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15 Points That Will Make You a Truly Great Chef

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15 Points That Will Make You a Truly Great Chef
Photo Shealah Craighead

Too many restaurants fall down at the hurdle of food. The main thing they’re there to provide can sometimes be the worse thing about a place.

Imagine all the times you’ve gone into a restaurant, the atmosphere is great, the staff are welcoming and informative, the decor is perfect and the menu reads well. Only to discover once the first plate hits your table that the kitchen is kicking out mediocre grub.

It’s all too common in the industry and something that has caught the attention of one of our favourite bloggers, Paul Sorgule.

Sorgule is a chef with years of experience in the industry and someone who is happy to dispense solid advice to anyone who wants it. In his latest post, The Chef is Responsible, he speaks about the issue of restaurants falling short and explains why he believes that it is down to the chef.

He is also kind enough to explain how a chef can build the right skills to make sure they deliver at the highest level.

COMPETENCE
The chef must be exceptional at what he or she does: a great cook, a balanced manager, an inspiring leader, and a consummate communicator. A person cannot possibly hold the position of chef (earned title) without owning these skills and attributes.

PALATE
In the end, the food is all about flavour. The chef should have a well-developed, vastly experienced palate and have the ability to build flavour profiles that will set the restaurant apart.

EXPERIENCE
By the time a person reaches the level of chef, he or she should have matured as a competent professional, having made most of the junior mistakes that are expected of cooks and sous chefs. The position of chef is far less forgiving than those positions held prior.

KNOWLEDGE OF FOOD
The chef should have an encyclopedic knowledge of food, the ingredients available, the seasonality of those ingredients; the methods of cooking that are most appropriate for those ingredients, and how to compensate, through solid cooking, for any character flaws that might exist in those ingredients.

RESPECT
This is a multifaceted attribute that requires the chef to respect ingredients, staff, established methods of cooking, the customer and the business itself.

MENU PLANNING
A menu, like a great novel, should be designed to tell a story with a strong beginning, great character development, some intrigue and surprise, a message that has staying power, and a conclusion or ending that keeps people guessing and talking about the experience. When a menu is simply treated as a list of random items that do not fit the story then there is little compelling reason for people to invest in a return visit and even less reason for exiting customers to become ambassadors.

KNOWLEDGE OF MENU FIT
The kitchen cannot be separate from the rest of the experience. When designing the menu, the chef must work with the location, the décor, the “feel” of the operation, and most importantly understand the profile of the guest who is most likely to support the operation.

TRAINING
Once the chef has established a supportive menu that tells an interesting story, he or she must work diligently to test recipes and plate presentations until the formula is just right. Then it is essential to teach and train both back and front of house about the items, how they are prepared, why certain ingredients are used, how the dish should taste and look, and then constantly monitor everything to ensure that everyone adheres to the expectations.

TEAM FOCUS
In an ideal situation, the well-trained team eventually becomes part of the menu design process, networks with vendors and growers so that a connection is made with the source, and learns to work together to reach common goals.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS
The days of the temperamental, screaming chef are fading quickly, yet the expectations for excellence that these chefs of old had for the work of the kitchen must still be supported. Create an environment where every cook and server has to work harder than they expected to produce and serve the restaurant's food. You will soon see that they find it very difficult to waiver from this commitment.

WEED OUT THE WEAK LINKS
Staffing your restaurant doesn’t always work out as it should. Even with the right effort, the best training, and the support that competent chefs provide, sometimes a team member can’t or doesn’t want to cut it. Weed them out before they infect the rest of the team.

PRESENCE – BE THE EXAMPLE
Respect is earned and staff will be more inclined to carry out the chef’s vision if he or she is ever-present, and investing in people, products, and results.

SWEAT THE DETAILS
Everything in the restaurant is important. With regard to the food it is essential that the chef insist that each employee sweats the details. Whether it is the preciseness of vegetable cuts, the right amount of time for a sauce reduction, the grill marks on a steak, the care taken to properly fillet a fish, or the methodical approach towards plating – the experience of the guest is impacted by details.

SIGN EACH PLATE
When the chef knows that each plate leaving the kitchen carries his or her signature, his or her reputation, and clearly states to the world the passion and ability of the team, then the significance of detail really hits home.

THE POSITION IS NOT ABOUT POWER – IT’S ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY
Yes, if anything goes wrong, it is the chef’s fault. On the other hand, whatever goes right is a result of the chef setting the tone for the kitchen, selecting and training the right staff, and being the example of excellence that others respect and want to follow.

Here are five tips for restaurant longevity from David LeFevre.

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