A cook's top priority is to know how to cook

Michael wrote to me today and sounded as if he was heart broken due to the fact that, after he has now reached a certain level, has been over looked for a promotion as he has been told that he does not have a formal education in the culinary field. He explained to me that he has been cooking for 10 years, worked in numerous countries, even on a private yacht and now that he has landed a plum job in a 5 star international chain hotel has unfortunately been told that he has reached a level where he is unable to escalate further. He also explained to me that some chefs who have just recently graduated from school, have now received better promotions unfairly as he believes they can’t cook anywhere near as good as he.

I would like to offer my 2 cents worth of advice and opinion here by starting to answer this question on a personal note. I always believe that others feel heart warmed by the fact that people understand their disgruntled feelings and have gone through it them selves thereby knowing how they feel. I am such a person, so I can open my closet a little and tell you that I have qualifications from a hotel school and went to college for 3 years before graduating. I do not however have a degree in business, what I do have is 34 years of practical experience in overall hotel operations which have sent me on a journey through the school of very hard knocks.

I had reached the stage in my career where I had been an Executive Chef for over 12 years and then there were Food & Beverage Managers that were coming out of school with degrees and certificates to show how clever they were…and were now my new supervisors whom were now going to tell me how I should conduct myself and how I should do my job.

It never made sense to me that I would not have a say on how the department was going to be run after so many years in the game and that this fresh graduate with no experience at all would be guiding the company in the right direction when it came to making money. Unfortunately some of the larger chain hotels have certain criteria built in to their manuals that state what qualifications you must have to be confirmed for certain positions and they are not flexible with this criteria, experience seems to count for little I am afraid.

However the good news is this, not every company has the same philosophy and we all have to find the company most suited to the way we work or most suited to the way we like to manage. I have no animosity towards Food & Beverage Managers I truly don’t, but it did not make business sense to me at the time as they just did not have the experience to make the right decisions at the right moment. In life you only get better and gain more experience by either making mistakes yourself or watching others make them and then taking notes so you don’t do the same. Standing by watching my boss making the same mistakes that I had made years ago was taking its toll on me and as I did not see this changing, I decided to move on, find a job as a Food and Beverage Manager myself and I have never looked back.

Michael has to do the same, he has but a few choices to choose from and they in my opinion are as follows:

He can go to his present employer and explain to them his worth, tell them he does not have the culinary qualifications needed to go further and request his employers to help him go through school, even offering to sign a longer contract so that the company can get back their return of investment. If his employer does not agree, then he must slowly look around for an employer who has different priorities, as in my experience many of them do.

Some companies for example like their General Managers to sit in the office all day and do reports for them to read, some hate this approach and want them to be available for the customers thereby hiring a secretary to type all the reports, some hotels today even put the General Managers office right in the lobby.

When he does find another position and he hands in his notice, he must still handle himself in a professional manner, never leaving on a bitter note due to the fact that he never knows when one day he has the qualifications and he may want to return to the same hotel.

Michael, the bottom line is this, nobody can tell you that you are finished, nobody can tell you that you have reached a dead end or that you can’t progress further, its just that you can’t do it with them. The only person that decides what you can and can not do is YOU. Nobody can convince you to believe that you are a Chocolate Chef if you KNOW that you are a Golden Chef. You must go and look for another employer who understands your worth, who deserves your commitment and understands that the most important trait about being a great cook is that you can cook.

Michael….Happy cooking young man.