The Difference Between Cooking and Baking Energy

When it comes to interviewing for positions, people tend to forget that it’s a two-way process. Both the interviewer AND interviewee are feeling the situation out, trying to see if they are feeling and looking for the same thing.

The idea of someone’s energy or vibe being out of sync with what an employer is looking for might sound strange in an industry where people work close but not so close. If someone comes off as “naturally” nervous or distracted interviewing for an office job, that can be shrugged off as jitters. After all, they’ll be working in their own space.

For kitchen workers, however, where the job means working in close proximity to each other for hours on end and people becoming more like family than coworkers, the energy you possess and project carries a lot more weight. A resume and even a stage might demonstrate an applicants capability, but if they come off as restless, nervous, or even creepy, a manager will think twice before jeopardizing the harmony of their kitchen and their team.

When you walk into an interview, what energy do you convey?

Cooks And Bakers

I’ve interviewed more than a few line cooks who were looking to make a switch to pastry. While some I’ve talked to had dismissive attitudes toward baking, (“Bakers are f***ing useless. They can’t do a damn thing without a recipe and they’re so f***ing slow”) the majority have been honestly curious and conscious that baking and cooking professionally are not harder or easier than each other, but they are different. They require a different mindset and approach to prioritization.

It’d be ridiculous to act like the people in a given field all have the same or even similar mindset. They do necessarily share some aspects and priorities though in order to communicate and do their jobs well. With that in mind, I can kitchen people tend to have line cook or baker energy.

Line Cook Energy

Sitting down across the table from the career chef, it was clear that he’d been cooking for so long that life on the line had left a mark. He adjusted his plates and silverware constantly. He shifted, stretched, and scooted in his seat as though ants were crawling on his skin. He could spit out details in conversation quickly, but bounced from topic to topic on a dime.

The life of a line cook calls for constant multitasking, changing ones focus minute by minute. The priority is to get everything done as quickly and as well as possible on timelines measured in minutes and seconds. Muscle memory, instinct, and conditioning through training is critical. There is no time to write out a to-do list, set timers, or double check instructions on how to cook a dish. It must be known in the hands, instinctive as breathing.

Line Cook Energy then, as I’ve learned to recognize it, is task and result oriented. It’s eagerness to get started and get moving, and impatience for what they might see as needless explanation or stalling. “Let me get started. Let’s get this done so I can move on to the next thing.” Slowing down to notice small details and procedures can often mean a conscious effort on their part- at least until execution of those details becomes instinctive.

Bakery Energy

Baking is crazy.” “Bakers are crazy.”
We’re so exacting. We’re uptight. We’re persnickety. We’re anal retentive. That’s because we’ve had a plan for this day for at least the last 24 hours, and we can’t afford for things to go sideways.

Bakers must make sure the chemistry, the mixing, the aeration, everything about a product is right before they put it in the oven so that it’ll turn out like they want it to. If not, we do it over. Little to no room to fix it later- it’s just wrong, and we must do it over properly. Consequently, unless they are very good or very foolish, bakers are slow and careful. They are anxious and looking for all the ways something can go wrong so they can prepare against them. If we need 60 delicate chocolate decorations, we’ll make 120 because some of them are bound to break or be distempered.

The best bakers (and the best cooks, and the best people for that matter) have learned to be patient. The bias is for research, planning, scheduling, and delegating before action, because “a stitch in time” will save them from having to hurl a days work and hundred of dollars of product in the garbage (or at best, wrap everything in plastic and throw it in the freezer to find a use for it later) before starting over again with even less time.

A baker’s strength is not “multitasking,” it’s time management. Splitting our attention between several active projects is dangerous and we know it. Instead, bakers arrange our tasks so that other projects can work in the background or be ignored while we focus on one thing at a time. It’ll make us anxious when we find ourselves with “dead time,” though. We’ll try to fill minutes as best we can, otherwise there’s something we’re forgetting.

Baker Energy, as I’ve seen it in others and myself, is process oriented. The task will most assuredly get done- in the fullness of the time it takes to get it done the right way. The most efficient, effective, and best-planned way possible. A way that will allow for contingencies, and contingencies for contingencies. Whatever it is you tell someone with Baker Energy to do, they will want to know or learn the best and most efficient way to do it first so that they only have to do it once and not waste material or time.

Stormy Seas and Deep Waters

A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what the ship was built for.”

The idea that people only have one of these two energies is nonsense. Everyone can have both, and both come out in different contexts. A stormy sea is quiet if you dive deep under the surface, and calm ocean can still have fast-moving currents.

The truth is you can only guess what a person is like until you see them in action. You can only guess if they have a bias for planning or for action. Sometimes the person who hyper-focuses can multitask- sometimes they can’t. People are difficult to categorize– but it’s still tempting when you’re deciding who to run your bakeshop and who’d be better on sauté.

Stay Classy,

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