As Executive Sous Chef of Austin (Texas) CC, Eva Barrios, CEC, takes the time each day to connect with her culinary team members both as a friend and as a manager.
When I started my culinary career in 2002 as a garde manger cook helper, I had no idea what it takes to run a kitchen. I thought if I learned how to cook well, I could climb the ladder quickly. Little did I know that cooking is just a fraction of what it takes to become a successful chef.
Managing a staff of over 35 individual, each with different personalities, is not an easy task. Almost all the issues that pop up have almost nothing to do with cooking, like everyone wanting the same day off or the way they complain about one another.
I was quickly submerged into a role I was not prepared for yet. To be honest, my behavior was very business-focused; I did not care much about the lives of my culinary team outside of work. I needed them to do a job—and that was all I cared about at the time. (I was very assertive, to say the least).
This attitude began when I was a young culinarian and was told on several occasions that I wasn’t there to think but to do what I was told. Sadly, I took that to heart and became a young chef with the same mentality. In time, after working for some great chefs, I discovered that every chef has their own way of running a kitchen and that what I had been doing wasn’t working. I learned that I should be more compassionate and understanding with my culinary team. I decided to take what I liked and didn’t like about my chef mentor’s styles of management and create my own style in order to build a happy and motivated team.
To build a strong culinary team, I had to care and know about their personal lives. I wanted to more than a manager. I wanted to be someone easy to talk to and someone they could count on in every aspect of their lives. I believe that when you show you really care, your team will work alongside you and strive to be successful. They are more invested in the team because you are more invested in them.
As a chef, you have to figure out what drives each teammate to want to work efficiently. You have to discover what makes them happy in the workplace. Every person’s motivation is as unique as they are. We spend so much of our lives at work that we need to create an environment we want to be in. Having the right attitude is a very important part.
I constantly remind myself that while we all have our moments when we are stressed or upset, my attitude sets the mood in the kitchen. I must be careful about what I am projecting to the staff. Every morning I greet each team member, ask if they need anything, and ask them about their day. It might sound like a time-consuming activity, but it really isn’t. Caring for your staff can make a difference. I always make an effort to listen to their problems or concerns and assure them that I will come up with a solution in a timely manner. There is no such thing as a perfect kitchen, but I know it can be as great as you want it to be as long as you are present, respectful, and caring.