According to Nelson Millán, Executive Chef of San Antonio (Texas) Country Club, the effort and sacrifice chefs go through in order to keep their edge should never define who they are. It should complement what they do.
A conversation with my Executive Sous Chef a few weeks ago got me thinking about something I want to share with the club chef community.
He and I met 10 years ago while working at The Cloister at Sea Island in Georgia. Now we’re working together again at the San Antonio (Texas) Country Club. While preparing for an event in the banquet kitchen recently he surprised me with an unexpected comment. He turned to me and said: “After all these years working together, you’ve taught me more about how to be a good person than how to be a good chef.”
Several months ago, he had reached a tipping point in his personal life. It made him realized that he needed professional help and he sought it with a little hesitation. After a few months of weekly visits with his counselor and a brief treatment, he made the most remarkable personal transformation I’ve ever seen and is now the equanimous individual I’ve always known him to be.
Back in the banquet kitchen, I asked him what he meant by that comment and he continued, saying, “I remembered when I was a young cook and I wanted to learn every possible technical skill. My goal was to be the best chef I could be and I was willing to stop at nothing to reach that goal. I found myself chasing clouds because I thought that would guarantee success. But during my recent episode of personal introspection and transformation, I started looking at things from a different perspective. The process made me realize that I need to cultivate my character first and everything else will derive from that.”
His comments got me thinking about how easy is to fall for the competitiveness that our industry temptingly offers on a daily basis. It’s easy to get lost chasing dreams and goals and neglecting to care for ourselves. We tend to forget that we were humans before we became chefs and that the effort and sacrifice we go through in order to keep our edge should never define who we are. It should complement what we do for living.
Technical skills are important. But so is being a genuine, heartfelt person, who is honest and has integrity. Once you manage to keep these two parts progressing parallel in your life you will find that chasing the “clouds” will no longer be necessary. The opportunities will chase you and most importantly you will be solidly prepared to make the most out of every one of those opportunities and to sustain them for the long run.