Chef and writer Paul Sorgule, who’s Harvest America Ventures blog is a treasure trove of insightful words on kitchen and restaurant culture and its psychology, has, he says, over decades working in professional kitchens, come to the conclusion that there are five types of chef.
While Sorgule concedes that “It would be somewhat naive" to try and classify all chefs, broadly they tend to fall into one of these categories. Perhaps you recognise these definitions in the people you work with, or in yourself?
Driven, naturally creative, over-the-top unique, and able to make everyone else think differently about food. They are typically very hard to work with even though they are easy to admire. They tend to be steamrollers who are on a mission to move people in a direction that they may not be willing to move and brush aside those who are unwilling to risk it all. We need these people because they force us to move away from our comfort zone and open our eyes to the possibility.
There is sometimes very little difference between the gifted and the troubled. The major difference is that the troubled are unable to separate what they do from who they are. The troubled chefs are the ones who can’t break away from their creative drive. They can easily become haunted by their talent and unable to think about anything but what this talent allows them to do. They are always their own worst critic and far too often are never satisfied with the results of their cooking, their menus, and how THEY perceive their restaurants to be. Their success is never enough. As many applaud their efforts, they focus on finding personal fault.
Probably the greatest number of chefs fit into the category of ‘determined.’ These chefs may not have been born with the “gift”, maybe they aren’t naturally creative nor were they born with a perfect palate, but they do have the desire to be successful and make a difference with food. Their shortcomings with creativity don’t set them back; they simply make up for their lack of ‘gift’ by working twice as hard as anyone else. Their talent comes from sweat equity – effort versus natural talent. These chefs are more often than not the real role models that attract young people to this business and build team environments with like-minded, full of great work ethnic, culinary enthusiasts who never give up. They relish their success and that of others, still take to heart their shortcomings and failures, but use those shortcomings to grow and become stronger.
The Wasted Talent
In nearly every professional kitchen stands a cook with tremendous potential who may, through the luck of the draw, wind up as a chef in a property at some point in his or her career. These individuals fell into a position because someone else saw their potential unrealised and gave them a shot at the lead position. Not taking advantage of a talent that a cook/chef has for whatever reason – lack of confidence, lack of desire, fear of failure, distaste for success, poor work ethic, or insecurities founded in a lack of self-worth – is one of life’s great disappointments. These individuals need a bit of encouragement, but even more importantly a push in the right direction.
Those Who Don't Fit (at Least Not Yet)
Yes, we all know of – maybe have worked with, or God forbid – worked for a person who fell into the position of chef without any business being there. It could very well be a case of whom they know or how great they are at deceiving those above, but in some cases they are simply promoted too early to their level of incompetence. This is commonly referred to as the Peter Principle. To those who find themselves there through deceit – then failure is imminent and well deserved. To those who have the best intentions, but were given a carrot well before it reached maturity are oftentimes scarred for life because of their inability to rise to the challenge.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.