The writing is on the wall

From the Centre for London report: “But work-life balance is a major push factor and one of the main drivers of the sectors’ retention challenge, alongside pay and working conditions. There are many skilled chefs in London who have chosen to move on.”

The writing is on the wall isn’t it, chefs? But where do we go from here? Will we keep doing what we’ve always done as an industry, or tap into our resourcefulness to find a solution?

Chef Network Ireland workplace charter

Chef Network Ireland have taken a stand for change in the workplace by creating a charter offering best practice guidelines for restaurants, notably addressing work-life balance. These are their recommendations:

Being Considerate and Recognising Needs

  • Rostering that is fair & considerate: as far in advance as possible, two days off together
  • Listen to people’s needs – Be flexible and open to alternative hours
  • Consider ways to improve quality of life for staff: 4-day week

Promoting Wellbeing

  • Ensure staff take their breaks, holidays and don’t work excessive hours
  • Provide a place to eat and encourage nutritious meals
  • Encourage health & wellness activities and mental health awareness

Respecting Staff’s Personal Time & Space

  • When someone is off, they’re off
  • Organise handovers so everyone is up to speed
  • Compensate staff for time spent on training

What they’ve listed is so valuable – this should be a given in any kitchen, but sadly, that is not the case. We can hold strong visions for what our customers should experience when they taste our food, but not for the experience of the person preparing it.

Isn’t it time we realised that they’re both intrinsically linked, chefs?

Centre for London Kitchen Skills report

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Nicolas Bosetti and Mario Washington-Ihieme of Centre for London presenting their report

Commissioned by the Mayor, the Centre for London recently undertook a study to explore what measures could encourage more young people to take up our profession and also retain experienced chefs.

I was privileged to inform their research, as well as to attend the launch of the report last month at Claridge’s. One of their valuable recommendations was for food businesses to align themselves with the Mayor’s Good Work Standard, which means that they will be called to implement practices that allow for better work-life balance.

Chefs from all over the world have shared with me how the sudden departure of a colleague overburdens them. Whether their restaurants are either unable or unwilling to act quickly to restore things back to normal, I cannot say. But I know for certain that yet again we’re having it spelt out for us: it’s time for us as an industry to start valuing our people.

Be intentional about every second

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Let’s face this reality: the nature of our work is not going to change overnight. For now, we’re going to have work at work-life integration.

Time is our most precious resource and the simplest thing you can do is get intentional about how you spend every second of your time outside the kitchen. If I can help you fine-tune that, please get in touch via email or schedule a call via this link, chef.

Will anyone stand up for female chefs?

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I often get asked if my work is in support of female chefs, but I quickly point out that is not my fight. I advocate for a better quality of life for all chefs and never felt I could turn my back on one part of the industry. Especially having worked mostly with men, both in Construction and in Hospitality.

But it was important for me to speak up about the lack of support for women in our kitchens in my blog for The Staff Canteen last month. The truth is that the dynamic hurts men, too.

“This is the question that I want to address in this article: what do male chefs stand to gain from not supporting their female colleagues? Will acknowledging women undermine their status in a very competitive industry? Each of us lends our own unique flavour to the chef collective. So if you’re not putting your own individual energy into developing that, but into inhibiting the growth of your female colleagues, or asserting your status over them, your energy is being misspent, chefs.”

You can  the whole article here.

Identity: Who are you?

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Who are you?

We attach so much of our identity to being a chef, that our culture makes it sound like everything else takes second place. It’s a great tactic that helps us perform at our best in the kitchen, but it’s not the whole truth of who we are. Let’s not dismiss those other parts of our identity, whether we’re mothers, grandfathers, partners, friends, caretakers or neighbours. We might not always balance those roles perfectly alongside our careers, but we can accept that we’re well-rounded human beings.

Once again, who are you, besides a chef?

What chefs can learn from bees

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What can chefs learn from bees?

Today’s feature comes from the highly creative Johan Mostert of Tretsom, manufacturers of artisanal chopping boards and culinary accessories in South Africa’s Western Cape. He’s setting up his own bee hives and this is what he found: “Even bees need a bit of honey sometimes. Found this little one yesterday, exhausted and tired. Gave him a bit of super juice. Amazing to see how quickly he regained his strength and flew away.”

The next time you think you don’t have time to pause for the family meal, please think again, chef!

And check out Johan’s work and how beautifully his products combine different materials.

Chef story: Kathryn Kuo

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Chef Kathryn Kuo has a daily ritual that helps her mentally prepare for her shift: “Before I start to go to work, every day, in the morning, I like to have a cup of coffee then go to work. Just relax for a while, and get ready for work.”

A small action like that can have a profound effect on how we deal with the stress we encounter at work. According to Kathryn, it doesn’t matter what the ritual is. “Ceremonial sense is quite important. No matter it’s a cup of coffee or doing something you really like.”

Valuable advice for so many of us who always rush to work each morning!

Long-term thinking

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So much of our work requires short-term thinking, especially when we’re firefighting to conquer the immediate challenges in front of us each day. We’re always looking for ways to get through this one shift. And because that requires creativity, we end up glorifying that aspect of our kitchen culture because it shows us what we are capable of when the odds are against us.

And then we transfer that attitude towards ourselves. After all, someone who is trying to get through one shift is little inclined to think about the longevity of their career.

My invitation to you, chef, is to practise long-term thinking when it comes to your own career. In other words, do what you need to do so that you can keep doing the work you love.