Jeremy Leinen, CEC, Executive Chef of Dunwoody CC, wants chefs to stop comparing their career experiences with the next generation of cooks.
The fact that chefs, and our industry as a whole, needs to change isn’t a new topic but there seems to be more conversation about it lately. I watched a video by Mike Matarazzo, Executive Chef of Farmington Country Club, a couple of days ago discussing why he generally doesn’t like chefs. He touched on some realizations I’ve had lately and I’ve been chewing on his message for a couple of days. One of the key points in his video is about being able to relate to your cooks in order to lead them, and the fact that they really don’t care what you went through to get to where you are in your career. This is a tough pill to swallow for any chef’s ego, but there is an opportunity realized in coming to terms with it.
Watch Matarazzo’s video, Why I “don’t like” chefs below.
Very few of the cooks we are in charge of leading have any interest in working this way. They want no part of it, and it means very little to them that we were able to get through it. There’s no badge of honor for them. Given the choice, they’d probably all too happily just find another industry to work in. For whatever reason, it tends to piss chefs off that most of our cooks wouldn’t be willing to go through what we have.
I, like Matarazzo and many others, was fortunate to spend some time at The Greenbrier in the early part of my career. It’s not an experience meant for everybody and I often refer to it as “The Marine Corps of Cooking.” The first month was almost like boot camp. I went to work every day halfway expecting to get fired. I got yelled at and generally treated like a stray dog that nobody wanted. The goal is to make you quit or force you to get better.
For the most part, we’ve spent the last couple of years or so in the “kicking and screaming” phase of dealing with the paradigm shift we’re in the middle of. It’s a new world that we don’t understand, with people we don’t know how to get through to. If our objective was to make it clear that we’re unhappy about the situation, we can mark that as completed. So, what’s next?
First, let’s identify why what we went through is important to us as chefs. There is some logic to follow, and it’s not quite as simple as “they should have to do what I did to get here.”
The trial by fire that most chefs are so familiar with enduring made them prove two things:
- That they wanted to do this for a living and wouldn’t quit when it was hard
- That they had what it took to belong in the business.
Just like USMC boot camp is designed to weed out people that don’t belong, so many of us were onboarded the same way. This process became the proverbial measuring stick. The problem is, we’re not allowed to use the measuring stick that we know. This is what we’re actually struggling with. The issue isn’t really about making cooks do what we did. It’s about making them prove themselves and measuring them against a standard that fits into the new world we live in.
I’m willing to bet that many industries have dealt with this same problem. The military has dealt with it. As the grandson of a USMC veteran, I’ve taken great interest in the culture of the Marines. Based on my reading, the Marines went through this same crisis decades ago and had to significantly alter their approach to boot camp. They went from dealing with young men that had some level of physical conditioning from doing manual labor at home to what they refer to as the “Nintendo Generation.”
Despite the challenges of it, they’ve been able to achieve their goals and the USMC continues to be one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. The military is often on the cutting edge of organizational strategy and innovation, usually copied later by a corporation and some buzz word is coined like they invented the idea.
The bottom line here, is it’s time for us to adapt. The measuring stick we are used to doesn’t apply anymore. The good news—and the opportunity—is that we can develop a new one that fits in our world today. Cooks today aren’t willing to be yelled at, degraded or thrown around like a rag doll. Those aren’t really fundamental skills or attributes necessary to do this job. Let’s focus on those instead.
What are the fundamental skills and attributes a cook needs to have or demonstrate to belong? How do we teach this in a professional manner? What methods can we use to encourage the best from them without having to break them down psychologically? These are a few examples of the key questions we need to answer.
Sure, we’re frustrated with having to let go of what we’ve known for so long. But more than that, we need a new standard to operate on. None of us are going to live forever, so eventually we’ll have to turn the industry over to our cooks. We can’t make them do what we did, but we can still prepare them for what lies ahead. It’s time to define the standards and come up with a new measuring stick.