Chef Paul Sorgule has seen a lot over his many years' experience working in kitchens, and his words will resonate with most industry professionals.
In one of his most recent posts he's been inspired by the US's only three-Michelin-starred female chef Dominique Crenn, and her new book Rebel Chef, to think back over his career and address what it really takes to be a good chef and respected leader.
Here, the seasoned hospitality professional reflects on the three essential qualities any successful chef must have to run his or her kitchen: strength, dignity and grace, in equal measure.
Everything that the chef and his or her team members engage in: from the simplest tasks (vegetable mise-en-place, organisation of storage, station mise-en-place, cleaning plates or pots) to the most complex (finishing a delicate sauce, perfect plating of dishes even when it is very busy) is done with a commitment to excellence and constant improvement.
Training to meet those standards (strength)
Chefs should never assume that excellence will take place – it must be accompanied by a commitment to training and teaching. Strong chefs take the time to explain, demonstrate, and follow-up with those standards of excellence that are clearly defined for the restaurant.
Chefs who are in control know that the importance of excellence lacks strength unless every task, every process, and every plate of food consistently meets those standards. Thus systems and procedures are expressed and solidified throughout the operation.
Real Critique (Grace and Dignity)
Strong chefs never criticise – they critique. In critique – the notation is not personal but rather procedural and pointing to what is wrong is viewed as shallow unless it is accompanied by showing the person how to improve and why to improve.
Promotion of a team initiative (Strength, Grace, Dignity)
Strong chefs know that they are never able to accomplish the lofty goals of excellence unless every person on the team understands, appreciates, and becomes passionately involved in meeting those goals with an uncompromised commitment to excellence. It is a team effort that counts and the leaders responsibility is to promote this environment.
Recognition and support (Grace and Dignity)
Strong chefs give credit where credit is due. Strong chefs applaud (publicly) the good work of others and always recognise their focus on meeting and exceeding standards of excellence. One of the chef’s most rewarding moments is when this happens and support is always given so that team members can feel the gratification that comes from a job well done.
Assessment (Grace, Dignity and Strength)
Strong chefs are always giving feedback to team members as they reinforce those standards, point out where there are needs for improvement and how to achieve that, and celebrate even the smallest win. A simple “thanks for such great work” goes a long way toward building pride and confidence.
Pride in the process and the results (Strength, Grace, Dignity)
To a strong chef – the pride that comes from his or her team members reaching or exceeding a particular goal is far more important than personal accomplishments. That five minute wrap-up at the end of service when the chef says: “Well done team – customers were thrilled and I am so proud of how well everyone did their job to the best of their ability and did so while supporting each other” – will inspire those team members to replicate that same effort again, and again.
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