By: Shawn Wenner
“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
– Yogi Berra
Nearly a decade ago I was hired by Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts, sparking my fascination with the culinary industry. Suddenly, I was surrounded by insatiable food, creativity, and passion. As if I wasn’t sold already, one thing became clear: food is amazing! It holds the power to unite, nourish our bodies, and create lasting memories. Even a single bite can transport us effortlessly to years past.
After befriending talented chefs, it wasn’t long before I realized parallels between their work in the kitchen and the world at large. It became clear to me that we all can learn a thing or two from them.
Here are the top 5 invaluable lessons chefs can teach us about life.
1. Preparation = Perfection
The ubiquitous French culinary phrase “mise en place” translates into“putting in place.” Before everyone engages in executing the nightly menu, chefs organize and arrange all ingredients required. Everything must have its place.
Cooking is the art of layering ingredients accurately and timely through a series of techniques and proficiencies. In the midst of production, there’s little time to ‘prepare.’ Hence, why preparation takes precedence above all else. Such organization allows plates to be artfully constructed, both timely and systematically.
If you want something executed to perfection, preparation is necessary. Whether you have a simple or complex project, preparing can reduce unwanted stress. Organize and arrange before you dive head-first. When things heat up, you’ll have the required ‘ingredients’ at your disposal. As they say, it will be “smooth sailing.”
2. Clear & Concise Communication
As it heats up in the kitchen, everyone moves with a quickness, and some are carrying hot objects or sharp knives, which can easily create hazardous conditions.
Timing, both in movement and cooking, is an important element for well-executed meals. A single minute too soon, or late, can cause illness or frustration from patrons.
In these moments, clear and concise communication becomes mission critical. When a chef asks a question, it’s for a purpose. You typically only need to answer “yes chef” or “no chef.” Since chefs are making lightning fast decisions, backstories need not apply. For instances where a simple “yes” or “no” won’t suffice, keep it concise. There’s no time for verbal gymnastics or you’ll bottleneck production.
When you incorporate clear and concise communication in life, you enter a less complicated world by quickly getting to the root. Conversations stretch only to appropriate lengths, and people gather required information with enough speed to preserve momentum.
As you work through the day, think about reducing answers to a simple “yes” or “no.” When more complex answers are required, think about speaking with brevity to reduce bottlenecks.
3. Passion, Passion, Passion
Chefs are unique and thrive on their individuality. They have their secret recipes and techniques to separate themselves from their peers. However, there’s one commonality between them all: passion — dashes, sprinkles, cups, and canisters full of passion.
Chefs are passionate about their craft, take pride in their work, and they pour themselves into every dish or dessert. Since their work reflects their abilities, they work meticulously, in search of culinary perfection.
It’s unfortunate when people work half-heartedly in life. They do enough to get by, only to pass time and embrace the weekend. Why? Because they lack passion (or purpose for that matter).
Quite honestly, this lesson could be the most profound. When harnessed, this lesson can alter your reality. Using chefs as examples, find and incorporate passion in your life. Use it to pursue excellence. When your work feeds your soul, it commands the best version of yourself, and you’re more likely to achieve excellence.
4. Adjusting with Addition & Attrition
If you’ve watched a chef work in the kitchen, you’ve witnessed them taste-testing throughout the cooking process. At any given point, their palate may detect a flavor imbalance, thereby requiring ingredients to be added or subtracted. It’s part of the process. They’re quickly making adjustments with a simple mathematical formula.
Plenty of life’s experiences require adjustments. Though in moments when adversity strikes and we get knocked off kilter or paralyzed by fear, all that’s required is a simple mathematical formula and willingness to adjust. You can add or subtract something to regain your balance. It’s just that easy. I promise.
Now, a precursor to this lesson is eliminating the ideology that things will be perfect. Once you absolve this way of thinking, you are equipped for adjusting along the way. As a bonus, if you carved out prep time in the beginning, you’ll likely have everything at hand for your finished product.
5. Recipes = Reliable Results
Recipes are a staple in the culinary industry. The value of a recipe is the consistent product each and every time. Whether the meal is produced for the tenth, or hundredth time, the beauty is it tastes identical.
In life, we all strive for consistency, whether it be personally or professionally; however, we fall short of possessing and following ‘recipes’ which allow for consistent results continuously. We often ‘wing it’ with some imaginary expectation of textbook results.
When you desire consistent results, find a recipe. It doesn’t require your authorship either. You can easily find someone who embarked on a similar journey or someone who created a system for the process. When you find these recipes, compile them in your ‘cookbook,’ and keep them handy to use each and every time.
In closing, I’ll keep it simple. Find a chef today and give them a hug (or kiss) to thank them because they add so much flavor to our lives!