Gratitude in the Kitchen

Sorry for missing last week, friends and neighbors. We landed the metaphorical plane on Thanksgiving, but the cost was completely wiping out my personal energy reserves. Last Friday, I literally spent half the day sleeping.

I’m feeling a bit more together now, and I really wanted to get this post out there before Thanksgiving was too far from our minds. Appropriately, I’d like to start this post off by thanking you all for your patience.

So… what does gratitude look like in the culinary world?

Animated GIF of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet carrying a text balloon that says "Thank You" and then bowing.
It’s not usually this cute… but it’s my blog and I love Winnie the Pooh.

Gratitude and Trust- Best Expressed in Small Moments than Grand Gestures

“Gratitude is not an ‘attitude.’ It’s an action. It’s a learned behavior that leaders do daily.”

– Brene Brown, “Dare to Lead”

Except for very special situations, I have never worked in a place that did staff meal. This is when one or two people on a kitchen crew are assigned to make a (generally) simple meal for the whole kitchen once a day and everyone breaks together to eat. It’s a pretty common thing in a lot of European or more old-fashioned restaurants. The guarantee of a daily meal is treated like an expected part of compensation.

The few times staff meal happened in my career, it was something to do with the holidays or a business milestone. The boss might say “Good work everyone! Get yourself to a stopping point around 1, I’ve ordered pizza!” Alternately, some staff might be tasked with prepping food for an off-site employee appreciation event. It was never a regular thing, but it was always something to look forward to and a way to tell hard-working staff “thank you.”

At the pie shop, our owner occasionally gets in pizza or pays for us too hit local food carts together after we finish a tough week. It’s not expected and always graciously accepted. For myself, I’ve tried to take time out of the day over the last few weeks to make my staff something good, even if it’s not necessarily a full meal. Since Chanukah was last week, latkes were a popular choice. Previously I’ve made challah as a snack, oven-baked potato chips, and English muffins for early mornings.

Even if not everyone wants some, making food is still a sure fire way to tell people you care for them, and it’s the easiest way for a chef to tell their staff, “I see you, and I recognize your effort.” It’s also a good way for me to relax and remember to be grateful. Little gestures like this, and even smaller things like “Hey, thanks for catching that- I totally blanked on it” carry way more weight over time (and build more trust) than grand gestures- even regularly scheduled ones.

Animated GIF of Woody Harrelson in "Zombieland." White text reads "Gotta enjoy the little things."

“No Man is an Island”

‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

– John Donne

Stop for a minute and ask yourself “what am I grateful for right now?”
It doesn’t need to be especially high-minded. Depending on the time of day you are reading this, you could be grateful for the fact there was enough of your favorite coffee left, that your team got their work done on time, or even that you remembered to clean your favorite sheets.

The point of being grateful is not to impress some invisible judge or self-congratulate. It’s to kill isolation. Gratitude necessarily recognizes interconnectivity and the good extant in a world that can seem eager to drown us in anger, pain, and self-pity. It forces us to decentralize ourselves, that the world is something happening with and around us, not being done to us.

It’s no secret that our minds are hardwired to seek the positive but focus on the negative. There’s an argument to be made that that tendency allowed us to recognize and remember threats early in our evolution. It’s a great way to survive, but not so great when it comes to thriving. On a personal level, it’s also not so great for functioning in groups where threats aren’t as common as “saber-toothed tiger coming in the cave while I’m asleep.”

We are still able to recognize dangers and threats, but now we need to train ourselves to recognize the good things we have to. Recognizing threats preserved our physical wellbeing, gratitude can save our mental wellbeing.

Start With “Thank You”

No, “remembering to be grateful” will not “cure” mental illnesses like Anxiety and Depression. Depending on the severity, telling someone suffering from depression that “they should be grateful” can 1. Come off as seriously dickish, and 2. Make their depression worse. (“They’re right- I’m an ungrateful little shit. I don’t deserve all this good stuff.”)

What it CAN do for people and teams in a balanced state is help them “rewire” their thinking to recognize positives more easily, build trust and teamwork more effectively, and build self-worth because their efforts and impact are being recognized.

It’s one of the most powerful tools a leader has, and it doesn’t have to cost anything more than a sincere use of time. We in the culinary industry often talk about how thankless our efforts and work are. We don’t always hear it from the customers- but there’s no reason whatsoever that we as chefs, owners, and managers can’t express our gratitude to our teams. It’s better for us, better for them, better for our businesses, and better for our world.

So, what are you grateful for? I’ll start- thank you for reading my blog!

Stay Classy,

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