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A little day-off introspection

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

Fair warning, this is going to be a nonsensical rant. So a little background: I've worked in what would be considered "good, high-quality" restaurants. Right now I just helped open a new Italian joint. The menu is mostly my food, and I'm getting a lot of control. I'm starting to ask myself a lot of the same questions about cooking, about the business, and myself. Some are open-ended questions, some are statements. I just need to get some stuff off my chest.

 

First:

So I've been cooking nonstop for the past couple years. Like I mean NON-STOP. Working 80-100 hour weeks, cooking on day offs, reading cookbooks, writing recipes. Cooking for me is an obsession that takes every minute of my life. I don't talk about anything else. I'm trying to figure out a way to balance myself. I just don't know how. I can not commit to anything else, I feel like its a waste of time. Does anyone else feel this way? How do you adjust and cope? I've opened up to a few people lately, explaining that this is literally all I do. It can be haunting but its my only real joy.

 

Second:

When does it stop? How do you, as a Chef, decide enough is enough? I walk through the kitchen and see 100 things I want to tell someone to clean, or re-fire some bullshit cuts, etc. I don't have the quality of staff to expect the greatness I want to see, the greatness that I know I could do if I was working the line. I don't have the commitment of my kitchen guys to push, I'm afraid that if I required them it would push them out of the kitchen and I'd have no staff. How do you delegate, create your expectation, and execute your expectations? 

 

Third: 

Dedication to local sourcing. We source aggressively local. It really brings me joy, especially when we get cool heirloom produce that no one else is seeing. I feel like shipping A5 half way around the world, or shipping in Morels from California is a total fucking cop-out.  It's also a whole lot easier, you don't care about seasons because you're working with the world, not your community. Do you feel an intense responsibility to use what is close to you? Why do you not care?

 

Thanks /rant. Respond to whatever. 

post #2 of 4

I feel like I wrote your last post.  Except I do not own my own restaurant.  I would like to address your points one at a time.

 

I have been in the same boat as you.  All I do is Live & Breath cooking.  I have just started my 3rd cookbook which basically a record of growth for the last almost 20 years.  ( I started my books about 10 years ago.)  I don't believe that this is a bad obsession.  When you learn something and create from your knowledge why wouldn't you want to continue to feed

that movement forward.  I have not found a person to sound off on.  The passion I think loses people because foodies like to talk food but don't want to hear about the process of the creation of the dish and how it can grow into something else. 

 

Before I took my current chef job I was married and a private chef for 20 clients.  I really enjoyed it...SO my weekends Friday thru Monday consisted of prep for the next few days on the menus the clients wanted.  I am glad to say that isn't what ended my 13 year marriage that was facebook..oh well.

 

So now I work on a farm/ Winery/ Brewery that is providing us with all the means necessary to locally source.  Our meats come from right up the road and the farm raises pigs to slaughter.  I have all the freedom I want with the menu and the owners son is doing the wine and beer pairings. 

 

Cleaning

 

Good like inspiring them to take it seriously.  Once you see it you can't go back you have to clean it.

 

to close out I can't stop myself from thinking about food and the different ways to use it and I hope you can find someone to talk with about food and your passion of it.  I haven't...but I still do hope to.

 

  I want to make chocolate chip cookies right now.

post #3 of 4

How do you delegate, create your expectation, and execute your expectations? 

 

What I do is stand there and  train, stand there critique, train some more-show them the tricks that you have learned from your experience.  Learn how to be a great teacher.   I had to get very firm with staff- and it was against my grain until I realized I got he results I was looking for.  If they cant get it after a while they are let go....So

Hire a boatload of people,2 at a time-- train train train,fire/lay off 2 at a time.  You staff will see you will not put up with lame work.  Keep the best. This will be hard work but will pay off in a month .  Use the best person as a team leader.   Make them fill out  a pre printed checklist  so that x,y and z and other tasks are cleaned/completed daily.  Check the checklist daily.  The best managers do very little, because things are working. Pretty soon time will  return and you can use that time for your passion but in a way that will help you succeed (round out) in other areas of your business.

 

Id like to add this one thing-DONT DO THE WORK-it will take time and patience to STOP.  Catch yourself.  If you keep doing the same thing you will get the same outcome.

THINK-What if you caught the flu (this happened to me) and you were sick for  weeks straight-or worse.

What would happen to the business-  If it went south-think of how you contributed to that outcome now.

and   What exactly is HELPING TO OPEN an Italian Joint?  What is your position ? owner? partner? Helping means to me FREE Labor.    If your going to do all the work for no pay ,no one will complain. except you.


Edited by Lisa Pontell - 8/14/16 at 10:15am
post #4 of 4

First:

So I've been cooking nonstop for the past couple years. Like I mean NON-STOP. Working 80-100 hour weeks, cooking on day offs, reading cookbooks, writing recipes. Cooking for me is an obsession that takes every minute of my life. I don't talk about anything else. I'm trying to figure out a way to balance myself. I just don't know how. 

 

Hah! I've been there and I've done that. In 2005, I worked 84 hour weeks and got called in so frequently that I only had five days off for the entire year. 

