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Blog at Chefify

12 Tricks to Leading a Better Chef Life

Jun 28 2019 - 4:40pm
A chef’s lifestyle is distinctly different from that of most other professions. You are likely to work unsociable hours in high-pressure situations that require intensive physical activity. To continue growing professionally and finding enjoyment in your role, it’s essential to look after your wellbeing, your vocational development, and to maintain healthy, supportive relationships. We’ve compiled a list of twelve tricks that you can start applying today to help you achieve balance and job satisfaction as you continue on your journey as a chef.

1. Make time for your relationships

Having a strong support network around you can make all the difference in the world when you’re working long and hard hours. So make sure that you nurture the relationships you have and allow yourself some downtime with the people that you care about to keep yourself in check and balanced. 

This can be difficult when you work anti-social hours or find yourself off kilter where your sleep is concerned. So the key is to cultivate a routine that supports your physical wellbeing. Once you have that down, you can let family and friends know when the best times are to catch you. If it means scheduling in a regular walk around the park with your best mate, grabbing lunch together or planning a holiday with your nearest and dearest, you must always look for smart ways to fit in those interactions that contribute to your life in positive ways.

2. Health and wellbeing 

Considering how much time chefs spend working with nutrients, it’s surprising how many health issues they have. Part of the blame lies in the unsociable nocturnal work hours, the often uncomfortable postures they have to assume and the general culture of the industry which often turns smoking and drinking into temporary stress busters. But, if you want to enjoy some kind of longevity in your career and maintain the strength and endurance you need to perform tasks in your working as well as personal life, it’s essential to invest in your health and create routines and meal plans that promote vitality, reduce stress and inflammation and allow for recreation and rest. 

Your key areas of focus should be:

  • Good quality sleep – if you go to bed when the sun is coming up, invest in an eye mask and earplugs to allow your body to your switch off. 

  • Improved diet – although you may work irregular hours, it’s important to create a healthy meal routine that allows your digestive system to keep up a healthy rhythm. Include fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid high-carb, sugar and caffeine-loaded meals.

  • Stretch and exercise – being fit and flexible is key to maintaining good energy levels during long shifts, so find the workout that suits your lifestyle and preference and stick to it. 

  • Wear comfortable footwear – as a chef, you will most likely spend a lot of time on your feet, wearing the wrong shoes could have detrimental long-term effects to your spine and overall sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, if you don’t often take breaks to sit and elevate your legs, you may be at risk of varicose veins. Although it may not sound very attractive, you may want to invest in some compression socks – you may find that this makes a considerable improvement in how you feel at the end of a long day.

3.Anticipate your stress triggers

In the cheffing profession, things are continually accelerating forward, and taking the time to stop and reflect on yourself, your personality traits and your stress triggers may not be a priority. But having this kind of self-knowledge will go a long way to ensuring that your life as a chef is a healthy and productive one. 

Kitchens can often create pressure cooker scenarios, and not everyone will bend to the pressure and stress in the same way. Recognising what agitates you and finding coping mechanisms or communicating with your colleagues in order to prevent or ease tension will go a long way to creating a much healthier environment for everyone. 

4.Establish boundaries

Ultimately, we all just want to be liked. We want to be that guy or gal that is perceived as helpful, hardworking and dedicated. Often, in this bid to be the “nice” person, we will completely set aside our own boundaries and say yes to things that eventually cause us to burn out. If you have no limitations to how much you are willing and prepared to give in terms of effort and time, not only are you setting yourself up for exploitation, but your health and wellbeing will suffer too. 

Create a list of goals and targets you aim to achieve every day, and, if people or situations distract you from your priorities, carefully consider whether you can allocate any time to helping them. Sometimes, saying no politely is more beneficial to them and to you.  

5.Taking stock of the day

No, I don’t mean just checking the pantry and making sure you have sufficient supplies for tomorrow’s service. It’s important to review your shift and reflect on the service you and your colleagues delivered. What worked, what didn’t, what can be improved tomorrow, and what challenges have you and your team identified? This isn’t an opportunity to point out the failures of your colleagues but rather to decompress, assess, review and offer support, all with the aim of overall improvement for the team and the restaurant. 

6.Working hours

When you signed up for a culinary profession, you knew that the hours were never going to be regular. Right? 

It shouldn’t be too surprising that Saturdays and Sundays are not going to be your standard days off – these are usually some of the busiest days for most establishments.  It is, however, vital that you carefully negotiate your working hours with your employer to ensure that you have at least two days off and adequate time between shifts to sleep and recuperate physically. 

