Let’s be honest: you need to be passionate about your work in order to survive and thrive as a chef. The working conditions are tough: hot kitchens, long and unsociable hours, and – for the bulk of industry members – the pay can be lacklustre.
What keeps chefs in the kitchen despite these challenges is a love for quality produce, the desire to be creative and a commitment to providing a memorable dining experience for their guests.
But in an industry where recruitment and retention has never been more challenging, employers need to do what they can to keep their staff happy, and this means addressing some of the common complaints made by workers.
A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn examined the leading reasons why people change jobs. While the most common concern was a lack of opportunities or career advancement (45 percent), two of the top three responses were directly related to how employees are treated by their superiors.
Forty-one percent of respondents said they changed jobs because they were unsatisfied with the leadership of senior management, and 36 percent said they were unsatisfied with the work environment/culture.
These findings are particularly relevant to the foodservice industry, which has always battled against the perception (a justified one) that commercial kitchens are the domain of aggressive, egomaniacal perfectionists and bullies.
The recently released film, Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper as a man determined to attain his third Michelin star, is a portrayal of what many people assume a commercial kitchen is like. And while his dictatorial approach to managing a kitchen is certainly reminiscent of times gone by (and, no doubt some of today’s top restaurants), is it really still like that?
Unsurprisingly, at the end of the film, Cooper’s character, Adam Jones, realises that in order to not only attain his goals but to also hold onto his dignity and ensure the wellbeing of his team members, he needs to treat them with respect and let go of the aggression.
It’s a simple lesson and while more and more chefs are realising it – and indeed the culture of foodservice kitchens is definitely changing – we need to continue to reassure young, aspiring chefs that they will be nurtured and mentored in the workplace, not bullied and abused.
One of the world’s best chefs, Rene Redzepi, whose Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, is one of the best in the world and who on the outside appears to be a gentle, calm professional, has admitted to being “cruel” in the kitchen. But after one particularly upsetting interaction with a female chef, he was pulled into line by his sous chef and his approach to management was turned on its head.
In a recent article published in Lucky Peach, he asks “How can we rectify the screaming and shouting and physical abuse we’ve visited on our young cooks? How do we unmake the cultures of machoism and misogyny in our kitchens? Can we be better?”
Absolutely. We can, he says. But it’s not going to be easy. Chefs trained in previous generations need to realise that times have changed. Young chefs need to be taught skills that are relevant outside the four walls of the kitchen, like how to interact with diners, management and producers. How to cope with pressure and stress, and how to maintain some sort of work/life balance. Even small things can make a big difference, Redzepi says.
“Playing music in the kitchen, for instance. And real staff meals where you sit down to eat together. We had to change our opening time from six to seven to allow for a one hour dinner break, but it was worth it,” he says.
“The pressure will always be there. There will always be competition and adrenaline. But how you handle yourself in those moments is crucial. We can’t take the boiling points out of service, so what we need to do is find tools to handle them better.”
Frontline Hospitality can provide advice on all aspects of the recruitment process – from hiring new staff to the smooth transition of exiting employees. Contact them today for more information.