Ever think about being a chef or owning your own restaurant? Or maybe you’ve wondered whether a chef deals differently with life in the kitchen. Meet chef Jennifer Puccio, a James Beard Award semifinalist and executive chef from San Francisco.
We asked Jennifer what life lessons she’s learned along the way that she wished she had known when she was first starting out. Here is what she shared with us!
Jennifer Puccio is the executive chef and partner of three award-winning restaurants in San Francisco (Marlowe, Park Tavern, and The Cavalier). As a chef who’s been in the restaurant industry for many, many years, she’s seen all the ups and downs of opening and running these high-stress businesses. Here’s what she would tell her younger self.
1. Be nice!
The culture in many kitchens can be pretty abusive. Some chefs lead by screaming, throwing things, belittling and threatening. When young cooks have the chance to be the boss themselves, it may seem pretty awesome to be able to dish the abuse rather than take it. But it will get you nowhere. What you will get is a bunch of people secretly hoping you are going to fall on your face, and who are more than willing to help you do that in any way they can.
2. Take care of yourself.
Chefs work very long hours, get very little sleep, eat lots of random things all day long and have been known to enjoy a few drinks after a stressful night on the line (i.e. every night). Therefore, it is very important that you are religious about getting to the gym, drinking lots of water, and getting on a somewhat regular sleeping schedule rather than staying out until 3am with fellow employees.
3. Make time for people that are important to you.
As I mentioned already, chefs work very long hours. In addition, we very rarely have “normal” days off (looking at you Saturday and Sunday), and we have to work every major holiday throughout the year. Making time to see the family/ significant other/ friends can be very difficult but is absolutely necessary, for your sake as well as theirs.
4. Record everything!
I am not joking. Write down every idea, keep every recipe, photograph every dish and take menus. Then get it all on a computer and ORGANIZE IT in a personal database. These things are invaluable.
5. Be well rounded.
Being a talented cook is one thing, being a talented chef is another altogether. Work on your management skills (it’s 90% of the job), know how to read a P&L (profit and loss statement), create great working relationships with your vendors and remain laser focused on your food and labor costs at all times.
6. It’s not all about you.
In fact, it’s all about them. Your customers, your staff and your business partners are who you need to make happy, so listen to them.