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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Learning to be a professional cook (6th in a series)


Learning to be a professional cook (6th in a series)

Conversations -
Watch what you say because no matter how well-intentioned you are or trying to impress in an interview; the words that fall out of your mouth can and will come back to haunt you.

My first foray into culinary management came at a time in my life when I was flush with all types of experience managing folks in groups or singularly.  I was in my last interview to be a Kitchen Manager/Sous Chef for Cafe Patachou here in Indy and I never felt comfortable during the whole process. 

Fresh, healthy and delicious!
There were two directors present that represented both the front and back of the house operations.  I was having trouble with the director of Front of House (FOH) operations; let’s call her Tina.  Tina would ask me a question and then, seemingly, stare at me with steely blue eyes that created a most unpleasant feeling.  Upon asking the question she then would, invariably, interrupt to make a point about something in her past managing career that didn't make a lot of sense to me.  After a while Tina began repeating her points and I took this to mean they were important.  In reality, after some points were repeated 3 and 4 times, I understood that she might be the one who was nervous or maybe she just liked the sound of her voice?

There came a point in the interview where I hearkened back to my experiences in the automotive field and how I felt this background would help me immensely for this new position.  This is when the conversation kind of fell off the table.  I noticed the tone in Tina’s voice turning a bit adversarial and somewhat curt.  Now I’m really uncomfortable and feeling I screwed up including information about engineering analogies and will not get the job.  I was, however, asked how my past can help me in-the-now and I felt compelled to include this knowledge as it best describes my abilities to manage folks in an industrial atmosphere such as a kitchen.

Regardless of my fears Tina hired me and welcomed me to the Patachou family and I was thrilled for my first management position in a kitchen.  My knees felt a bit wobbly as I walk out to my vehicle to drive home and wondered “what just happened?”  I had that voice inside my head saying to me “beware, this interview was strange and befuddling; somewhere down the line a bump in the road may be waiting for you”.

My first day on the job was the usual getting to know the guys working for me and I was telling them a story about a guy in culinary school who in his words exclaimed “I don’t clean!” – Just then, I saw Tina walk by out of the corner of my eye.  I thought nothing of it and continued on with the story letting my crew know that I’m not like that and fully intend to scrub floors on my hands and knees if necessary and would fully expect them to do so if needed – just then, I snatched a mop and started cleaning the floors to set an example.

My Back of the House (BOH) director; let’s call him Alan came in a few days later and pulled me aside lamenting that he heard from Tina that I was yelling to my crew that “I don’t clean!” and he was disappointed in me. I told him what really happened and it was swept under the rug for the time being.

It's always busy at Cafe Patachou!
Another few days went by and my first real bad day reared its head as my bread order did not come in and one of my crew didn't show up and I was shaking my head as Tina decided to drop by at that very moment and notice my discontent.  I was asked by the restaurant manager to meet Tina out on the patio for a discussion and complied after things settled down a bit.

She began by telling me that these things happen and it doesn't get her down because she’s more of a people person and she sees mostly gray areas rather than black and white.  She concentrates on happy thoughts and not the negative aspects of the job.  In other words, I need to do what she does and just be positive when things go poorly. 

When she mentioned “Black and White” is when a shiver ran down my back because I had used that exact same analogy when describing how things are in the engineering world during my interview.  If something is wrong then it needs to be fixed – there’s no gray area, it’s either right or wrong. 

Tina was telling me that she and I were exact opposites (in her own way) and that her way was the right way.  Something that I said in an interview had rubbed her wrong and my “cleaning” story had only exacerbated it.  I had become “persona non grata” in her eyes and it all came down to a few wrong turns in a conversation.  I gotta figure out a way to fix this and choose my words more carefully next time.  I hope there will be a next time?

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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