Learning to Lead by Letting Go

Managing is a full-time job in itself, and going from being a cook or baker to a managing is more than a promotion. It’s a shift in mentality. After years of needing to be “hands-on,” I will no longer have the time, energy or focus to give every task personal attention. Ironically, one of the hardest lessons I will have to learn as a chef is how not to be in control.

"Leadership" written in chalk on a black background.
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com
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Life After the Line- When Chefs Change Careers

My friend Renee has- like most of our industry- had a rough couple of months.

Renee is a sommelier back east. She has enough skill that positions in her niche are scarce. She also has lifestyle demands that make the job pool even shallower- and enough contacts and familiarity with a particular scene on the East Coast that discretion is required. As we sip coffees and tea at a rainy cafe in Astoria, Renee spins a saga of staffing and management issues, attending the needs of VIPs, and protecting the restaurants reputation. It all culminates in a storm of uppity underlings, COVID protocols, and curiously nebulous budgets that lead to her (relieved but frustrated) resignation.

“I’m not even fond of wine,” she admits with a short snort. “I’m good at being a somme, but I honestly like cocktails more.” She didn’t even really enjoy the fine dining restaurant life. She was fine with the formality and artifice of high society. The social waters she navigates with ease gives me the willies just thinking about. Managing the wine at a restaurant, though, was “just a box that had to be checked on the way.”

“I think I’m going to pivot to distribution.” she muses as we finish our coffee. “That’ll keep my toes in the world. People keep suggesting I teach, so there’s that too.”

I recount my own experiences at the bakery (I’m almost afraid they’ll bore her- my own worries have been no less frustrating, but far less flashy) and we share a rueful laugh. The tragedy of it all is that none of this is new. “That’s the industry.” We’re both tired, both burned out- and wondering if we haven’t had enough.

It’s a question that a lot of chefs ask themselves. This foul year of Our Lord 2020, however, has stepped up a lot of professional timelines. With every successful night’s service, every broken freezer, every balancing of the books- chefs everywhere ask themselves “How much longer can I keep this up?

What will come next?”

Youtube https://youtu.be/pYLjHhSOE7s

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Big Brother- Mentoring in the Kitchen

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

In the space of a year and change, I have trained ten people in some way at my bakery. Some just to pick up a couple tasks left hanging while I’m gone, others to be assistants and stand-ins so that I can take a day off now and again. They were professionals, students, coworkers, wanna-be lifers. A few were just honestly curious- like the dishwashers that wanted to learn to pipe pate au choux, or the barista with some time to kill who wanted to try a couple recipes for themselves.

A bunch stuck around for a while- some got let go. Every one of them learned something though- and I learned that I’m really good at being a big brother.

Animated GIF of Uncle Iroh from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” sitting in front of a fire drinking tea.
Somewhere along the way, I was called the “Uncle Iroh” of the bakery.
Not gonna lie, that’s some high praise.
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Future for Two, 6 PM

Good evening friends and neighbors!

As the pandemic sunk its teeth into the American culinary industry, there was no shortage of worries and opinions to fill column inches. They included hopeful outlooks, doomsaying, and more than a few appeals to our elected leaders that they should stop resembling a monkey sodomizing sports equipment.

A few of those hot takes even came from me- but one in particular came from my therapist:

“You’ve mentioned before how you and your wife enjoy going out to eat together. That’s certainly tough right now, but there’s got to be ways to make do.”

“Making do” is one of those skills that we humans are great at, diseases be damned- and tonight I went out to dinner to see how some places are doing it.

Selfie of the author sitting outside of Ankeny Tap and Table in Portland Oregon.
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86 the Normal

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The weather this weekend could have been better- cloudy, muggy, windy, rainy. No good for going out and doing much, which made it picture perfect for my days off.

See, lately, I’ve been on a big kick of not trying to do something every fucking minute. With the parade of nightmares, hatred, anger, righteous rage, and natural disasters happening outside my little corner- as often as I poke my head out to try and do some good, I want to spend some time remembering what still IS good. The “eternal verities” of a culinary life.

Everyone wants to “return to normal”- the pandemic to go away, hurricane season to pass, and the protesters to shut up and go home (after November 2016, I’ve learned that the people screaming and begging for “peace” tend to actually mean “peace and quiet.”)
Here’s the problem, though- that “normal” wasn’t working as well as you think it was. It won’t come back. It can’t, and if we’re being honest, it probably shouldn’t.

The end of the day at Saint Honore in Portland Oregon
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