Compassion in the Kitchen: Why Culinary Culture Must Change

Compassion in the Kitchen: Why Culinary Culture Must Change

By Adam M Lamb, Foodable Industry Expert

While Anthony Bourdain has gone on record arguing for the rightness, the necessity of hazing in his book “Kitchen Confidential,” the crueler and harshest antics used in some kitchens no longer have a place in modern culinary professionalism. We need to attract more prospective employees, not scare them off into other industries because of the established Culinary Bro Code. There are already enough reasons to choose from to do something else for a living.

Women have not had an easy time integrating into the hyper-masculine world of the professional culinary kitchen. Ask any woman working in the business today and she’ll relate as many horror stories as you have time, or the stomach, to listen to about coming up in our current culinary career culture. A recent Thrillist article recounted such tales, such as one from an anonymous sous chef who remembered a chef who grabbed girls by their hair buns and yanked their heads back, and who attached a carrot at the end of her station and called her “The Little Donkey.”

Along with this type of abuse is the disturbing fact that still, in 2016, along with unequal professional recognition, women are paid less than men for similar work. According to Glassdoor, female chefs make 28.3 percent less in base pay than their male colleagues. That's the second-highest "adjusted" percentage among the careers included in the study.

I learned early, the value of female co-workers. In my very first Executive Chef position, I was paired up with a woman as my sous chef. Lori Walker was an amazing assistant for me and helped me get my feet under me as a first-time chef. Thanks mostly to her partnership, I wouldn’t have lasted a month.

She, and many other women that I have had the pleasure to work with, have been the hardest working culinarians on staff — coming in on their days off, even when sick, and they were the hardest-working people in the room, primarily because they had to be. They could not be seen as weak, needy, or quick to tire. The “bros” in the room were waiting in the wings, ready to shame them right out of their whites. The Culinary Bro Code demanded it of them, or they would quickly be, outside looking in. Such was the price many of these women paid.

One might argue that as bad as all this may sound, it has improved, and one might be right. Just not fast enough, by this writer’s estimation

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7 Steps to Moving Up the Culinary Career Ladder

7 Steps to Moving Up the Culinary Career Ladder

By Adam M Lamb, Foodable Industry Expert

“You know, you’re the only chef I’ve worked for that I didn’t want to burn down and take his place,” my sous chef said quietly, head down as we both cut fish.

I didn’t say a word in response. I just kept slicing slabs of tuna. 

It took a while for this to sink in.

I had hired him three months prior, against my better judgement. I say “better judgement,” but if truth be told, I was scared of him. He had come to the restaurant after several high profile stints in Colorado, including owning his own restaurant. When he had come in for his interview, I tried to hide my surprise that someone so talented would be applying to be my sous chef — he could have easily been the chef with all of his street cred.

Would my position be secure with him at my back? Would everyone see that he was so much better than me? Would I end up outside looking in? Was there, in fact, anything to teach him?

Turns out that we had very different skill sets and they complimented each other quite well. I had come up through the streets, and he had worked three separate formal apprenticeships with European chefs. What he didn’t know how to do, like expedite 300 early birds without crashing and burning, I could show him. Whatever I didn’t know, he was willing to teach me.

The willingness on both our parts, I came to find out later, was a precious and rare commodity in this field.  Other chefs I subsequently met would jealously hold on to their knowledge, their alchemical power masquerading as job security. In time we both moved on, but we kept in touch and shared notes.

While we shared our individual experiences mentoring people and managing operations to grow professionally, other crew members would keep their aspirations to themselves, silently stew in anger while constantly looking for advancement elsewhere, or play on each other's weaknesses to force a crew member out. These strategies have been tried, and some even worked, but not for very long. They're not wrong — they were just the way things were done back in the day, but the reality is these are all distractions from what could be.

I’ve written extensively about how we, as culinary leaders, are now being called to a higher standard of governance: more than training, instruction and preparation, today’s culinary crew members are looking for inspiration, mentorship, partnership, and connection to not only the mission, but those shaping that vision. I am suggesting a different way to climb up the culinary ladder. How?

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Want to Avoid Culinary Career Burnout? Stop Doing These 3 Things

Want to Avoid Culinary Career Burnout? Stop Doing These 3 Things

By Adam Lamb, Foodable Industry Expert

You’ve followed your heart’s calling and made a career out of your “culinary obsession.” You’re now a professional and a survivor. But this article isn’t about surviving your career or life, this is about thriving — enjoying every bit of it, even the perceptively crappy parts. 

Maybe you’re finally sitting down after a long shift to enjoy a well-deserved adult beverage while your mind races with the replay of tonight’s service. You’re feeling strong, sleek, and crafty, and you’re certain that you’re hitting your stride and the crew is coming together into the synthesis of blood, steel, steam, sweat, and flame that creates a living, breathing cooking machine. As you finish your first drink, the burn in your belly widens. You might, for just a second, wonder just how the hell you’re going to keep this thing going. 

Maybe you’re just starting your day, shaking the cobwebs from your brain as you wonder how you’re going to get yourself together for, you suspect, an ass-kickin’ shift. You shake your legs to get the blood moving, stretch the kinks out of your muscles, and check your head while checking your morning face in the bathroom mirror. As you suit up and get your game face on for another day, you might, for just a second, wonder just how the hell you’re going to keep this thing going.

There are things about being a chef that are beyond your control — overzealous catering sales people, arrogant or inflexible managers, dropping sales, the price of bacon this month, critical staff shortages that have you strapped to the stove.

Let’s look at three things you can control and should stop doing right now in order to enjoy a long and successful culinary career:

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Thinking About Leaving Your Kitchen? 3 Steps to Prevent Culinary Career Suicide

Thinking About Leaving Your Kitchen? 3 Steps to Prevent Culinary Career Suicide

By Adam M Lamb, Foodable Industry Expert

“Chef, I’ve been offered a new position at a very prestigious restaurant. It involves less money but it comes with it the potential to make a name for myself. Do you have any advice?”

If you’re just starting to claw your way up the ranks of culinary greatness or are a seasoned veteran who’s earned the right of career self-determination, you’re bound to come up against this conundrum.

Now, with almost daily blog, magazine, and newspaper posts about the critical lack of qualified cooks and chefs, it is almost certain that you’ll be fielding a lot of potential job opportunities from competitors, recruiters, or friends looking to shore up their lean brigades.

If you haven’t, you soon will be.

The average American worker stays in a position for 4.4 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For Millennials, it’s half of that, with an average of 15-20 positions over the course of their working lives.

The inherent risk of leaving a job too soon — job hopping — is almost as great of a risk as staying in a job too long. “Golden handcuffs” can make a career irrelevant and unmarketable to most employers looking for talent, maturity, and mobility. Rightly or wrongly, tenure over 5 years can sometimes be interpreted by some recruiters as “complacent” or “not aggressive enough” for today’s marketplace.

That’s not to say that you should leave a great gig just to see your name up in lights; beware of believing your own press clippings.

3 Things to Consider Before Quitting

To avoid taking your career off track by making a poor career move, allow me to suggest the following three steps:

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