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Author: Chef Perry
When you start a new career it's normal to want some guidance, but valuable tips for new chefs can sometimes feel few and far between.
I remember, as a bright-eyed and empty-headed teen, telling my father that I wanted to follow in his footsteps, as he had followed in the footsteps of his father, and be a chef.
His sage advice? "Don't".
After much convincing, I finally persuaded him that I was serious, would not be dissuaded, and needed his advice. The counsel he gave me (in his typically reticent manner) proved to be the best tip I've received in a lifetime on the line: "Just do the job."
After that unceremonious launch I have, over many years of running kitchens - hiring, firing, and promoting - added a few hard-won insights to his one tip. More often than not, these lessons came about by learning from my own mistakes.
As you almost have to be smarter than I was when I started, maybe you can avoid a few of my early blunders.
That is my hope, anyway, in sharing the following tips:
My old man was right: Restaurants care about one thing above all. Can you do the job?
Can you get the individual plates out hot, pretty, and delicious? And can you make sure they taste the same order after order? Can you be fast? Can you manage an unexpected busload of hungry tourists, and still keep your station clean and put away, without getting in the weeds?
Most importantly, can you show up on time, every single shift, every single day, rain or shine, in sickness or health…for as long as they're paying you to be there?
That's the job.
No matter your past jobs, experiences or expertise, it all comes down to that one simple question:
CAN. YOU. DO. THE. JOB?
Show that you can do the job, regardless of the insanity level, the heat, short-staff nights, cuts, burns, and everything else that comes with the kitchen. Make yourself one of the pillars that can be trusted to keep things together when the ceiling is about to collapse.
Do the job, show up, give 100%.
It will not go unnoticed.
When I started, this wasn't much of an issue. You knew that whatever your role - dishwasher, waiter, or newbie line cook - it didn't matter, you were all going to start near minimum wage and work up from there.
These days many a young cook comes staggering out of college, rightfully proud, certification in hand, half-expecting to find a surging crowd of network executives screaming their name and waving fat contracts in their face, like the #1 pick on draft day.
It's not going to happen.
Plan to live on a shoe-string budget for at least the first year or two, while you wait patiently at the bottom of the ladder peeling veggies, making stock, and prepping seafood.
Give it your all every single day and earn your right to the next rung on the ladder, just like all the cooks above you did.
That's how you develop a rep.
Maybe you were the best at making a glass-clear stock in school. Perhaps your knife-skills rivalled those of your instructor. That's great, but now you need to spend every day making those skills better.
Don't stop learning. Read, practice, take notes, perfect new techniques at home. The best chefs I know understand that. At least on the line, you're never really done with school, the money just starts flowing in the other direction.
A great night in the kitchen (i.e., surviving the weeds, minimal waste, and a high percentage of satisfied customers) is a team effort. No one goes home with a first-place trophy.
We win as a team, and we fail as a team.
Yes, this is your career and, yes, you have lofty personal goals that you want to achieve; but trying the accomplish those goals, independent of the kitchen's success is a universally bad idea.
There's an old saying that I like:
"A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats."
Having my best night is cool, but not if it doesn't contribute to the kitchen, and the restaurant as a whole, making it a great night for everyone.
If you see a problem, fix it. If you can't fix it, report it. If it's not your job, politely mention it to the person whose job it is. Our role isn't limited to our station. It is to please customers and make the boss money.
Focus on those, enjoy yourself in the unrivalled buzz of the kitchen, and the rest will take care of itself.
Now that you know how to hold your own in the kitchen, click here for advice on how to stay comfortable while at work.
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