 

I wound up quitting my job 2007. I stepped into a related field and became a Culinary Arts instructor. As an instructor, I still read, write, and test recipes,  publish cookbooks, and post the occasional article. When I'm "off work" I find that I'm still puttering about in the kitchen and if I force myself to take a break, surprise-surprise ... I make soap and candles that look and smell like real food. Pictured below are some of the products I've made. The blackberry pie candle smells of vanilla, fresh blackberries, baked pastry, and cinnamon. The soap burger smells of tomatoes, pickles, freshly baked bread, and bacon. Yes, there actually is a bacon fragrance! 

 

 

The fact that you have passion for what you do is NOT a bad thing provided you enjoy what you're doing. The thing of it is, everyone needs down time and it doesn't matter what career you're in ... if you try to burn the candle at both ends, eventually you're going to burn out. 

 

Why do you think people in the food service industry (especially chefs) have high divorce rates? Why do so many drink or smoke? As you already know, there's already a lot of stress in this business and sometimes the way we choose to alleviate our stress isn't always the best of all possible choices. 

 

Second:

When does it stop? How do you, as a Chef, decide enough is enough? I walk through the kitchen and see 100 things I want to tell someone to clean, or re-fire some bullshit cuts, etc. I don't have the quality of staff to expect the greatness I want to see, the greatness that I know I could do if I was working the line

 

Unless you have a menial job, this happens to everyone in all sorts of careers. Work has a way of expanding to fill your time and guess what? There is ALWAYS going to be something that needs to be done.

 

Using my hard earned experience from the lofty age of (cough-cough) 55, I will share two pieces of wisdom.

 

1) Differentiate between needs and wants Write this down if it helps. Make two columns and identify what you NEED to have done. In the second column, write what you'd LIKE to have done. Once you've made your list, prioritize them. Go through the needs list and number them from one to whatever in order of what must be done ASAP. Do the same with the wants list. 

 

Look at the list and budget your time (since some of these may be long term tasks). Don't forget to schedule time off for yourself. You won't do anyone any good if you start making mistakes because you're half exhausted ... so make an agreement with yourself than at a certain time, you're clocking out AND GOING HOME. In the meanwhile, start knocking off your listf. Work through the needs list first and if you have time, start work on the wants list until it's time to go home. 

 

2) DELEGATE. You're a chef. Train your crew. Look for leaders within your crew who can step up and shoulder more responsibility. You're not a super hero. Despite what you may tell your novice prep cook and your culinary intern, you can't leap over buildings in a single bound. You can't bend steel bars with your bare hands. You're (dare we say it?) HUMAN and as much as you may want to be at your restaurant 24/7, let's face it. That isn't going to happen. So if you want something done right ... if you want it done your way ... train you crew and develop shift leaders or if you'have a brigade system, identify your chefs de partie and if you're the executive chef, find yourself a couple of sous chefs. 

 

 

Third:

Do you feel an intense responsibility to use what is close to you? Why do you not care?

 

Absolutely! Although I was born in the states, I grew up abroad. My father was a doctor in the U.S. military and I went to preschool in Ghana, elementary school in Thailand, and Junior High in El Salvador. 

 

I didn't grow up with the convenience of American supermarkets. During the 60's and 70's if you were living in the third world country, chances are the host country you were in didn't HAVE any supermarkets. If you wanted bread, you went to the baker. If you wanted produce, you went to the green grocer. Canned food, flour, and rice were purchased form a dry grocer. Meat came from a butcher. Seafood came from a fisherman  ... and if you were lucky, you could save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by shopping at a local farmers' market and the fish market. 

 

My last restaurant job was in Pennsylvania and we had access to an Amish Farmers' Market. I really miss this market because they had fantastic produce. Not that I'm living in the Southwest, I count myself lucky if I can find fresh corn on the cob for 25 cents an ear. In the area where I live, corn usually runs at 75 cents to a dollar an ear whereas in Pennsylvania, I could have gotten TWENTY ears ... fresh picked that morning, for just a dollar. If I waited until just before the market closed, I was sometimes able to get twenty-five ears! And the breads ... those Amish women make wonderful whole grain and sour dough breads! 

 

Why wouldn't you want to support the local farmers and ranchers and fishing folk in your area? It's good for them because they're supporting a local business that highlights their products. It's good for you because you're supporting them ... and isn't that one of the definitions for community? What's good for you is also good for them! As your business grows, so too will your purchasing needs. It's a win-win particularly if you advertise that this product or that is made from locally sourced ingredients. 

 

And yes, I'm sure there are people out there who don't care. And why wouldn't they care? The flip side to the idea of community is the fact that we live in the 21st century with access to transportation systems that would have been inconceivable fifty years ago ... and TRUST ME ... I know this because I'm old enough to remember making trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights on a Douglas DC-3, a fixed wing rotary aircraft. 

 

As a result of our technology, Sushi chefs in Wisconsin can order the best quality auguro or hon-maguro (bluefin tuna) that's flown in overnight via air freight. Green house production and imports from central America can keep us supplied with produce throughout the year. Although prudence and a sense of community would suggest that we should locally source our ingredients, the reality is that in an ever competitive market, some people choose not to. 

 

Best wishes,

 

David

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