In the September issue, Editor Michael Sanson wrote about how some young chefs in the business lose perspective on the goals they’ve set or should have set. Too many, he pointed out, are more concerned about fame than making their restaurants the best they can be. The result is often an average restaurant that could be so much better if the chef had focused on the tasks at hand.
One of the issues many chefs have, and this affects the young ones most, is deciding whether they are a food-focused chef or a hands-on chef who can motivate minimum wage workers to care about their jobs while managing a multimillion-dollar business. So many attendees of culinary schools leave the culinary field for the simple reason that the job is hard, it’s not at first lucrative and the feedback you hear is from bad reviews and not the 99 percent of happy guests who leave your place after a good meal.
As a former culinary instructor I tried to make students aware of the long road to an executive chef’s position. It’s the six-day weeks, the 14-hour days, the holidays away from family that define the position.
There is a great scene in the movie North Dallas Forty where a player attacks a coach and says, “When I want to play you say it’s a business and when I want to talk money you tell me it’s a sport.” Chefs, you will be praised for artistry, but do not lose sight of the fact that it is foremost a business. If it’s not a passion, stay away from the business, which is a vast desert unless you cultivate it.
Holiday Inn Buena Park Hotel & Conference Center
Buena Park, CA
I just read your article about cocky youngsters and I loved it! I started working in restaurants at age 13 washing dishes on my summer vacation from school and as a waiter all through university. I fell in love with the restaurant business while working full time during my university days. I got a degree in English literature, but my real education came from working with my restaurant mentor Ion Aimers, the founder of The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro chain in Canada.
He was the one who taught me about checks and balances. I worked with him when he opened his first restaurant—L.A. Wings—in Ottawa in 1990. He was on a shoestring budget and every penny counted. The difference between young guns with a lot of financial backing and Ion and myself was that we were operating on a budget, which puts things into perspective.
I too was cocky after I opened my first restaurant at age 28. I went on to open four other restaurants, but after the second I finally got the message to check my ego at the door. I was fortunate to have a great team of managers with me and our operational systems were very tight.
My partners at the second restaurant were very rich and after our honeymoon period I realized it was time to get out. After I sold out to them they realized how hard it is to run a restaurant, especially when you’ve never worked in one!
What I am trying to say is that the young chef you were writing about will eventually get the picture when the walls start crumbling. The rich investor will get stuck with the debt, and the cocky kid will probably walk away and line up some other sucker to invest in another one of his places!
Jason G. Macioge
Pearl’s, Fin Sushi, Betty’s Pizza Shack, Bistro Zinc
Great Barrington & Lennox, MA