It’s essential to have a clear schedule and dedicated times for rest because, in a hot kitchen where you are often using sharp knives or equipment that requires a lot of concentration and care, you cannot afford to be fatigued and careless. 

7. Be selective about the problems you tackle

Some days, you’re going to feel like nothing in your kitchen is designed with the purpose of making your life easier. So, if a big spring clean or a reorder of the furniture is due, make sure that you can tackle this task at an appropriate time. Starting big projects in the midst of a busy period in your restaurant is going to have a knock-on effect on everything  – ensure that you plan accordingly. 

Likewise, if it’s a relationship between you and a co-worker or a manager that is troubling you, make sure that you have all your facts and thoughts in order before you approach the person. Assume a tone and attitude that does not betray any hostility or judgement - this will only stoke the fire. 

If you’ve just entered a new kitchen and their methods and procedures could, in your opinion, do with some enlightenment, don’t start chipping in with suggestions on the first day. To make a positive change without going against the grain, it’s important to observe the current culture, and, if appropriate, start making subtle and tactful improvements that your colleagues will appreciate without feeling imposed on or patronised. 

8. Don’t oversell your knowledge or experience

There is no shame in sticking your hand up and saying, “I’m not sure how to do that”. 

Claiming to be an expert in flambéing when you haven’t practised the skill since culinary school could be disastrous. So, just be honest and say you need to brush up on your knowledge, request your management to invest in furthering your education, or take the time to up-skill. 

Being humble and transparent about what you don’t know is just as valuable as being confident and capable in the areas you’re experienced in. You don’t ever want to be in a situation where a head chef is relying on you to perform a task in limited time for an important service, and you’re only just mastering a technique. 

9.Embrace a hobby

Cheffing is an all-consuming lifestyle. Once you’ve earned your whites and your knives, the world becomes a very different place. Every ingredient is suddenly more intriguing, every scent and dish you encounter (even on your days off) fills you with some kind of passion or enquiry. 

But, to a) maintain your sanity, b) remain capable of socialising with your friends and family circles outside of your career, it’s vital to develop broader interests that can help you to flex your skills in other areas. 

Whether taking up an instrument, playing a team sport or learning to crochet, a new hobby will be a fun and healthy way to rewire your brain and take some time out for yourself.

10. Don’t cling: Delegate

Relinquishing control is one of the hardest things for a head chef to do. Cheffing is a very detail oriented job that requires precision and a very specific kind of work ethic to get the flavour, presentation and overall service exactly how you envision for your restaurant. That’s one of the many reasons that young chefs often spin out – trying to do too much on their own. 

There comes a point, for your sake and that of the relationships you have with your employees that you trust your judgement in the individuals you’ve hired to work for you and let them do the tasks that you cannot physically accomplish on your own. 

It’s going to be hard at first, and you may be checking your phone continuously on days off, expecting news that the entire kitchen has burnt down, but the likelihood is, if you’ve put in the effort to train your staff and instil accountability, everything will tick over nicely, and you will spare yourself a few grey hairs. 

11. Look beyond your industry’s veil

It may seem a long time ago since you saw it… but there is a world beyond the doors of your kitchen, even beyond restaurants all-together. 

Understandably, you may be absolutely consumed in tracking your competitors, studying suppliers, learning new recipes and continually keeping your head in the restaurant game. All those things are fine and even necessary. 

But, at some point, you may find that your ideas become a little too stale, your conversation a bit too linear, and you may actually lose touch with those initial impassioned feelings that brought you into the restaurant business in the first place. 

It’s crucial to stay abreast of world events, other industries, and, in general, to develop interests and knowledge in other areas of life. This way, you will keep fresh new ideas at the forefront, and you will remain energised and inspired as you notice things outside of your field that could, in some way, incorporate into your trade.

12. Routine can be buzzkill: change it

Some of your daily tasks become like second nature; eventually, they can drive you into a state of uninspired inertia, and you may even start to experience feelings of resentment. If you cannot delegate some of your more unstimulating tasks to junior members of staff, it may be worthwhile to reorder your schedule a bit. This will help to improve things for you on a psychological level and may also help to snap you out of a rut and reinvigorate your culinary genius. Small and subtle changes to your immediate environment such as reorganising your workstation, trying out a new cooking tool, or starting the day with a different task could give you a little neurological boost. 


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