Chef, TV personality and industry speaker, Chris Hill, is back with part two of the motivational letter for chefs and for those thinking of a future career in the kitchen.
Back in 2016, we featured his first poignant open letter addressed to all chefs, packed with sound knowledge and advice from the inside for those pursuing a career in the field.
Here he is again, with Dear Chefs 2.0, published this autumn, with more wise words for chefs, designed to inspire, challenge and keep it real for those entering or already inside this challenging industry.
From keeping the ego in check to how to achieve happiness and success in what can be the most fulfilling and absorbing career, if you are a chef, thinking about your future, here are some invaluable words of wisdom, from a pro: here it is in video form.
Once you step into the kitchen of a restaurant, I don’t think you’re ever quite the same. The hood hums overhead, the staff prep for their shift and the impending energy of a busy weekend rush lingers in the air.
Ego passes tension and excitement as cooks and dishwashers scurry across the terracotta tile waiting for service. The harmony of our own kitchen is a sense of pride respect and camaraderie. You earn these things by investing more of yourself than what the average person would ever deem sane.
If you’re in the early stages of working in a kitchen and are unsure, turn back now. The struggle, the pay, the hours, and the commitment it takes to become successful in this industry are not worth it unless you feel the pull. The same pull felt by so many of us who are convinced we couldn’t spend our working days doing anything else.
On the other hand, if you’re part of the rare “kitchen in your blood” breed and want to make a career out of it. Be warned.
This is advice I wish I’d heard when I was first starting out...
Every good cook I’ve ever met has a certain level of confidence mixed with ego. There’s a healthy dose of ego. But then again, too much will get you in trouble. And it’s up to you to look in the mirror and keep that in check.
In the first couple of years, you can’t help but develop a certain level of expectation and belief in yourself, you have to. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong industry.
And if you’re good enough you’ll start to see success unfold in real-time.
Opportunities will present themselves after years of hard work. And it’s easy to get caught up in them.
The line out the door, the competition shows, the media, awards, reviews. These are all distractions that are so easy to get wrapped up in.
Finally, people are starting to notice and appreciate the hard work. But, paying too much attention to that can lead to loss of discipline.
We attach success and worth as a chef to these external goals, the pressure grows stronger, the load to bear gets heavier and the stakes get higher.
Keep your head
Once you’re on one star, then it’s two, what about that third. Now you can’t stop till you get there. These are crosses to bear that are handed down from a culture in our industry that defines success by having more money, more creativity and being just a bit more out of the box than the next person.
Measuring success on such a scale makes it unreachable. Success becomes a moving target. Always leaving us feeling like we’re not quite there yet.
Even if we get there the demand and toll it takes on us achieving it and to maintain it, stands in the way of enjoying the process on the way. This isn’t fair to you; it isn’t fair to the people you love, and it isn’t fair to the people you work with and it sure as hell isn’t fair to the craft.
The drive for greatness can be the birthplace of beautiful unchartered waters but the drive should never come at the expense of the reasons why you got into the industry in the first place. To make people happy. Your customers, your staff, and above all else, yourself.
That’s truly what it’s all about. Whether you’ve got three Michelin stars, or you’ve got a three-star average on Yelp.
It’s about investing in the craft and making people happy. When you lack out tonight loosen the apron around your waist, slip it over your head and take a minute to rethink why you started down this path in the kitchen in the first place.
Remind yourself of how and why you got here
Think about what’s gotten you here and how much hard work you’ve put into your career thus far.
Take yourself back to the smell of that first walk-in cooler. The splash of the hot sautés pan sizzling with a piece of cold fish. Think of the first-time chef invited you to come up with a daily special and how far you’ve come since then.
Remember when you scolded that first soup, that very first time, the rancid smell accompanying it and how badly the entire crew joked you for it. That stench is stamped in your memory, forever.
Remember the fascination you first had when you started to fall in love with the kitchen. You weren’t enamored with it because of the wars, rather because You got to learn and grow, make people happy and create a bond with the people working alongside you that can be, at times, inseparable.
Ask yourself this
If you’re looking for an easy path down the road of life, I’d recommend leaving the hard work of the kitchen to someone else.
But if you’re looking for a meaningful and selfless way to spend the remainder of your working days here on this earth, the kitchen might just be for you.
If you do it right by investing yourself, staying true to the craft, always remind yourself of why you started down this path, chances are the external rewards will find you.
Just ask yourself do you want it to be great or do you want it to be easy.
I know for a fact, life in the kitchen will lead you to one of these two answers.
Now, you just need to answer that question for yourself.