It's impossible for one person to be good at everything. So even if your chef skills are superb in the kitchen, you most likely have a couple areas where you could use improvement. Whether you need to practice knife skills, work on your plating prowess, or improve the management side of your business, there are well-established ways to make up any deficiencies in your game.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It's an ancient truism, but the most effective way to improve—or retain—any skill is through practice and repetition. For example, if you're still in the early stages of your career, blocking out time to practice standard cutting skills can improve your speed and accuracy. If you're already the boss, adhering to a similar regimen can help keep your skills fresh enough to avoid embarrassment when you need to step in on the line. The same principle applies to most other chef skills, whether they're culinary or administrative.
As you gain seniority in the kitchen, you'll probably need to start delegating some of your duties to the staff you supervise. Choosing employees with strengths that match your weaknesses—expediting, perhaps, or making sauce—is a logical and efficient approach. Perhaps the most extreme example of delegation occurred at Chicago's high-profile restaurant Alinea, when executive chef Grant Achatz lost his sense of taste during cancer treatments. His longtime sous-chef was able to step up and take over responsibility for the final seasoning of the establishment's dishes. You may never need to delegate to that extent, but spotting and grooming talent is a highly effective way to compensate for your own shortcomings.
When chef Rob Connoley opened his restaurant, The Curious Kumquat, he faced more challenges than most. His location was remote, his kitchen was sharply limited, and he had no formal culinary training at all. In spite of these obstacles, he quickly gained a reputation for original, cutting-edge cuisine that led to an international reputation and a James Beard Award nomination. "When I decided to open my restaurant," he recalled, "I needed education—how to maintain inventory, how to best utilize staff, and how to make my menu and limited kitchen play nice together."
Connoley addressed these gaps in his knowledge through a mentoring relationship with an experienced chef in his area. "Eight years later, she is still my go-to person for questions, knowing she'll have my best interests at heart," he says. Building a similar relationship with a chef in your area might take time, but it's an investment that will usually pay off in the long run.
Courses, Workshops, and Master Classes
Connoley also stressed the importance of attitude, adding that "the great challenge is setting your ego aside, and realizing there will always be areas to improve in." Connoley made the most of his limited time for self-improvement, taking short classes and workshops. "With that, I can pinpoint my training, so my time is well spent."
Culinary schools and community colleges are also often useful avenues for short-term training. Look for weekend workshops in your area where you can pick up specific kitchen or management skills. Some programs are even designed for working professionals who have busy schedules. If you're serious about learning, there will almost always be an option that fits your needs.
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