The word 'chef' is not only about wearing a nice white jacket (or one of the trendy coloured ones preferred by many) with your name on it and putting a set of ingredients to create a dish.
In today's world, a chef's profession combines qualities of an artist, a scientist (think a la Blumenthal), a creator and a visionary. The idea of 'all talks and no work' certainly doesn't apply with the profession of a chef. You not only need the highest level of skills like a great understanding of flavours and cooking methods (from basic pan cooking to how to do a more sophisticated Sous vide), and doing creative presentations of artistic food plates for fine dining to bringing out the rustic appeal of a dish, but you also must be a hard taskmaster with virtues of a lot of physical and mental strength to do things successfully and in a consistent manner.
The beauty of this profession is felt after the deliverance of a great tasting plate and receiving positive feedback. Happy & full bellies sing the best songs of praise for you, and that is the core of sustainability in this profession - humans will always need food. Furthermore, today's food is not only consumed to survive but to experience different flavours and cuisines, to enjoy the luxury of eating out and to finding moments to pause and reflect and relax in this fast-paced life. The food business is here to stay, opportunities for chefs will always be there to keep up with high demand of the hospitality industry. But as the old saying goes, it would be about 'the survival of the fittest' or the one who thrives to not only survive but also literally eats, sleeps and lives this profession.
Here are some 'pearls of wisdom' to keep the fire in your belly burning:
1. There are no shortcuts to success
You will need a constant hunger for learning the trade, working many long shifts, executing a lot of hard work, showing perseverance for the learning and your individual growth to stay on track for achieving your goals and working for a wealth of experience and to gain ever-evolving skills. One would call himself a chef if he starts to cook at a restaurant. Still, in reality, you would only become a 'chef' once you have mastered the art and incorporated all the professional work ethics while keeping a child-like curiosity to know more and learn more.
2. Know and keep up to date with your basics
Work hard on your fundamentals - learn, learn, learn and practice every day to polish your knife skills making various type of sauces, cooking methods. Know what utensils to use for what kind of cooking, practising baking and develop a habit to clean as you go and doing a thorough cleaning at the end of your day. Learn and practice the art of plating, work on getting your timing right from reading the bill to delivering a perfect plate of food. Adopt time-saving habits such as preps for the next day. Know your ingredients and produce from dry, fresh, cooked and storing methods like labelling the name, date of expiry and use by date etc. If and when you get your basics right and strengthen, the use of them will help to lay the foundation for a successful career.
3. Ethic and respect
One of the essential qualities to have is a great work ethic as you can learn skills and gain experience. Still, ethics are self-taught, natural qualities that bring nobility and self-consciousness to your profession. You have to pep talk yourself from time to time and show a willingness to practice and let it become an impression of you - it can be about being punctual, respecting your colleagues treating them equal and fair, working as a team, and showing ownership by caring for your equipment and workplace.
Carry a smile to the workplace and be positive and a go getter, ready to fight the odds and win challenges to learn and grow. Don't be scared to make mistakes, use them as a tool of improvement and take criticism constructively to work as per the feedback and bring out the better and the best of you.
5. Believe in yourself
Talk to yourself and have a belief in yourself - stay positive when the tide is in the other direction, all that talent which will splash out soon is already in you. A degree of patience, focus and hard work will take you across before you even know.
Keeping your fire alive, not letting small selfish motives drive your intentions rather than work to refine your skills. Let passion push you and pull you out of bed in the morning, reflect on hardships and see how far you have come and feel proud to wear a chef hat. Keep your creative brains active, do research, check out new food trends, go back to old iconic recipes, travel and find new flavours and fusions and create your individual plates. Always remember what you can do being a chef; this is something many can only dream of!
7. Have a goal
Create realistic short term goals to reach your desired long term goals and make your way up to achieving the bigger dreams. Put time frames to your goals, have small monthly goals such as what you want to learn or fulfil in that month. Work towards and once you achieve your goal, tick it off your list. Create your targets about your career growth from 3 years to 5 years and 10 years, have that tunnel vision to see where you would like to be in this time frame. Your short term goals are like stepping stones to reach your bigger goals and realise your dream.
8. Never stop learning
Remember this for life as it's the most important key to your path of success; it's like keeping software of your smartphone or computer up to date and upgrading time to time for better efficiency. Constant learning will not only enhance your skills but will keep you as a front runner in this busy, demanding and competitive profession that we call being 'a chef'.