prestige cross your mind immediately. With much anticipation of success, you open the very well written letter. “Oh no”! As you read the correspondence form the General Manager, you find yourself rejected or in a more diplomatic way, your services are not needed. You did not get the job you applied for! Now what? Oh boy, how am I going to explain this to Mom and Dad? Well, in a few words, simply tell them that you did not get the job you applied for! I know that this sounds a bit childish or even dramatic but most of us will experience, at one point in time, rejection. Wow! You certainly did not expect this to happen to you did you? It always happens to others, you thought! Here you are once more, united as a family around the dining table. This time, you did not do the cooking. You felt rejected. All these years of preparation really did not get you where you wanted to be. Now the big question! You know that $65,000 question! Why was I denied the opportunity to work for this famous company? My credentials are great, I have perfect attendance at college, I am on the Dean’s list and I aced all tests and quizzes, why was I not chosen? Well this is the time to come down from our pedestal and ask ourselves a few simple questions. Mind you Mom and Dad may have the same questions for you. They are not really disappointed at this time. They are simply curious want to know why you were not accepted. And so do you! Here are a few thoughts about the situation. Mind you, this is not written in stone. You will most likely experience different reasons for rejection. But let’s take a moment to look at the most common ones. I am talking to you, casually, sitting around the kitchen table. Some of my questions may be as follow: well son, did you….

      • Pay attention to the ad you answered?
      • Read the ad carefully? Was it the right fit for you?
      • Were your qualifications in line with the job description?
      • Answer the call simply because you needed a job? Were you really interested in this position?
      • Do your homework about the company and its affiliates or is it that you simply wanted to work for the famous chef this company has on board?
      • Did the fame, spotlight and stars this company has obtained make you dizzy? Are you sure you understood the type of cuisine the company is known for?
      • Download and read the menus and offerings carefully? Is this the type of cuisine you are familiar with?
      • Dress properly and present yourself as a true professional? Were you ready to look the part, feel the part, be the part and act the part meaning you had a haircut, shiny shoes, clean nails, showered, fitting shirt, nice tie, clothes in style (that fit), well spoken… or did you come across as cocky, over confident or non respectable during the interview process?

      • Were you challenged by your friends who dared you to….?
      • Were you ready for the interview?
      • Did you lie on your resume?
      • Did you check all references (for accuracy and legitimacy) you provided the interviewer?
      • You answered questions with poise and knowledge or did you fake it, pretending to know it all.
      • Were you seeking unreasonable compensation?
      • Have an appointment and knowledge of the person you spoke on the phone to?
      • Arrived late (without letting someone know) or way too early the day of the interview?
      • Actually spoke to your contact person?
      • Were you really listening to the potential employer at the other end of the table?
      • Did you provide all requested documents?
      • Were you flexible for a tasting or a try out?
      • Did you have a reasonable plan for “taking over” should you be asked to do so?
      • Do you have enough knowledge and experience, related to the job you applied for, to pull it off?
      • Answered the ad and went for the interview simply because we (Mom and Dad) would love to brag about you (our son/daughter) working for this famous chef or fabulous establishment?
      • Have any idea of what’s next; meaning you have a solid plan for yourself and know where you will go after this assignment is over…

      I can think of many other factors why you did not get the job you applied for but let’s be realistic. If you are not portraying yourself as the candidate the company is looking for, think again, the next person in line may or will fit the bill. I have worked in the hospitality industry over 46 years. While serving my employers in different capacities and positions, I have interviewed dozens and dozens of candidates for various positions. I also have dismissed quite a few but this is another story. Have I made errors in judgment? Of course I have, no hiding from the truth here. Whether it is FOH or BOH all candidates who present themselves at the interview, vie to be hired on the spot. Mind you some candidates may not fit the bill exactly as described in the ad but are trainable. What do I mean by trainable? Well, for one, those candidates are listening very carefully to what the interviewer (corporate, private or head hunter) is saying and what the company has to offer realistically, ultimately willing to invest some of their own time being trained. Of course this comes with a price. Or should I say no price at all! The company is investing time and money to make sure you become a team member and therefore not compensating you with your initial request. Is this a test? What do you think? Of course it is! Right there and then, the interviewer puts you on the spot. He/she wants to see if you are really serious. The way you are reacting to the offer on the table may or may not land you the job you are seeking. In other words are you the type of candidate they (the company) have in mind! One suggestion, looking at today’s economy, take it! More so if this is your first job or assignment! Accept the fact that you are green and need more training, increasing knowledge and value not only for the company but for yourself. Accept the position. You will be thankful you were given the opportunity to learn and most importantly, to grow. We culinarians are fortunate to be working in an industry that values knowledge and professionalism. An industry with ever changing faces of a global culinary culture. Isn’t this fascinating? And yes, next time you sit around the dinner table with your family for a delectable dinner you just prepared, you’ll be proud to say “Mom, Dad, I got the job”! Congratulations, let’s celebrate. Here’s to your success.

      By Alain V. De Coster BMCA, CEC, CCA
      Lecturing Instructor, the Culinary Institute of America


  3. I love what I do graduated from Culinary school 2010 worked in a Scottish pub, a chain retailer, now upscale hospital cuisine. I’m not inspired need help… 52 yr old black female.
    This article really reminded me of all the things I value. Just don’t see it implemented. I hope to really find what it is or rather that place where can blossom along with those I work along side. Thanks for the article uplifting.


  4. I too live by the Ritz Carlton credo in which I instill In my kitchen,and as a former apprentice of the Ritz 30 years ago, did you know that this famous quote was actually said by Frank Sinatra on a visit to the Ritz Carlton where he said ” these are truly ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentleman”


    1. No Chef, I didn’t know this fact about the “quote” even-though I did work for the Ritz, NYC! Thank you for this precious info, I shall share this with my students if you allow! Sincerely, Alain


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