“Chefs are a strange lot, we just can’t help ourselves,” so says chef Paul Sorgule, the hugely experienced chef and writer who brilliantly breaks down the psychology of kitchen work over on his Harvest America Ventures blog.
For his most recent post, he’s identified 12 obsessions, whether good or bad, that drive chefs to do what they do every day. What do you think of his list, anything to add? Let us know over on our Facebook page.
12 obsessions that drive chefs
1. WE COMMIT TO PUT IN THE TIME
Every chef will complain about the hours that he or she works, yet I have not found a serious chef who is told to work 90 hours a week. Whether it is a feeling of responsibility, a lack of trust in fellow workers, a bit of concern about their own shortcomings, or just a hidden comfort level in being in the kitchen – if you are a chef, the obscene commitment of time is a given.
2. WE EXPECT EVERYONE ELSE TO SIMPLY ACCEPT THIS REALITY
Because we have made the commitment to “be there” over and above any other reasonable commitment in life, we expect those around us to smile and accept our reluctance to find balance. Some may be fortunate to find themselves surrounded by understanding friends and family, while others wind up sacrificing everything else for the job.
3. WE VIEW EVERY PLATE THAT LEAVES OUR KITCHEN AS A PRODUCT THAT CARRIES OUR SIGNATURE, REPUTATION, ADDRESS AND PHONE NUMBER
Chefs are obsessed (although they may deny it) with their reputation and how others perceive them. Chefs are fully engaged in the belief that the buck stops with them and any mistake or shortcoming of a co-worker or employee is his or her (the chef’s) fault. This only feeds that need to always be there.
4. WE CAN’T AVOID SWEATING THE DETAILS AND KNOW THAT EVERY DETAIL IS CRITICAL
Chefs are often cursed with “restaurant eyes.” This is an important trait for anyone in charge of a kitchen, but it can be a hefty weight to carry. Chefs tend to see the details, try to coach others to see them as well, and if all else fails – try to fix them when others are less inclined to do so.
5. WE HAVE AN INNATE NEED TO CONSTANTLY IMPROVE
Never being satisfied leads to an addiction to constantly tear things apart and rebuild them. This is a trait that artists have been notoriously known for. There was a time (as I have heard) when Picasso was no longer allowed to walk through a museum that carried his work – unaccompanied. The reason was that he would be inclined to find fault with his work on display and try to correct it without permission from the museum. Chefs are the same way. A well-received, popular dish might quickly be removed from the menu because the chef wasn’t happy with it, even if guests loved it.
6. WE ARE OUR OWN WORST CRITIC
Most chefs are not served well by performance evaluations simply because they already know where they are weak and what part of their work needs improvement. Some may cite examples to the contrary, but I can tell you with relative confidence that chefs are extremely critical of their own work.
7. WE ARE COMPETITIVE
By nature, chefs are competitive souls – we can’t help ourselves. We are competitive with fellow chefs (friends or foes), with other restaurants, and most significantly with ourselves. Chefs need to somehow win in their own mind. Better food, more interesting menu, higher customer counts, better check averages, better kitchen financial performance, more positive customer comments, better ratings on Trip Advisor, more stars or diamonds, etc. – pick your competitive measurement – chefs will subscribe to it.
8. WE MAKE FOOD THE CENTRE OF OUR LIVES
Chefs read about it, talk about it, shop for it, work with it, become frustrated over it, insist that others share their passion for it, when they do go on vacation – plan their time around it, and feel that somehow food is their calling.
9. WE ARE ALWAYS FRUSTRATED WITH THOSE WHO DON’T CARE AS MUCH AS US
Since chefs view food as central to their existence, it only makes sense (right?) that everyone else in the kitchen, the restaurant, their family and friend circles, and dining room feel the same way. If they don’t feel this way, the chef will dismiss them at some level.
10. WE LOSE SLEEP OVER THE MISTAKES WE MAKE AND THE PEOPLE WHO FIND ANY FAULT WITH OUR WORK
Chefs make mistakes; lots of mistakes, just like everyone else. In the big scheme of things most of these mistakes are minor and the positives always far outweigh the number and significance of those mistakes. If 198 customers rave about their meal last night and two offered a negative critique – the chef quickly forgets the 198 and wrestles with the two. Every emotion churns within the chef over these 2: anger, fear, disappointment, shame, hurt, and anything else that might keep him or her from sleeping for the next few nights.
11. WE FEEL WE MUST ALWAYS BE BEACONS OF STRENGTH, YET WE ARE PRETTY SENSITIVE ABOUT SO MUCH
God forbid that a chef would actually show any of these emotions (except anger – that one comes way too easily) because we feel that doing so would be a sign of weakness in the eyes of co-workers. So chefs tend to either be stoic or hide behind the rush of anger that we sometimes confuse with a sign of strength.
12. WE LOVE AND HATE OUR WORK AT THE SAME
Sit down with a chef to discuss his or her state of being and you might walk away very confused. Chefs will gladly refer to all of the challenges, negatives, and psyche killing facts about this extremely difficult work and in the next moment smile and reflect on how much they thoroughly love the profession, the work, the people around them, and their ability to create fabulous food for the public.