Spending most of my career early on in the kitchens of some great Chefs made it clear it’s not all glitz and glamour. I worked hard throughout my time behind the line from prep cook to, eventually, an Executive Chef of several restaurants. Chefs, by media standards, come in two shades, those who scream, yell, throw pots and pans, and those who are artists. Both of those shades have become celebrities. The truth is more along the lines of educator, mentor, and leader.
Leadership Lessons I Learned As a Chef
- Respect the products you are working with
- Have situational awareness in your kitchen: Observe Everything
- Be Disciplined with your methods
- Be Generous with your time
Respect the products you are working with:
It is crucial to show respect with the products that are brought into your kitchen as a chef. This will allow others to see the value of what they are doing on a daily basis. Your cooks will understand there is monetary value they are holding onto as well as the value of what it took to raise or produce what the cooks are working with.
Have Situational Awareness In Your Kitchen:
Observe everything. It is easy for all of us to get caught up in the rush of activity in the kitchen everyday. Sometimes we put our blinders on and our heads down to complete the long list of tasks that need our immediate attention. Train yourself to take note of what is happening around you. Make a point to know where everyone is and what they are working on. Notice the details. Are your cooks practicing safety and sanitation methods properly? Does one of your staff members struggle with certain tasks, use this as a teachable moment. Being aware of what is happening around you takes a conscious effort.
Be Disciplined With Your Methods:
Setting a routine with your daily tasks allows others to understand it is important to be organized. Discipline is not rigidity. Discipline allows for freedom. Develop the best method for working with your items. Know how to best care for the case of black truffles that just arrived in your receiving area. Your staff will start to model this behavior, freeing them to take action on their own. They have seen your expectations repeated on several occasions allowing them to handle tasks with little to no oversight.
Discipline also shows there is a steady Captain at the helm of the ship. It allows your staff to understand there is a predictable response to most given situations, giving them the confidence to ask questions free of fear.
Believe it or not being a Chef is more than being on TV and living the “rockstar” lifestyle. 99% of the Chefs I know toil away everyday in their kitchen in obscurity. The real job of being a Chef is about education. Being generous with your time will ultimately give you even more time in your day. Take the time to educate your staff on a daily basis. This ties closely to having situational awareness and using teachable moments. Once you have started educating your staff members they will be able to move freely about your kitchen handling the smaller tasks you once had to tackle. This will allow you to be more focused on jobs only you can do.
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