The coronavirus pandemic has challenged restaurant workers by exposing the industry's fragility and threatening its future. Many chefs have not only been forced to re-invent or re-think their profession, but also their core beliefs.
With that in mind, veteran US chef and culinary educator Paul Sorgule is on hand to offer a voice of encouragement in such uncertain times, and remind those working in the industry that the core values and skills of what make a good line cook, remain intact.
The fundamentals of being a professional cook, he reminds his readers, "should not confuse principles with rules of conduct, or polices and procedures – principles go so much further than that – they are not dictated, they are embraced."
Head over to Sorgule's Harvest America Ventures blog for more words of encouragement, support and reason. Here are his 10 key principles for cooks.
The Line Cook's New Kitchen Rules… Some Things Never Change
The first general principle of the kitchen is to live the attitude of respect for co-workers who may have different skill levels, may be of a different culture or race, different gender, and different education level, they may have beliefs that are contrary to yours, but they are all worthy of your respect. When they tie on an apron they are part of your family.
Respect applies to the established chain of command in the kitchen because it exists for a reason. You can respect the position even when the person holding that position rubs you the wrong way. “Yes chef “is not a blind commitment to the person, but rather to the need for order and organization in the kitchen.
Respect applies to the ingredients that a cook uses, the source of those ingredients: farmer, rancher, fisherman, cheese maker, processor, and distributor. It also applies to the equipment and the facilities that every cook uses – it is imperative that every cook treats these resources as if they were his or her own.
Respect applies to the foundations of cooking – the processes that are time honored and proven and the steps used to build flavors and consistently excellent products.
Finally, respect applies to the history of the proud profession of cooking. This does not infer that cooks should not move forward and create their own history, but when we honor those who came before we establish the same pattern for the future.
The second principle for cooks is to always honor the dynamics of work environments. Professional cooks know how important personal tools are to anyone who stands in front of a range. A cooks tools, the space that he or she has identified as their work parameters, the ingredient mise en place and station set-up are all sacred to the cook and to his or her ability to work efficiently and effectively. Cooks will never violate these parameters.
Cooks must also practice effective cost controls through total utilization of ingredients, minimizing waste, following procedures and where important – recipes, and making sure that perishable goods are rotated and stored properly. The financial success of the restaurant is in everyone’s hands.
The third principle relates to the interaction of all members of the crew as a true team. This means that everyone is in it together. The stronger help those who have limitations and weaknesses, those who are still learning become effective listeners, and each cook has the other cook’s back. Professional cooks avoid pointing fingers and when wrong – they take responsibility. When a team has formed – the group wins as a total unit or loses as a total unit.
The fourth principle relates to one of the most important tasks of any professional cook – maintaining the highest level of sanitation, cleanliness, and safety in the kitchen. Clean as you go must become second nature to every cook. This applies to their personal work area as well as all common areas. This is what the guest expects; this is what every cook must expect.
5.Teach and share
The fifth principle for cooks relates to the responsibility to “pass it on”. All cooking techniques and procedures are public domain. There can be no secret processes or methods in a team environment. Every cook and chef has the responsibility to share and help others build their proficiency. In a team environment there is no shame in admitting that you “don’t know how” – the only shame is in refusing to admit it. When a cook asks for help in building skills then that help is freely given in a professional kitchen.
The sixth principle is something that comes from the heart and soul of a cook. There will always be room for cooks who function effectively at the job of cooking, but to truly excel – a cook must feel that this is what he or she was meant to do. The professional cook has a passion for the ingredients, the process of cooking, and the history behind a dish, the creation of flavor, and the presentation of a dish. When it is part of a cook’s heart and soul, then cooking will produce magical results.
The seventh principle is one that is at the core of everything else. Professional cooks are always seeking out excellence. Perfection may never be reached, but excellence is a commitment to moving in that direction. From the simplest task: cutting perfectly symmetrical vegetables, trimming tenderloins, cutting steaks, filleting whole fish without leaving valuable meat on the bone, respecting the steps in preparing a perfect stock, mincing herbs, clarifying butter, or the exactness of a plate presentation – a professional cook takes each task seriously. Every step in the cooking process deserves your best effort.
The eighth principle, as basic as it may seem – sets the tone for great work and excellent cooking. When the cook looks sharp (clean, pressed uniform, neat grooming, clean shoes, etc.) then he or she is more inclined to act professional. When a professional cook treats the job and the people who work in the kitchen in a professional manner – then that cook can expect the same in return. This is how professionals reap the benefits of appropriate attitude.
9. Being all in
The ninth principle is a focus on commitment. Professional cooks know that the job is never over until it is complete. To some this means investing more time than the schedule shows, while to others it means focusing on ways to improve efficiency so that the job can reach completion in the time allotted. In all cases the job must be done and done correctly.
Finally, the tenth principle pertains to building an environment of trust where cooks are upfront, honest in their approach to the tasks at hand, willing to take responsibility, able to accept critique and willing to offer that critique as long as it includes a “how to improve” lesson, and careful to respect the standards of operation that allow the restaurant to remain successful.
These ten principles are not rules – rules are demanded of those who work for a business. Principles are those stakes in the ground that each person accepts as part of who they are. When this occurs then cooks follow those principles because it is right, not because it is demanded.