A day out of the kitchen is the opportunity to learn and explore. Most days' challenges include a broken dish machine, two call-outs, and the spastic general manager going crazy about the latest safety audit, leaving you little time to bend the pages of Bread is Gold or Food Lab or Ivan Ramen, or a kick over to the GreenMarket.
So how do you keep up and make the most of sacred days off?
Jostling every drop of the often-sparse time away — “What is a day off?” said Aughtum Slavin, event coordinator at Emery’s Catering in Providence — from the restaurant, it means exploring new learning opportunities, doing street-level research, and uncontrived downtime.
Books Still Rule
We love our internet connectivity and the easy answers we can fetch with it. Exploring other cooks’ narratives is often the spark to branch out. And, yes, we still love the classic, bound, page-turning, printed book format. These books should be owned to pass along to your newest restaurant kin.
The iconic bookstore Kitchen Arts & Letters is a favorite for industry types during kitchen interludes. The all-things cooking bookstore plays host to food writers and chef-authors while jamming the tiny Upper East Side store with new editions, limited runs, and obscure culinary tomes.
“I go there on my day off for a quick trip. It usually turns into a few hours and way more money than I had planned on dropping. But well worth it," said Tim Barker, Times Square Sofitel Assistant Food and Beverage Director, who languishes for hours at the bookstore.
Rodeos of Another Type
For the chef looking for good eating and to grab menu-worthy treatments, should make their way to food truck rallies, also known as rodeos.
Food trucks are disrupting the rusty reputation. which tethered them so many years ago. Pooling their resources, social media reach, and flashy marketing, food trucks are gathering in parks, fields, parking lots, and race tracks, among other hot spots, to hawk impassioned food.
In northern Delaware, for instance, there's a community of trucks caravans under the Rolling Revolution association. Sparing the extended time necessary for table service, truck operators, many chefs themselves, draw local restaurant players for casual dining on par with some of the area’s best dining options. What does Jeff Osaka, chef and owner of Denver’s riotously successful 12 at Madison and Osaka Ramen do on his day off?
“Dine out at restaurants, not like mine," said Osaka.
Food trucks often offer distinctive approaches that lure an addled chef to beckon.
The Road Calls
“I try to visit the newest restaurant, [and] check out the local knife shop. I hit up the farmers’ market to get ideas,” said Tatu Herrera, chef and owner of Austin’s Folklore’s Coffeehouse.
Many kitchen veterans agree that getting on the road gets creative mojo stirring. Not to mention, it is good professional development.
“I hit a new farmers’ market in DC and Virginia to see what they have,” said Sean Velazquez, Chef de Partie at the Ritz-Carlton, DuPont Circle.
Bryan Nye, freelancing special events’ coordinator, said he takes “a car ride to Crowl Toot, my favorite Amish Farm. I like to see what's coming in fresh, vegetable-wise. Then mushroom shopping at Sherocky.”
Road trips to food spots are not only fun but can foster career advancement.
“I love to dine out as much as possible and to see new things!” said Steve Ruiz, chef and owner of Mojo Loco food truck. “I like to be on the other side of what we do on a day-to-day.”
Sleep, Unpacking the Mayhem, and Anything but Cooking
Any departure from the kitchen grind is a benefit. A zen escape from the moaning exhaust hood or just a break from the POS printer vomiting dupes into the pick-up window extends the kitchen crew’s shelf life. Courtney Bellflower, Line Cook at LJ’s Bistro and Bar in Georgia, when asked about her non-work regimen to keep sharp, she said she “sleeps.”
Pastry Chef and Owner Michelle Klem of CakeSuite, on the other hand, doesn’t completely disconnect. “I listen to Splendid Table on NPR and deep clean the workspace," said Klem.
The restorative power of kitchen liberation is a needed repast.
“I take off Sundays and Mondays, so on Sunday, it's brunch, brunch, brunch. Checking out the competition, the new hot spots in the city and visiting friends' restaurants to socialize, learn, eat, and release a bit,” said Owen Panzica, chef at Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, Hong Kong.
The always-on fuel that revs the kitchen never completely dies out. “But with chat apps, I'm always connected to the kitchen and know what's going on,” said Panzica.
“Definitely not cook!" said Greg White, sous chef at Midland Hills Country Club in Wisconsin, when asked about his day-off.
Being restaurant weathered means that you never run out of toys as seasons change, produce blossoms, meat cuts come in and out of style, and flavor combinations are reinvented.
But stepping away from the burners is its own growing opportunity, if not just to time to recharge. Zooming in on food-related opportunities becomes second nature. Using a day off to take in more of the biz adds value to what is and will be happening, in operations and in your career.