Every chef, every employer, every team leader has stories about the different people they’ve had to work with and lead.
They’ve had old hands with years of experience step down to a lower position than they held and prove to be absolutely useless in spite of their experience. They had green workers come in and, while they make mistakes, they hustle harder than five cooks and bring their best every day seemingly for no reason beyond the adrenaline rush and the post-shift drink with the team.
There are folks who come through for a month then lose interest or move on, and there’s those who’ve been in the same arguably low-level position for years. While they’re pleased for a raise, they show no interest in promotions or doing any work beyond what they are doing now. They always seem pleased while peeling potatoes, prepping fish, or chopping vegetables.
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?
The walk up Mount Tabor has become a familiar old friend, and like an old friend it has it’s own moods. Normally, when I go walking through the park, it’s with an audiobook in my ears. The walk is for the fresh air and exercise, the book for entertainment and distraction- especially if I’m in a foul mood and need to clear my mind.
That was the case this afternoon as I decided I needed to get out of the house and write this blog, but not go to a bar or cafe. Money has been tight lately, so I need to find other spaces to be creative in. The weather is perfect, and the park is free. Walking up to the top of a little hill near the summit, I have an Earthsea book in my ears. The breeze was blowing, kindly cooling me under the heat of the sun.
In my meditation lately, I’ve been trying to build on focus and mindfulness- being in each moment, and appreciating where I am and what I’m doing. As I walked, I pulled the headphones from my ears.
A deep breath. A quiet moment between heartbeats. The smell of warm cedar, and someone practicing a bamboo flute nearby. Distant traffic. Bird song.
I kick aside a few fir cones, lay down my blanket, and start to feel everything.
It had already been an exhausting morning when my boss walked in. A new employee needed to be trained. There were concerns about the production schedule. Orders hadn’t come through, ingredients were misplaced, an extremely impatient and entitled customer… and all of it needed my personal attention when I wasn’t getting my own production done.
When my boss came in and saw all the activity- busy, but not quite chaotic- she asked if there was anything she could do to help. “It’s great that your training the new girl today, but maybe just have her shadow you today instead of giving her tasks? That way you don’t have to be distracted all the time answering questions.”
I refused partly because she was asking good questions and learning well, but mostly because by handing off simpler, smaller tasks for her to learn on, I could focus on the tasks that needed a managers touch- like the lady that thought an incomplete order behind the counter was hers and tried to walk away with it.
It was busy that morning, and it felt like chaos, but it wasn’t. Everything got done, well and on time. What made it feel like chaos and created stress was answering questions that didn’t need answers and handling problems that had already been handled. I’m a big believer in servant leadership, but there’s a serious difference between that and learned helplessness.
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.