How to Grow as a Cook or Chef
Working in kitchens, like with any profession, it can be easy to settle into a routine of mediocrity. To succeed and achieve great things you need to push yourself further and continue learning. By making an effort to get better, especially when you don't feel like it, you'll be able to make great advances in your career and get to where you truly want to be. There are many different ways you can do this. Here are some to get you started.
Refine what you already know
The day to day can quickly get boring for some, but repetitive or recurring tasks present the opportunity of refinement. Take the time and attention to do what you do the absolute best that you can. Refining your existing skills and knowledge base will separate you from the others and will be a solid foundation for future growth. Always be looking for ways to do something better or differently. There's always room for improvement.
Seek new Experiences
By trying new things as often as you can, you'll be bringing new ideas into view. This will help you avoid getting stuck in the boring rut of what you already know. Eat at different restaurants and try things on the menu you might not normally. Travel somewhere new and spend a little time there exploring and trying new things. Learn as much as you can from different cultures. Try using new or foreign ingredients in your cooking. Sometimes bringing a new flavour to your palate is all you need for a wealth of new ideas. Venture forth! Be adventurous and you'll reap the dividends down the road.
There's so much material out there. Books, magazines, blogs, all great options to find out whatever you want. Almost every subject has been covered and documented for you. You just need to find the resource and dig in. Take notes to refer to later or to record new ideas as they occur. Reading will reveal entirely new concepts and cultures to you in the comfort of your home. Embrace the reading. It's also a fantastic way, especially with magazines, to stay on top of current and developing trends in the industry, which are constantly in flux.
If you've been working essentially the same position your entire career and it's starting to get a little dull for you, it's time to branch out. Take on a new discipline in the industry. Try your hand at pastry work or dive into cheesemaking, charcuterie, butchery, baking. The food industry is a wide one; such that you can be learning new things forever - if you put in the effort. When trying out other aspects of the industry, something may completely gel with you. You may find a whole new calling. Even if you don't find a new calling, you'll have new experiences that you can bring back to your main practice.
Teaching others can be your opportunity to give back to the industry. Many of you will have learned a lot of skills especially the basics from one or two people. Being a hands on industry, most of the real learning will happen on the job in a real kitchen. This is your chance to be the teacher. You may not feel like an expert, but you know more than the newbies do and certainly more than the general public. By teaching others, you will be cementing the knowledge in your own brain. You may even be surprised at all the little facts and points you've internalized over the years. Teaching others will also give you a humbling feeling, the warm fuzzies.
Take on new work
In the food industry, you need to be constantly growing and learning if you want to go far. There's a lot of competition to succeed, a race for the top if you will. If you've been working a position for a while now and you feel like you're not learning new things, that you've exhausted your opportunities there, then it's time to look elsewhere. You need to maintain forward momentum. There are some times when it makes sense to take a step back in the industry, but for the long term, you want to always be reaching ahead for the next milestone. When looking for new work, reach outside of your comfort zone and into new territory. This is a huge opportunity to learn new things and test your mettle. You'll adapt to the new challenges and be in a great new place to continue growth.
By using these methods, you'll be continually broadening your knowledge base and therefor, your abilities and opportunities. The goal is to be always getting better. You may not make be huge leaps in a short time, but if you put in the effort consistently, you'll already be much farther ahead than those who don't work to get better. After a while, if you look back and see how far you've come, it will be both humbling and encouraging. Go forth and continue getting better.