Are people working as hard as they used to?
"They seek instant gratification in stardom, a quick-fix to get one's name out there."
Extract from Chef! Issue 31
I truly feel all chefs should advise students entering the industry as to know how hard it can be, but at the same time how unbelievably rewarding it is. Is there a general lack of enthusiasm for hard work? I am continuously encountering young chefs who aren't even managing to last a few years in the industry. I look back to yesteryear and see chefs and/or restaurateurs that have been slogging at it for years and are still as insanely pedantic - the industry is within their blood. I wonder if this has something to do with the misconception about what it means to be a chef these days - the glam and splendour, à la MasterChef!
When I started training to become a chef there were only the 'Two Fat Ladies' and 'Floyd' on the telly and Jamie Oliver had only just hit the TV screens. There was no hoo-ha around chefs and celebrity chefs. People went into the industry because they had the passion for the ingredient or because there were few alternative options; they accepted this, put their heads down and grafted.
Today I find the demands of the hard work needed to get to the top are deterring young chefs. They seek instant gratification in stardom, a quick-fix to get one's name out there. When the hard work materialises and young chefs see family functions or social events bypassing them, they quickly resort to a different career path. A bad experience can alter their path for life. I find this career shift disheartening and have seen some true gems leaving the profession for the greener pastures of relaxation, normal working hours and family time. I have always wondered how we keep these highly trained individuals within our industry to uplift the general standard. Perhaps Generation Y has a point in seeking a balance between work and play, but in my opinion nobody ever got to the top of any profession for long without dedication and extraordinary hours of work.
Ask youngsters if they understand the hours of the industry and if they are serious about putting their heads down, focusing and reaping the rewards in years to come. It worries me that students leaving school are entering the industry for the wrong reasons and effectively squandering their parent's hard earned cash. The consolation I suppose is that something learnt is something gained and hopefully their acquired skills will enhance their day-today eating at home and filter down to an appreciation of the general expectations of a South African restaurant. I know that abandoning cooking may be the norm these days, more than staying the course is, but my concern is that we may have few quality chefs around in a few years on account of a lack of work ethic and a cushier lifestyle. We're not alone as an industry of course; hard work is having the same impact in many areas of endeavour. A local chef said to me the other evening that this industry is either for you or it isn't. We have all heard this time and again, but it was a light bulb moment for me - chefs leave the work place because they weren't meant for the industry. Like any business it comes down to one's personality and it is either for you or it isn't. Chefs can either take each challenge with open arms no matter the task, or they can hang up their hat: "If the kitchen's too hot, get out of it."
So after one conversation my thinking has been altered, though I still feel that media exposure and TV chefs are distorting the real issues: there's a grind behind this job, and it's not without its pressures. Then there are the mundane and un-sexy sides to being a chef - costings, ordering, maintaining hygiene and the long hours. They're not usually spoken of but they occupy a huge role in a chef's work life. However I do find comfort in the fact that even though there may be many graduates not staying in the industry, there's a good chance we will always have magnificent chefs around tantalising our tastebuds because if it is in your blood you are here to stay.