Three Keys to Success as a Chef
Always be learning
Completing culinary school or an apprenticeship program doesn’t mean your learning is finished. Working in the kitchen, there is always more to learn. From butchery to confectionery, there will be something you don't know.
Pay attention to the people around you. Just because you do something one way, that doesn't mean it’s the only way to do it. Their way may be more efficient or technically advanced. Ask your colleagues questions about their work and why they do what they do. Most of the time, they'll be happy to tell you. Answer their questions about your work too. Mentoring others cements the information in your brain and it proves what you know. You may be surprised at the wealth of information you have already gathered on certain subjects.
Books are a great way to learn more in your spare time. I suggest building a library of reference and instructional material - you'll return to it frequently. There’s an abundance of cooking books out there and sometimes it can be hard to figure out what’s worth your time and money as a professional. Look for the larger textbook types from well known schools or chefs that are geared towards professionals. Regularly set aside time to learn something new about your profession. It can be from blogs, magazines, books, movies - whatever you prefer. The important thing is to keep improving your abilities and staying up to date on the current trends.
Dare to be Different
If your restaurant or food is the same as the place just down the road, then I'll guarantee that it won't succeed in the long run. People are attracted by the strange or the uncommon. It takes some extra work, but be different. Customers will go to a restaurant to experience something they couldn't at home. Create a beautiful ambiance and serve amazing, carefully presented food. You'll blow them away every time. The food doesn't need to be fine dining either. Just having it made and presented well will be enough.
Try to stick to the seasonality of ingredients, but use them in new ways. For example, I've ordered a case of bananas and tangerines at work - because this is the perfect time of year for them. One day I'll serve caramelized banana and tangerine mousse dessert and the next I'll serve a tangerine and vanilla tartelette with smoked banana coulis.
Switch it up, dare to be different. It will set you apart from the competitors, while bringing in a swath of new customers. It also keeps things fresh and interesting for you as a chef.
Have the Passion
The passion, an elusive and difficult subject, is often the largest factor to one’s success. To truly be successful in the kitchen, you need to love and appreciate food. It’s hard to create the passion if you havn’t already found any of it, but if you have, here are a few ways you can cultivate the passion.
Learn about food. Go way in depth on a single subject, like my article on vinaigrette. Learn about the history behind an ingredient or technique. Focus on the science that’s taking place. In doing this you won't only increase your own knowledge of the subject, but you'll likely gain respect and some degree of passion for it.
Surround yourself with passionate people. In doing so, you'll create a bleed over effect and you’ll find that your own passion grows the more time you spend around these people. This is mutually beneficial to everyone and often happens on its own in professional kitchens just by talking about and being surrounded by food. Talk to your friends and colleagues about what you have eaten recently and about what you'd like to cook to get the conversation started.
Learn from someone who is knowledgeable and passionate - you’ll find that some of the passion gets passed down to you. Once you get farther in your career, you could try teaching someone yourself. It’s quite surprising how satisfying it can be to pass down your own knowledge. While you're teaching, it reminds you just how much you know about food and why you do what you do.
Ultimately, The best way to cultivate a passion for food is to spend time in the kitchen with other passionate people and great food.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. I’ll read and reply to all of them personally.