When studying the culinary arts, you expect to learn the difference between braising and roasting, hollandaise and béarnaise, a grater and a zester. Professionalism in the kitchen, however, seems an unteachable, learn-on-the-job skill — but it's one of the most important to acquire while training for your culinary career.
Showing professionalism is important in any career, but it's necessary in a restaurant to keep customers happy and the staff efficient. Much of that responsibility falls on the chefs. The frantic, stressful atmosphere of a kitchen makes this difficult. Here are some of the many hats you'll need to wear to succeed in the restaurant biz, and how you can learn valuable professional skills at school.
- Human resources professional: The chef is responsible for hiring and firing kitchen help. Working with others in class teaches you what you like in a coworker — and what you won't tolerate. You'll also learn the best ways to call attention to others, positively or negatively.
- Trainer/supervisor: Chefs instruct the kitchen workers, from slicing vegetables to plating the food. The more skills you learn, the more qualifications you can confidently instruct others with. You'll also develop your best on-the-spot teaching technique.
- Artist: The chef creates innovative dishes, perfects classic ones and takes the hit if a customer hates it. The constructive criticism you'll receive in class allows you to develop a thick skin and to have pride in your creations.
- Mathematician: Determining portions, setting prices and ordering supplies takes arithmetic know-how. All the recipes you'll follow and develop in school help you practice these skills. Culinary classes can also teach management and purchasing, so you'll never be without salt and knives.
- Marketer: The chef plans the menus, presents food offerings in appealing ways, creates specials and entices customers. The creativity you learn from baking and plating helps develop how you want to professionally present yourself and your food.
When you work in a restaurant — no matter your position — it's imperative that you demonstrate professionalism in the kitchen. Every employee should display the following traits:
- Organization: Time is tight in a restaurant and you need to organize your kitchen tools, your time, your ingredients and your priorities. When you learn about the different tools in culinary school, you learn what you'll need and where.
- Punctuality: If you don't arrive for work or perform your specific duties on time, everything can fall apart. There's a domino effect, and ultimately, it results in disgruntled customers. Training and school is no different.
- Reliability: This goes with being punctual. You must work when you're expected to and know what you're doing, because the kitchen counts on you. You'll have to take classes you aren't interested in to get a degree, which teaches you to manage expectations and follow through with your commitments.
- Responsibility: Own your mistakes and honor your role in the restaurant team. There will be times when quick thinking can save the day. The reasoning skills and vast culinary knowledge you learn in school can help you take charge of sticky situations.
- Humbleness: There is no "star" in the kitchen, and everyone must work together. A dishwasher is no less significant than a sommelier. Sometimes you may need to forget about your ego and just do the job at hand — no questions asked.
You've heard the saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." If you want to turn up the temperature, take up the challenge and learn more than how to follow a recipe.
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