In recent times, it's become increasingly more common to hear chefs talk about this "new generation" of young cooks walking through their doors to start a new career in the kitchen. They talk about how the newest pool of prospective employees has changed and that "cook's aren't what they used to be." Although I understand the message and the frustration in these claims, I disagree with the root of the statement and the way that it is, (or isn't, as the case may be), being addressed.
"Kids Haven't Changed, Parents Have"
Allow me to explain the title of this section before anyone gets upset. My wife and I were recently fortunate enough to get a visit from my sister in law this past week which, is a treat these days considering that visits from anyone during the pandemic have been few and far between. She spent many years in the industry and we got to talking about this very topic. I was venting to her about how everyone complains about these challenges without proposing any real solutions and she made this statement. "Kids haven't changed. Parents Have." I immediately perked up when she finished the sentence and thought that it was the perfect way to describe what has happened. I'm not literally implying that the reason for the shift in this generation's expectations are because of the way their parents raised them, per se. I look at the "parents" in this statement as the environment and society in general. It sounds a bit silly when you really think about the statement "young cooks aren't what they used to be." It's a silly statement because they're literally not what they used to be. They just got here. It's not their fault is it? They were born into a particular kind of society with a particular set of views and culture that, understandably are very different from all previous generations. This is how life works. We know how things used to be because we lived through it. They did not. It's not like an 18 year old Culinary Student got a glimpse of what the industry was like and then made a conscious decision to defy all expectations just to piss us off. It's even safe to say that we (and I mean the ones complaining all the time) have played some kind of role in the change, whether we like it or not.
The Real Problem
So what is the real issue here? It's not the new generation. It's the old one. What is everyone doing to find the root of these issues and address them? I haven't heard many solutions through the complaining. When I think about the way that our culinary society is dealing with this, it makes me picture the broken paper towel dispenser in the kitchen. The one that has been broken for a couple of weeks now and is kind of secured to the wall with blue tape to hold it in place, or maybe it's left wide open and the paper roll is sitting on the counter under it. Everyone will comment on the broken dispenser as they struggle to get some towels to dry their hands and then continue with their day. Eventually, it just becomes "the way it is." Getting paper towels isn't like it used to be. Well, that's not how it goes. You change the dispenser right? You fix the problem. It seems to me that young, aspiring culinarians, either decide not to enter the industry because of how we portray it, or maybe they feel like they need to go to an expensive Culinary School and can't afford it. It's up to us to educate them and put them on the right path. Most of your new hires are not going to be "turn key." Complain about them all you want, but what are you going to do to make them work for you? How are you going to ensure that you have the right formula for building the perfect team?
Stop Complaining & Be the Change
I've recently seen some posts on social media from Executive Chefs that are openly criticizing their entire pool of candidates, because of a couple of recent negative interview experiences. Venting publicly and lumping all of your prospective cooks into one "useless" category, even referring to them as "idiots" is certainly not making you look like someone who's looking for a solution. In fact, you've probably just done significant damage to your pool by becoming someone that very few would want to follow. Look, I get it. It's frustrating, and I won't pretend to be someone who has never questioned the state of things or gotten really frustrated when someone is late to an interview, or maybe doesn't even show up. The way I choose to handle it, is to try and find the root of the issue. How did this person get this way? What did they miss along the way that made them feel it was OK to conduct themselves like this? If it's such a common problem, there must be a bigger issue in society that we can all work together to address. They didn't become this way on their own. I've even overlooked some of these mistakes and taken a chance on someone, just to see what would happen. Some have even become my strongest and most loyal employees. Not everyone has been blessed with great guidance in their lives and being a true mentor and leader is taking a chance and taking pride in being that guidance for them. I could say that "change won't happen on it's own," but that would be false. Change does and always will happen on it's own. It's up to us to decide which way it goes.
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