Plan the menu, find the recipes, secure the food, arrange the order, prep the vegetables, assign the tasks, make the food, heat the food, cool the food, work out the timing, design each dish, serve each item, worry about what others thought, clean up all by youself. Oh busboy, holiday dinners. How did we do it? So much planning, so much to do and feeling so unappreciated!
Last week I took down the last wreath, getting it down before Valentine's Day, and settled down to the finale of my favorite chef show. Watching this finale was like watching a rerun of my holidays.
It occurred to me that the activities that wear me out are repeated over and over every day by the restaurant cook. In the past I have been exhausted, sitting on the couch and feeling unappreciated, when I only prepared food for 15. I wonder how those chefs do it.
Chefs today are the media darlings. We love to watch them. We want to be them, be like them, cook like them, but do we really want to work like them?
After the glory and the title, the job returns the very next day. Being a chef, an executive chef, a sous chef or a cook has its challenges. Chefs are prone to burnout and I don't wonder why. Burnout is the term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest, especially in one's career. Try performing Thanksgiving dinner 366 days a year.
One of the perils of the profession is the long hours. If one person is the single chef in a restaurant, or if one person owns the restaurant, that person is velcroed to the frying pan. One wife of a chef explained it this way: "My chef husband works half days, 12 noon to 12 midnight." A chef works when the rest of the world is off - holidays, weekends, and nights. It's a lonely job.
There can be a lot of tension in a kitchen. During busy times, the speed of the work is inconsistent. There are very busy times followed by boring or tedious tasks.
The job can be hazardous to the health. Most chefs have scars from cuts and burns. Standing all day is not good for the lower back, hips and knees, to say nothing about what tasting food all day does to the arteries.
Restaurants work on a tight profit margin so chefs are under a lot of pressure to make things work. The chef deals with a lot of variables: large customer counts, small customer counts, inconsistent tastes, lack of control over delivery times, late orders, missed items, inadequate staff.
Phew, what can we do to keep our good chefs happy?
Restaurants can encourage the chef to visit the customer during meals. Like all of us, chefs have egos that need attention.
They can encourage the chef to take continuing education at a culinary school. This will allow him or her to mingle with colleagues and stimulate his or her professional skills.
They can encourage the chef to get cross-training in management and finance so they understand their position and thus lower stress. They can include the chef in all planning. This means the waitstaff meetings, the pre-meal meeting, the purchasing, the marketing, even the design of the kithen.
The restaurant can make sure the chef has enough breaks and provide them a place to take a break, especially a place to sit down. Even a 10-minute respite at a designated outdoor spot can improve attitude.
Help the chef find an outlet. Pay for an oil painting class or maybe kick-boxing. Some chefs write books; some do demonstrations for the customers.
Restaurants can encourage chefs to participate in such events as the Soroptimist Celebrity Chef Dinner, April 7 at the Holiday Inn, so chefs have a chance to fraternize with friends and promote their culinary skills.
The customer (that's you) can keep our chefs happy by treating them with love and kindness.
The customer can "vote" for the chef by visitng his or her restaurant often and spreading the word about how much they like specific foods.
Customers also can support their chefs by visiting them at the Celebrity Chef Dinner and telling them how much they like their marvelous food.
Anita Ala Carte will support these chefs by interviewing them and including them in articles called "Meet the Chefs" over the next few weeks.
Oh busboy, there is nothing quite like being a great chef, a dedicated soul doing what they love, and with a little TLC, they will stay that way.
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