You can learn a lot about life from people who spend a great deal of time serving others. Chefs are great teachers of meaningful life lessons, as they are masters of planning, processing and navigating change. Their wisdom extends far beyond searing choice meats to sublime perfection and knowing which herbs provide the best garnish. They can actually teach you to live with greater insight and abundance based on lessons they live every day.
As chefs apply their knowledge to our everyday seemingly minimal obstacles, we can look at 20 pieces of wisdom they can impart on us.
1. Begin with the end in mind
Chefs don’t like to waste precious resources like time and effort. They want to get a thing done right the first time. Therefore, they focus on the result they seek to achieve and then chunk backwards, making sure they haven’t missed key details in the process.
2. Perfect practice makes perfect
No one becomes an expert over night, least of all chefs. They know that practice—perfect practice—will garner the best result. They’ll work on plating an entrée 100 times if it means that the presentation will be exquisite.
3. The show must go on
When things go wrong, chefs reach for innovation. They won’t let a missing shallot force their hand. They are masters of improvisation. They look for ways to get the same result without comprising their integrity or the final product.
4. Reach outside your comfort zone to grow
Sure, a line chef probably isn’t comfortable doing the work of a sous chef. But moving up the food chain will always require mastering advanced skill sets. Thus, they welcome the opportunity to grow, and are not deterred by the possibility of making mistakes or even failing.
5. Always gauge your progress
Even when chefs know that a pot roast should cook for a specific amount of time, guess what you’ll find them doing? That’s right. They’ll be checking in to see how things are going and determining whether any adjustments need to be made along the way. You never know when an opportunity to fine-tune your process may arise.
6. If you don’t know, ask
There’s nothing worse than being a know-it-all and then demonstrating that, well, you don’t in fact know it all. Chefs have plenty of smart, able-bodied colleagues around them. If they are unsure about something like an ingredient or a process, they’ll just ask. They’re more concerned with striving for excellence than managing their egos.
7. Don’t be afraid to fail
Celebrity Chef Jerome Brown says that “every failure also contains a life lesson.” Fired from a prestigious international firm early in his career for poor performance, he shares that, “it revealed a critical performance gap and taught me to recommit to excellence.”
8. Balance is must
If you order a heavy entrée like steak, you likely want the option of choosing less heavy sides. Chefs know this. It’s why they create menus that allow guests to select options that vary in weight, texture, flavor and more. Everything in life requires balance. But learning to create options that make it easier to achieve balance is a real skill.
9. Communicate with clarity and confidence
Because time is always of the essence, chefs communicate needs with clarity and confidence. Have you ever seen a shy, withdrawn chef kicking out orders on the line? Nope! It would make it impossible to garner respect and compel a high level of performance in his colleagues.
10. Teamwork makes the dream work
No man is an island to himself, not even when he wants to be. Chefs have a cadre of individuals that help execute every detail of every meal. No matter how skilled a chef may be, it would be impossible to deliver results without the support of a competent team.
11. Sometimes it’s not about you
No matter how brilliant or hard-working chefs may be, they know that at the end of the day, it’s not about them. It’s really all about you. Did you enjoy the meal? Were you happy with the quality of the ingredients? Ego can easily cloud your perspective, but chefs definitely know how to keep theirs in check for the good of the task at hand.
12. Appreciate constructive criticism
There’s probably no such thing as a thin-skinned chef. They are constantly receiving feedback and learning to refine their craft from those who know more in the field.
13. Timing is everything
A dish that has been overcooked or undercooked may be considered inedible, depending on the recipient. Because of this, chefs realize that time is a tricky detail that must be prioritized. They know that timing can be the difference between excellence and mediocrity.
14. Find your purpose in your passion
Chefs actually love what they do – Shopping for garden-fresh produce, choosing high quality cuts of meat, sampling fresh-caught fish, and more. They enjoy feeding others and making them happy with a delicious, well-presented meal. It gets them up early and keeps them up late: Think Chef Daniel. You cannot pay for purpose or passion, but you need them both if you want to love what you do.
15. Aim for progress, not perfection
If you’re focused on making everything “perfect”, you’re going to be disappointed most of the time. Chefs focus on making a dish a little better each time, measuring marked improvement with each execution. They find value in knowing they can expand their reach with every endeavor.
16. Sometimes the vision looks different in reality
Every chef has a story about a dish they thought would look like a masterpiece, but didn’t. It’s true that sometimes the vision doesn’t match the manifestation, but that’s OK. Keep dreaming big. One day it will.
17. Experience is your best teacher
Someone can tell you how to make chocolate chip cookies until you are blue in the face, but until you get in the kitchen and begin to manipulate the ingredients for yourself, you’re never really going to know how make them. Practical application is the best way to master a skill.
18. Follow directions
Success in the kitchen requires that things happen in a specific order, using specific ingredients. If you decide to bake a cake and forget to add the eggs, you’re going to have a problem. Chefs teach that following directions is a critical component of getting a good result.
19. Make more mistakes
The best way to become better at anything is to make more mistakes, more often. Chefs make them all day every day, from temperature to timing, which is why they’ve mastered the details of their craft so well. When you give yourself permission to make mistakes, your learning curve increases ten-fold.
20. Success is a journey, not a destination
The path to becoming a chef is not an easy one. It’s an undertaking wrought with challenges, competition, disappointment—and for some, even failure. But anyone who has beaten the odds and risen to the coveted ranks of “chef” understands that the value of success lies in the journey, those unique experiences that helped to shape their destiny.
Who knew that chefs could bring so much value by extracting golden nuggets from the lessons they live daily? Sure, they are masters of their craft, but they are also leaders, tacticians and wonderful teachers. Take these life lessons to heart and learn to live with greater insight and abundance.
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