By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC
You work very hard as a cook or a chef. The hours are long and the work is intense, with a persistent requirement for fine-tuned skills. You are there mentally and physically more than any place else.
So where is the payback?
Maybe you are looking for someone to show you the path to a more rewarding career in the food business; the position that makes it all worthwhile.
Let’s talk about that for a moment to clarify how to get from point A to point B.
No one is responsible for your career — only YOU can set the course for that position that makes it all worthwhile. YOUR career is in YOUR hands — it is solely YOUR responsibility. Every cook and chef who has their eye on the prize (whatever that might be) must take ownership for the path and the results.
“The price of greatness is responsibility.”
How do you get ahead? What is the process for making it all work out to enjoy the fruits of your labor, make a difference and earn the rewards that go along with the position? Take a look at the process of ownership and make yourself the master of your own destiny.
CREATE REALISTIC GOALS AND TIMELINES
Determine where you want to be in five years and then in 10 years. What type of position do you intend to hold? Determine the type of restaurant or food business you want to pursue, as well as the location, salary range, etc. Once a plan is in place you can determine the methods to use as part of your strategy.
BUILD A STRATEGY
Determine how to reach your realistic goals by mapping out the positions you need to acquire along the way, the type of work experience required, the personal contacts you need to build and how to align yourself with the essential skills necessary to build into an effective strategy.
KNOW WHAT IS NEEDED
Outline the specific critical skills for each step toward your career goals, then determine what is lacking in your current background and how you can fill in those gaps.
Make sure that every year is built around a focus on self-improvement. Invest in yourself! Attend seminars and workshops, take that continuing education course or work a stage on your days off to acquire knowledge from other chefs. Don’t wait for others to build your skills — this is your responsibility and this is your career. Know what is required, determine the best way to approach building those skills and make it happen. If you want to reach your goals you must get rid of the excuses.
How will you get to where you need to be without the help and advice of others? Determine who can open doors, offer honest critique, add to your portfolio or simply listen, then introduce yourself to those contacts. Engage in opportunities for mentorship — it works!
DEMONSTRATE A TRACK RECORD OF SUCCESS
Your resume is a concise document designed to spark a potential employer’s interest in you. It is the portfolio that you bring and your personal interaction that will seal the deal. Ensure that your portfolio focuses on your real accomplishments and add letters of support to validate how others feel about your work.
ACCEPT CRITIQUE AND LEARN FROM IT
Seek out your mentors’ critique and recommendations — even if they tell you things that you really don’t want to hear. Critique, unlike criticism, is always accompanied by comments and demonstrations on how to improve. You always need this type of feedback, so learn to relish it.
GROW FROM YOUR MISTAKES
You will make a lot of mistakes, we all do. Mistakes become problematic if we don’t take them to heart, learn how to correct them and work like crazy not to repeat them. Use your mistakes as a teaching and learning tool.
BECOME A PROBLEM SOLVER
Develop the attributes that will allow you to solve problems. Problem solving is a mental skill that includes the ability to analyze data and accept its validity and draw from your network’s experience in applying creative solutions. Don’t feel that you need to go it alone. Chances are, someone in your network has dealt with a similar problem in the past and came up with a resolution to help you.
BE A FIXER NOT A FINGER POINTER
No one wants to be around a critic or work with someone intent on passing blame to someone else. Forget who did it, or how it happened for now, and put your energy into fixing the problem before it gets out of hand. There is always time for reflection afterward.
GIVE MORE THAN YOU RECEIVE
Always be in a position for others to view you as someone who goes beyond what is required simply because it is needed. Do this without seeking personal or professional gain. Later in your career, this will come automatically when giving becomes your expected method of operation.
No person is an island — your success will always depend on the skills and performance of others. Never forget this — without that team support you will never be able to realize your own professional goals.
BUILD YOUR BUSINESS ACUMEN
Remember — as you move from cook to sous chef, from sous chef to chef, and from chef to entrepreneur, your skill set must move past the ability to cook. Restaurants and food operations must operate as fine-tuned businesses. This will become an increasingly important part of your job.
Communication in all forms is an essential skill for chefs. Practice with the end goal of being able to write well, speak well, cut to the chase with the essence of an issue, share willingly with others and present information in a succinct and understandable manner.
LOOK AND ACT THE PART
From your first day on the job, make sure that you look like a professional, carry yourself like a professional, treat others like a professional, communicate like a professional and be the example for others to follow.
BE INVOLVED AND ENGAGED
Adopt the food industry — this is your career, not just a paycheck. Become part of the business community and the community of professional chefs. Join and play an active role in organizations like the American Culinary Federation, National Restaurant Association, Slow Food USA, Chef’s Collaborative, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, Bread Bakers Guild of America, and even your local Chamber of Commerce. This is important for the business and for your personal brand.
“Be all that you can be.” The ability is in your hands for you to seize the opportunity.
“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”