As chefs and restaurateurs struggle to keep their livelihoods and teams intact during the coronavirus pandemic, one issue has slipped under the radar: the plight of culinary graduates entering an industry that looks nothing like it did when they first signed up.
With that in mind, Paul Sorgule, the veteran US chef and trusted font of advice, has some wise words to help inspire and motivate those fresh out of culinary school. Young chefs are trying to navigate an industry at a moment of massive change, when job prospects in traditional restaurant kitchens are limited and the future is uncertain. From keeping an open mind, to keeping their newly honed skills fresh, his nuggets of wisdom will resound with those in need of some guidance.
For more inspirational advice and reading, including a letter he penned to the US President, head over to Sorgules' Harvest America Ventures blog, where he's been creating a colossal amount of content around the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the industry.
A Letter to Culinary School Graduates by Paul Sorgule
1. Stay Positive
It will be challenging for some time – stay positive! Your attitude and confidence in the ability to rise above the roadblocks placed in your way will define your character.
2. Keep working on those foundational skills
A constant focus on improvement is a common trait that all successful people share. It is the foundations, and the mastery there of, that will instill confidence in those who hire you and the seed that defines your self-worth.
3. Know your end goal, build a strategy
Whatever your end goal might be: Executive Chef in a fine dining operation, Corporate Chef, Sous Chef, Restaurant Manager, Entrepreneur, Research Chef, or Consultant – where ever you hope to land in the future – put that goal in writing. Research that goal and establish the skill set those successful individuals in that position must possess, and build that into your strategy. “How can I master each of those skills to position myself as a natural candidate for this career goal?”
4. Work wherever you can, just make sure that it connects with food - do it with excellence in mind
During this crisis and transition to a solid economy once again, the job opportunities will be far more limited than just a few months ago. This will likely be the case for some time. Make sure that you seek out opportunities that involve food. Know what skill you hope to master as a result of working in that operation and make sure that it fits your career strategy. EVERY POSITION IN THE FOOD BUSINESS WILL HELP WITH YOUR CAREER – IF YOU BUILD IT INTO YOUR PLAN. Here are some examples:
- QUICK SERVICE: The type of food and ambience of a quick service operation may not be your ultimate goal, but these operations have great systems and controls in place. Every Chef, Manager, or Owner must understand systems and controls. If you work in quick service for an interim period of time – do so with the intent of learning about their controls and systems.
- FAMILY STYLE: These operations, oftentimes ethnic based, can provide you with an appreciation for the early and late majority of customers who patronize restaurants. This is nearly 70% of all restaurant diners. Dedicate your time to building an appreciation for the taste of the majority.
- BAR-B-QUE JOINT: Maybe your goal is to work in a white tablecloth restaurant and the thought of investing your time in an operation with paper tabletops and bottles of hot sauce on the table does not sit well with your plan. But you can learn a very important lesson in these operations: It’s all about flavor and flavor takes time and discipline. There are no shortcuts to building flavor that is universally enjoyed.
- FARM WORK: The back breaking work on a farm may seem to be a far cry from working in starched chef whites in a stainless steel kitchen, but what is most important in cooking is to understand, appreciate, nurture, and admire the work of those who invest in this back-breaking work. A period of time working on a farm will build a greater appreciation for the source of ingredients you work with and the commitment of those people who do the work.
- SENIOR CARE: Working in senior care facilities can be emotionally draining and too often does not reflect the quality of food that a chef would put his or her signature on. Working in these facilities and approaching the task of cooking with passion and commitment to process is incredibly rewarding. You will learn empathy and how much the “care” that you put into the food you prepare means to others.
- HEALTHCARE: Typically, working in a hospital is not at the top of many cooks’ career lists. Yet, where else can you develop a real understanding of how important proper nutrition can be to the health and wellbeing of others. This is where you can find definitive evidence of the importance of well-prepared food.
- CORPORATE DINING: The corporate “cafeteria” has long been replaced with food operations that provide fresh, well-prepared food that is exciting and packed with flavor and nutrition. In corporate environments these operations are essential ingredients in creating positive work attitudes, important conversation, and a chance to break bread and do business at the same time. Learn how food experiences can set the stage for positive action.
All of these operations, when taken in the right context, can add to your skill set to become a chef, manager, or operator. Don’t pass them by because of ego or pride; they can all “fit”.
5. Be the professional that you were trained to be
Never lose your commitment to looking, acting, and being the professional that is representative of the best of the position of cook and chef. Make this a part of your character.
6. Know that patience is a required virtue
Patience has always been a requirement of success, but in these challenging times of crisis, patience is essential. I know you hope and expect to reach your goals quickly. I know that you have financial needs that cannot be met with entry-level wages, and I know that you expect that degree to pay off on day one, but understand that your patience now is an investment in that future. Your success will not happen overnight.
7. Understand the need for flexibility
Being able and willing to turn on a dime and change directions is the price of admission in a faltering economy. Be flexible and willing to change.
8. Dependable rules the day
Be on time, ready to work, and excited about what is in front of you. Be the employee who once given a task – sticks with it until it is done correctly. Trust is earned and dependability is the key to building that trust.
9. Stick to your strategy
You have a strategy, now ask yourself every day: “Is what I am doing right now bringing me any closer to reaching my goals?”
10. Build your network of influence
Along the way, no matter how long it takes; your commitment to doing things well and demonstrating dependability will lead to a network of individuals who can help you at various stages of your career. Work on that network and DON’T BURN ANY BRIDGES along the way.
11. Be a problem solver, not a finger pointer
Don’t waste any time pointing a finger at others. Help them to improve, do your job to the best of your ability, ask for help when you need it, and use your data bank of experiences to help resolve issues rather than charge others for their lack of commitment.