Over the forty plus years of culinary guidance I have trained literally hundreds of cooks, chef de parties, sous chefs and chef de cuisines. Having hired most them, I always ask this one question during the interview: “Why do you want to become a cook and then chef?” The answer is often the same, “I have a passion for cooking.”
Soon however the reality of the job settles in and the stresses become high, the performance weakens and the passion soon fades. Little did they understand the work place and the career they are choosing? Hours are long often 10 or more a day with a minimum of 60 per week. Wages are low, most cooks in Canada make 12.00 per hour or less (before taxes) yet the cost of living is high, average rent in Canada 1200.00 per month (before utilities) so the cook (and most others in the hospitality business) must work 100 hours just to pay rent. They must study for provincial gold seals and then onto inter-provincial red seals to achieve journeyman status, 2 years of school at the college level and then 1800 hours of on the job training, to make that 12.00. They must meet health department codes and be approved by local, county or state, provincial governments. They must meet liquor control board service codes and be licensed by the board, meet and exceed corporation’s standards with whom they are employed. And, more than anything keep the client happy and excited to consume the food they cook.
They face hot kitchens (I once worked in one that 129°F I was taken to hospital with heat induced pneumonia). Stress from what is cooking, stress of cooking in timely fashion (consumers now think everything must come a QSR paces), stress from servers (who are stressed by clients) stress from chefs, stress from managers not mention personal stresses that we all must deal with daily. Stress from just breathing, the average cook will gain 3-5 pounds a year from simply breathing in the oils used to cook. Stress to maintain and create menus with food items that people actually know and want to eat. Stress of presenting that food in a fashion that is pleasing to the sight as consumers eat with their eyes first, (if it doesn’t look good it is not going to taste good.) Stress from having often to work twice as hard because many co-worker do not show for their shift, simply quit without notice. The stresses are so great that according to The 21st Century Psychology: A Reference Handbook , “included in the top ten suicidal occupations are businesspeople, cooks, writers, mine workers and police officers (oh oh, I have done the first four.) College professors and minister are the lowest risk,” (I have done those two too.) It may be true that those who are more creative and concerned with their offering may be those who are at the highest risks. Passion is sure to get a good re-thinking given the circumstances any cook or chef must work daily beneath. So what is a cook to do, or anyone for that matter to keep the passion flowing so that the ultimate career goal is accomplished?
Shake up your routine
As difficult as this may seem to a cook, for they must follow routine to insure excellence in service, the mise-en-place must be exactly the same daily. Shaking up the routine may be exactly what the doctor would order. Routine and boredom often go hand and hand. Many cooks lose their passion because of the factory line step up in the kitchen. They do exactly the same thing day in and day out without any change or challenge. They are not required to use the skills they thought they had and were the reason they became cooks in the first place and so the desire fades and the boredom from routine takes place, the once excited cooks becomes the complacent employee, doing just enough to get by. Adding a little variety to your day might be just what they need. Try creating something new for the daily staff meal, eat at ethnic restaurants for variety in culinary and cultural experience, write a daily journal with the pros and cons of the day (be sure both are therein). Most importantly mentor a junior and allow yourself to be mentored by a senior.
Give yourself incentives
Don’t wait for the manager, chef or servers to validate you, follow the five P’s and you will know you have validation in self. (The five P’s: Proper, Presentation, Prevents, Poor, Performance.) Be your own cheer leader, when you do excellence, you know it, be extremely happy with yourself in doing so. . When you have a difficult catering job ahead of you, find a way to reward yourself after you complete that affair, believe the client when they say “a job well done.” That is your validation, think on that to really brighten your day and keep that accolade to yourself but be sure to give it to your team. Celebrating those entire small successes can (every plate that returns to the kitchen scraped clean) help you recognize what’s going right.
Build new skill sets
The death nail for any cook is to think they know it all, learning a new cuisine is a great way to fire up your creativity and to get inspired again. It also makes you a more creative and therefore more valuable chef. Whether you read a new cookbook, browse cooking blogs, take service and culinary classes, or simply ask more questions of your mentor, find a way to keep growing and increasing your knowledge base. Then teach it to others.
Variety of Spice outside of work
Your job is what you do not who you are. Find the things that define you then do them with your whole heart. If you follow politics then support your local MP, MPP, MLA etc. Get involved with getting them elected. Teach others what they need to know to have a life that is better than yours. Wisdom is the application of knowledge, seeing that knowledge grow within another has great rewards. Try a new exercise routine, sign up for a cooking class (one where you have no skill in) or some other type of class, start a new hobby. But more than anything else spend time with your family.
