How to create a solid work-life balance

By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC

Working 80 hours a week in a restaurant and viewing this as a badge of honor is misleading and not sustainable. I know many old-school chefs, such as me, will scoff at this statement with such a response as, “those who can’t invest the time will never make it in this business.”  What many seem to lose sight of is the distinction between “living life and making a living.”   Passion and commitment are cornerstones for effectiveness in any profession. However, passion sometimes is used as a disguise for an unhealthy lifestyle that physically, emotionally and mentally drains an individual.  I have been there and many of my friends would likely smile and point to my own unhealthy commitment to a career in food. So be it.  With age comes wisdom, and I hope that this is true for me as well as many of my contemporaries.

What I am discovering, thanks to one of my most important benchmark chefs, Eric Ripert, chef/co-owner, Le Bernardin, New York, is that no one benefits from a one-sided life that fails to consider what balance means. Ripert has accomplished what most chefs aspire to and has reached this pinnacle with a balance that my old-school friends would find hard to understand.

As I mature, I have found the following pointers to make sense for any and all chefs who are willing to stop and assess their level of efficiency and happiness:

  1. You can be 100% committed to your career and still have a life away from the kitchen. Forty hours per week is not feasible in the kitchen. But neither is 60 hours or more.  Plan and organize your schedule to give you flexibility to step away.
  2. True happiness requires the same level of commitment to balance as to the career. Successful chefs, long-term, make time for reading, daily exercise, travel, family and being outside.  These are must do commitments for a chef.
  3. A career without a family to come home to and enjoy can be very empty.
    A chef’s significant other, children, siblings, parents and friends define the type of person that he or she is.  Don’t ignore them. Make the time to include yourself in their lives.  Don’t fall into the trap of exclusion–it never leads to good things.
  4. Without some level of balance, the career you are passionate about will eventually begin to taste too much like a job. Be honest: are there more days that you dread going into work than ones that make you feel energized and whole?  If you are there or on your way to that point then it is time to assess how you approach life.
  5. Create routines outside of the kitchen just like the ones that drive your daily activity on the job. Chefs fully understand the importance of mise en place and the consistent organization of every part of their workday.  Use that same formula to build in time for exercise, reading, travel, family, and being outside. An Outlook calendar works for personal time as well.
  6. Leave room for some spontaneity in your life. As important as this organized time is, it will also be critical to leave caution to the wind at some time and do something unexpected (a getaway weekend, leaving the reins of the restaurant to the sous chef and taking your family out to a movie or play, going for a hike on a brilliant sunny day, etc.).
  7. Train, delegate, and trust your employees and they will give you the freedom to have a life outside of the kitchen. More often than not, the key to making balance happen lies in a chef’s commitment to training and empowering others to take on additional responsibility. A chef will never get away without trusting others to take on his responsibilities and this will never happen without investment in training.
  8. Strive to be great at all aspects of your life, not just those involving your career passion. Be a great spouse, father, son, brother, sister and friend.  Be there when it is important. Be there in mind, heart and soul.  Turn off the kitchen for that period of time and be truly present.
  9. Define your career. Don’t let it define you. Chefs who are fulfilled are ones who are true to themselves and their food philosophy.  They know that this belief structure is important.  Make sure that it includes other aspects of life.  Without the ability to realize this balance, a chef will struggle to be consistent, efficient and successful beyond the range.


“To me, it’s very important to have time at the restaurant, but also time with family and time for myself.”–Eric Ripert

Paul 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