Food & Drink, Food Comment

Life as a chef

When people think of chefs they most likely think of the glitz and glamour, the fancy lifestyle and the amazing meals consumed each day. When I think of celebrity chefs I think of the same things. The fact of the matter is that whether they are a celebrity or not, somewhere along the way they have put in the time working a minimum of sixty hours per week through the intensity of a kitchen that most of the world’s population would never understand.

I started my cooking career 16 years ago and fell in love with the industry while working at my first summer job in my hometown of Niverville, Manitoba. Working was at first a way to make spending money, but it quickly turned into something I was really good at!

From my small town job, I went to culinary arts at Red River College. After a ton of hard work, studying, and determination I finally got the official title of chef and started running my own kitchens about eight years ago.

The daily grind of the kitchen is like no other job in the world. Chefs and cooks work a minimum of eight hours with likely no breaks, in a hot, chaotic and stress-filled environment. There are deadlines galore, and the customers do not care if you have staff off sick, your food supplier shorted you an item or you have a family event to attend. At the end of the day, all the customers want is their meal, which I completely understand and respect.

Being a chef and running my own restaurant can be a daily struggle. From the long hours, to managing staff, to customer relations, you are pulled in every direction. It is more fulfilling than anything else I have every done in my life and that is why I continue to do it. But there are undeniably some days when everything is going haywire that I question my career choice.

For me, most days start off early, at about 5 or 6 a.m. I like to try and get in a workout before I head into the kitchen, by the time my shift is over the thought of exercise sounds like torture. I get my morning routine in and then head off to work. My drive to work is not relaxing at all. From the moment I get in my car, I am running list after list in my head and preparing myself for what my day is going to look like.

Once I arrive to the restaurant, I check in with my day time staff, find out what issues have come up, usually solve about three problems and then get started with my day. In the Marion Street Eatery kitchen, we have a communication board. I head over to that board and pick our word of the day. This is simply a unique cooking term or food item that I write on a whiteboard each day to teach my staff and myself something new. I believe it is imperative to push my staff and more importantly myself to learn new things each day.

Next, I head over to the walk-in cooler and go through it. I create a giant prep list, which is our guide for the day. At the same time, I create an order for the day, which I will later call into my supplier and have delivered the following afternoon.

By now, it is lunch hour and it is time to get ready for a busy service. I push my staff to be in charge of the line because, again, I think it is important to push them in their careers and give them the experiences they need to move forward. I support them during lunch service and watch all the plates leave the kitchen to ensure quality. Lunch service is at least and hour and a half long on a slow day. We push out the food as fast as possible because many of our lunch customers need to get back to work.

Once lunch is over, I will work on paperwork or prep. Paperwork consists of ordering, scheduling, payroll, inventory, etc. These items must be completed each week, but they are the things I like to do the least. Prep consists of slicing and dicing vegetables, making sauces and soups, and creating dessert special.

At shift change in the afternoon I have a mini meeting with the new staff coming on to shift. We go over any issues from the day before and I bring them up to speed on the day thus far. They get to work immediately and we get ready for dinner service. Dinner service starts around 5 and will go until we close at 8 or 9, depending on the day.

Once my work list is done for the day I get to head home. I thank my staff for the day and head out. My car ride home is silent, no radio or music, as I need a moment for my brain to slow down from the hectic day. When I return home I may have to make supper, which is the last thing I want to do after cooking all day at work. Some days a simple salad or sandwich is perfect, as I really do not like eating much after working with food all day. I eat, relax and usually head to bed early as I will repeat this all again tomorrow.

My days are full and sometimes chaotic, but I love what I do! Over my 16-year career, I have fallen in love with being a chef over and over again. I sometimes think about how nice it would be to relax and sit at a desk, but then I remember that I would go crazy after one day. Being a chef is my passion and I know that I am lucky each day as I go to work and do something that I love!