Surround yourself with encouraging people
Join culinary groups where you can voice your concerns, failures and challenges, chefs associations, world cooks association, other social clubs like Lions Clubs then get involved. Go to church, one that has your belief system and where you learn something every time you meet. Meet your best friend for just you two time. Plan and keep a date. Volunteer with a nonprofit. Fill your life with positive influences. Read a lot; try reading a successful person biography twice a month. Always try to be part of something bigger than you are.
Hug a veteran or those who presently serve, someone who gave so much for you, deserves so much from us. Find what a vet's need, then go and do it for them. Cook them a meal, cook them a bunch meals. You cannot repay what they have given.
Get a reality check
Sometimes, just on occasion, take a reality check of your life and what it can be. Then make plans that are attainable and work toward them. Talking honestly with your co-workers, friends and mentors about their jobs can give you a much-needed reality check on your work. Others experiences may be the guiding light to shape your future, or they be the lesson needed to avoid a looming failure, whichever they may be, learn and glean from what others have already endured, why repeat a mistake someone else has, why not repeat a success someone else has created.
An award winning recipe is not often a secret recipe but rather one that is done exactly right and served in perfection. One which made over and over again until it is perfect. Every year there many state fair award winning pies, isn’t an apple pie just an apple pie, not when it is done flawlessly. So make your mistakes but learn from each one and then improve. Be real, with others, co-workers, chefs, managers and most importantly yourself.
Be grateful, look around you, no matter what you see there is always someone worse off, on a recent trip I had a meal with a family of 6 in what could be consider a hole in a wall (literally) yet a happier more grateful group of people I have rarely met. Living on less than 5.00 per day for the six of them, they insisted on providing me with lunch. Lesson learned, thank you Lord for the real beautiful people may I ever be like they.
Kindness is defined as usefulness employed. It is doing something for someone without the expectation of a return. It is seen mostly in compassion, what is compassion? It is to experience what another undergoes and to have the power to change it. Everyone sees the beggar not everyone is compassionate upon him however, why not you?
Let me give you a personal story related to kindness and showing compassion, based on Proverbs 19:17 (NIV) Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
A few years ago I decided to learn about the working of a seed, not by science, but by an expert in seeds, a farmer. My very good friend Murray is a farmer outside of Calgary Alberta so I invited him and his wife for a stay with Dianna and I at Kananaskis Lodge so we could talk and I could learn of the power of the seed. He was delighted to go but we would have to stop in High River to obtain some parts to repair a tractor of his. No problem, when we arrived at the tractor outlet there was a food truck and we decided to have some hamburgers and fries. As I purchased our food a couple of men came along begging the food truck owner for some food. He chased them away, but compassion within me spoke and I bought them their meals. A whole ten dollars, but how happy they were to get something to eat, we continued on our journey. Inside myself God spoke and said “see what I will do with that ten dollars.”
We arrived at the lodge and were given a two bedroom suite as that was all there was left. We went down to the dining room for dinner and here we were greeted by a maître d’ whom I had trained. He was very happy to see us and treated us to a flambé dessert of Cherries Jubilee after our steaks. After dinner we returned to suite to continue our education on seeds, shortly there came a knock on the door and a very large basket of fresh fruit and chocolates had arrived, again courtesy of the maître d’ . We had a great time learning and eating chocolate.
As we departed the next day I went to the check out to pay our bill, expecting a bill around 800.00 for the suite and dinner the evening before. Instead I was handed a bill for 60.00 just for the taxes due. The manager of the hotel and the maître d’ paid for the rest. Was I happy, you betcha. Then that small voice spoke up and said, see what I did with that ten dollars you spend for those two men. Compassion, show it, live it and let God shed His upon you.
Learn to forgive,
The best way to get your passion back is to practice forgiveness. First to self, then to others, some hurt that is small within if left to fester can become huge, be quick to forgive and your be quick to receive the benefits of forgiveness. Forgiveness is your freedom plan, harbouring hurt does nothing to the one that hurt you, it only causes harm within yourself, their gone and living their life, your lack of forgiveness stops you from living yours. You will find mean spirited people everywhere, forget them, forgive their words and move forward. Words are powerful, be sure yours are always infused with forgiveness.
Finally read a Proverb a day, they will encourage your spirit, lift your soul and bring you to wise decisions, just look at this from Chapter Two:
Proverbs 2 New International Version (NIV)
1 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—3 indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. 9 Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. 11 Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you