“I Do Not Dream of Labor”- The Difference Between Labor and Industry, and What It (Should) Mean to Work

I spend way too much time on social media. If it wasn’t the best engine for reaching out to my readers and sharing what I do with a global audience, I would have wiped my accounts ages ago for the sheer amount of half-assed “hot takes” people are encouraged to belch out about everything from Sudanese economics to Dr. Seuss. It really is the dark side of the democratization of knowledge that anyone with a keyboard thinks “I have an opinion and a way to express it, therefore it is just as valid and important as any expert.”

Yes, so says the pastry chef and food writer with a blog who is about to expound on the psychology and philosophy of labor, but stick with me for a minute.

As a guy who works for a living, is trying to create a work environment that his employees can thrive in, and is having difficulty finding qualified help, I think I have some insight into the whole “no one wants to work anymore,” “quiet-quitting/working to contract” kerfuffle fiasco mass whining discussionthat has been making the rounds lately.

This quote is actually tacked up over my desk at the bakery- just in case I ever forget why I do what I do.
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Don’t Work Toward What You Don’t Want

I try not to miss weeks in writing this blog. If I am an Actual Professional Writer©, then that means showing up when I agree I will, putting out the words I’ve decided I will, and not making excuses about it. I think it was Ursula K. LeGuin who said she knew was a professional writer the first time she sat down to write something without really feeling like it and having no ideas.

In my case, I missed last week because I literally had no energy to do anything after a 60-hour week in the bakery. I wanted to write, I had ideas of what to write about… but the tank was on “E” and I was running on fumes for the downtime I had.

It’s a fairly common situation for folks in my industry right now- the Covid Culinary Brain/Talent Drain has hit everyone, and people are flocking to jobs where the pay is better, benefits more secure, and pockets are deep enough to possibly take care of them through the next crisis. That means that applicants for small Portland pie shops are few and far between, and it’s up to the folks who are there to keep the wheels turning.

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to get out of a field that is effectively lying in the bed of intransigence it made and now dealing with its legendary well of desperate labor suddenly running dry. A lot of my older friends and colleagues are staring down this situation and realizing that “the free market,” capitalism, and truthfully any economic structure looks great until you find yourself on the underside of it.

So why am I not part of this grand exodus? With my skills and experience, I could march into nearly any job fair run by one of those hospitality giants, lay down my resume, and conduct a bidding war for my services. More money, more benefits, fewer responsibilities (at least to start), and a clear career trajectory for rising in their company. Sounds like a no-brainer, so why not go for it?

Because I refuse to waste time working toward what I don’t want.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com
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Stepping Into The Ring- Leadership, Impostor Syndrome, and Creativity on Demand

“Well this will be interesting…”

I apologize for the lack of a blog post this past week, but last Sunday I left the French bakery behind and started a new job at a pie company. Despite the fact that pie is, some would say, very much my wheelhouse, that’s not the part that will make this job uniquely interesting or what consumed so much of my time and energy. What will make this particular gig a real challenge started right at the interview. As I sat down with the owner, she flipped through my resume and said,

“Listen, I’m hiring a baker, but you’ve got training experience, right? You can train, schedule, and lead a team? Good- because I am stretched way too thin. Here’s the plan: I hire you, make you my kitchen manager, and turn the production, scheduling, and menu of our sweet pies over to you. That will free me up to run the rest of business. Deal?”

For the first time in my career, I’m scheduling production, training up the team, and choosing the menu. In other words, actually functioning as a chef (at least as it’s popularly defined in America.)

For the first week while I learned methods, recipes, and the rhythm of the kitchen, I stuck to some classics on the menu… but next week I’ll really have to come up with some ideas and prove that I can hack it. Not so much to my co-workers or boss- they have an almost unbelievable faith in my ability to deliver and perform.

No, I’ve got to prove it to me that I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew.

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Worth The Time- What To Consider When Picking A Job

Job hunting is exactly that- job hunting. When you are seeking a job, you are looking for one that’s the right fit for you as much as employers are looking for the right fit for their business.

Interviews are a two-way process. If you’ve been job hunting for a while, it’s easy to start letting desperation and panic creep into your search. Take a breath, and try to keep calm- desperation to find any job can land you somewhere miserable, and missing out on opportunities you might enjoy (and that might pay) better.

I’ve already written a list of the “red flags” to look for at bad jobs, so this post is a few of the “green” flags that earn a job a more considered look from job-seekers.

Remember, this list is not comprehensive and you should always go with your gut. Your goals and priorities are your own- make the moves that get you closer to them!

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Paying the Piper- The Culinary Brain Drain

You can feel it all around the United States. With the massive push of vaccinations and the slowly declining COVID-19 case numbers, restaurants and venues are starting to relax their requirements. People still need to wear masks, yes, and social distancing is still a thing- but you can eat inside now. You can sit with friends. You and your buddies can, within reason, go out and grab a beer just like you used to. We are starting to get back to normal after a year in a plague-ridden Hell of our own creation.

Not all industries are ready though:

Hey, I need to hire two line cooks ASAP! Anyone give me any leads?”
Guys, I’m desperate. I need a dishwasher, a busboy, and at least three cooks NOW- the restaurant is packed every night and I can’t take it anymore!”

Why can’t I find capable help anymore?! Everyone I hire either flakes out, burns out, or just quits! WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE COOKS?!”

They found greener pastures, folks. They had no other choice. We need to raise a new crop of cooks from scratch- maybe we’ll be smarter about it this time.

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