The other day I tasted one of my cooks’ dishes and it was so frickin’ delicious it brought a tear to my eye.
Despite what some of y’all macho sachos might say about it, I’m ok with getting a bit weepy in front of my crew from time to time. Screw it, why not? Perhaps I should be more composed or whatever, but tasting food is a heady experience and sometimes a cheek gets wetted in the process. Also, I want my team to be encouraged by how much I appreciate it when they nail a dish.
I’m proud of my crew when they’re able to take my ideas about food and make them into something beautiful. After all, they’re the ones who are bringing it all to life.
Back when I was a sous chef if I wanted something to taste exactly how I wanted it, I would cook it myself. I found that when I concentrated hard on each of the micro steps that went into making a good dish, ensuring that each of those steps was pulled off well, the final dish would be awesome. A precisely reduced gastrique and ice cold butter could form the base of a great beurre blanc. A good sear at the start could make the crispiest duck. A well balanced stock could make the best risotto. My hand alone determined the success or failure of a dish.
These days it’s not usually my hand that makes great food. It’s my team that makes it. All I can do is try to impress upon them the mastery of the fundamentals. All I can do is lay out a menu, hook them up with a few recipes, have a brief talk at staff meeting, check in at the start of their shift, and pray they figure out how to make it great.
And I tell you right now my peoples, when they do figure out how to nail a dish it makes me f-ing cry.
On the flip side, when a dish doesn’t come out so great, it breaks my heart and I don’t want anyone to see what I’m feeling inside. I try to stay calm, to speak softly, to keep an open mind about the cause of the mistake. Maybe I didn’t communicate my vision clearly enough? Maybe in some way I was negligent and didn’t create the space for them to succeed? Maybe I forgot to order an important ingredient they needed for the dish to truly sing?
Here’s the crux: I used to be really hard on myself as a chef. In some ways it has paid off for me. I have worked hard to get where I am today and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. So, you can imagine the loop that happens in my head: If I’m super hard on myself, and I’m super hard on those around me, we will all succeed.
These days I like to think that I am not hard on myself as much as I am inspired to do great work and detail oriented with high and achievable standards. I expect the same of my crew.
I’ve taken most of the darkness out of my inner drive and I hope to guide my crew to get their own shadows out of the way too, so they can be the best chefs possible.
Instead of lashing out like a total dink, I try to be understanding when mistakes happen. I try to be flexible and roll with it. I try to get away from the blame game. Every mistake is on me, whether I make the food or not. When the critiques come from the crowd we serve, it comes right to me. The fault is always mine.
Most of the time, my crew gets what I’m putting down. These guys and gals are good. I feel very fortunate to have built a team that can cook like champs.
When I taste a great interpretation of my ideas, I know it’s not just that they put love in their cooking–though it’s clear they definitely have. It’s like they’re saying to me, You can relax. I’ve got this. I know what you want me to do and I know how to pull it off.
And that shit makes me cry. #Sorrynotsorry