Everyone's got that one friend who throws the most amazing dinner parties. "You should go on Master Chef!", everyone cries. "You should open your own restaurant!" It's a great feeling to hear such a lovely complement, but are they right? They might be on the money with one of them, but opening a restaurant is a very different proposition--cooking professionally to complete a dinner service is absolutely nothing like cooking for a group of people at home, no matter how many of them you're used to serving. So how can you know if you've got what it takes? Read on to discover what the three most important questions to ask yourself are.
How Good Are You At Teamwork?
People have a romantic notion of the chef as an artist, working alone in a garret-like kitchen to create a dish that can rival anything hanging in the Louvre. This might have some truth to it if you're talking about the signature dish of a Michelin-starred chef hosting a VIP table, but the rest of the time a professional kitchen is all about teamwork: you need to take your place in the brigade and produce your single element of any dish the same way every time, keeping in perfect sync with the rest of the line.
Chefs working on the brigade need to communicate constantly. A team like this is a unit, and to operate well it needs to be more like a machine than a group of individuals. When someone says "sharp on your left!" or "hot behind you!" you need to react without pause, for your own safety and the safety of others--and you need to not hesitate in saying those things yourself as you move around the kitchen. When you're asked how long your element will be, you need to reply immediately and accurately--even if you think your teammates won't like the answer--or a whole dinner service can stall. Personal gripes with your colleagues have to take a back seat to the brigade's bond, no matter what else is going on.
Can You Take Criticism Well?
There's no time in a professional kitchen to sugar-coat anything. If the food you've made tastes like garbage, the person expediting (usually the head chef, as it's the person at the window who keeps the brigade in line and does quality control as food goes out to the serving staff) will tell you so in no uncertain terms. If you're lagging behind and not communicating, you'll be yelled at in very short order by the head chef and everyone else on the line alike. You need to take it without pause or argument, and fight back by doing better. In a good kitchen, your triumphs will be noted and rewarded as much as your failures are called out--and the only way to be good at a job like this is to take both sides of that coin on board as learning experiences.
Have You Got A Good Eye For Detail?
When you're making the same dish a hundred times every night, it can be easy to let standards slip without even realising it. It doesn't matter if 99 of those 100 entrees are perfect, though--it only takes one undercooked chicken to land someone in a hospital. If the best Caesar salad you've ever made is served to a diner sitting next to someone eating a failed one, they'll still both leave thinking your restaurant is a hit-and-miss establishment.
To do well in a professional kitchen, you need to make sure everything that leaves your station is perfect. The head chef will generally catch things at quality control, but they can't check every dish that goes out in a busy dinner service and the more eyes on the prize the better if you don't want it to slip through your collective fingers.
Working a professional kitchen can be the most rewarding experience of your life, but it isn't for everyone. If you're not sure you could cope with the extreme, high-pressure environment, you might want to consider working as a cook rather than a chef; cafes are a great deal more relaxed, and you may enjoy it far more! If you're still keen, though, the only way to get there is to start at the bottom and work up--after all, every Michelin star in existence has gone to someone who was once a line cook.
Visit restaurants near you to see how the professionals do it.