Hi. I work as a line cook here: http://www.zeitgeistartscafe.com. So far, it's one of my favorite jobs that I've had, and I've been in the business for about...9 years or so.
Anyways, I thought I'd share with you guys my sort of philosophy when it comes to delivering the best work I can deliver as a line cook. I use the titles of these concepts as mantras that I meditate on before service, and they've helped me tremendously. Here they are:
#1. Everything I do is nothing. There was a chef on Hell’s Kitchen who said “You gotta check your ego at the door when you walk into a kitchen.” It’s true. Think about how big this universe is. Never forget how small we really are. From completing the perfect dish, to tossing a ticket in the window. Everything I do means nothing. Cooking the perfect medium rare burger is your job. It’s not a significant achievement. Your job = perfect or nothing.
#2. I stay one step ahead of everything I do. Doing this not only allows you to stay completely focused, but it sparks the driving force within that pushes you until the end of the rail. If you choose to follow only one of these rules – let it be this one.
#3. I stay two feet above the entire situation. A lot of the best chefs I know, the best managers I know, the best leaders I know, are physically tall. That’s not to say that short people are incapable of leading a team. But it does make everyone else a slight bit smaller than them, physically. They are used to looking down and seeing everything from a little higher above. That – I believe, is one reason why they are so good at being in control. Because if you see the big picture – you can remain in control. If you only see one little detail after the other – then you’ll be tossed around by everything that you can’t see. So this is all about maintaining the perspective of being like a hawk – flying above the situation and seeing the prey easily down below. From THERE – everything you need to operate with lies before you, individually and as a whole. Now you can create with efficiency, speed, and remarkable tranquility within the chaos that is a busy kitchen.
#4. Transparency. It may not be like any other business – it may be messier, it may be more personal, it may be this or that – but never forget that you are running a professional business. If there’s a flaw, it must be addressed. It’s not personal – it is professional. Remember how much people are paying for their food. You have to be the customer at the table and the chef. Transparency.
If you were working as a construction worker and your co-worker kept using the wrong sized boards for the project you’re working on – you’d let them know how serious of a problem this is – not to be a dick and “push you around”, but to ensure the standards of your company.
If you called the fire department because your house was burning down, and they arrived an hour later than they should’ve, there would be some serious hell to pay.
Same thing in the kitchen. If someone isn’t moving with a sense of urgency, you MUST let them know. Withdraw from the notion of “offending them” because it doesn’t matter. Of course, don’t be a dick about it and go over the top – but let them know the standards, let them feel the foreshadowing consequences in your voice.
For some reason, it seems easier to let yourself chillax in a kitchen. I suppose the environment is more casual than that of an office building, or what have you. And it’s about enjoying the nightlife, relaxation and entertainment – not important documents and professional sales calls. But don’t let the casual atmosphere deceive you. It is a professional business, just of a different trade.
#5. Flow. This is the last and most important principle, because when you allow yourself to just flow and move forward with a relaxed momentum – the other 4 principles become possible. This is what unlocks your ability to get things done in a kitchen – staying out of your head. It’s a simple job. And “in order to be a great chef, all you have to do is a lot of little things well” (Marco Pierre White). If you study those little things, and practice them with a passionate urgency to improve, then just let yourself do it. Don’t take your mind for granted – it’ll move automatically, like water through a water wheel. Being able to flow allows you stay relaxed, have fun, and keep a positive attitude. And that is the guiding force that will get you through a service. Because with all this shit to do, in a limited amount of time, in a limited space, while dealing with hot pans and knives and people in your way and running out product and all this shit – there’s plenty of little things that are bound to piss you off. And over time you’ll realize that all these little things are part of the job, it’s natural. And if you just keep a positive attitude about what you’re doing, you’ll be above all those little things, and it makes life so much easier.
#6. Perception Determines Attitude. Life is choice. You can choose to feel like a slave, or you can choose to feel like a master. You choose to feel like every ticket that rings in is another knife stabbing into your back, or you can feel like every ticket that rings in is another opportunity to get stronger, and practice. They say “pain is weakness leaving the body”. Allow this pain to cleanse your body of weakness. Allow the pain of every ticket that rings in to permeate your reality. Just let it be what it is. Every time you hear a ticket come in, say “thank you”. This moment is of great, golden, precious value; because through this pain, through this repeated experience, you are carving your mind to be able to reproduce the highest standards that you, as a line cook, must abide by. This is the fastest, most powerful way to become a rock solid cook, and it’s also the most painful. But you can choose to either be a sheep, or be a wolf. Chances are if you're still reading this, you're a wolf. So own that lifestyle!