One of the great pleasures of the work I get to do at this stage in my chef career is having the privilege of connecting with thousands of cooks and chefs from all across the globe – most just like you. Many of these individuals remind me of myself, especially in the earlier days of my career in the kitchen. Much like them, I had big, entrepreneurial eyes that wanted to make my stamp on the culinary world – what was that stamp? Open a restaurant? Group of restaurants? Travel the world working for a hotel company? Work for a big-time Michelin star chef?
I wasn’t sure.
Some of these folks are in the later stages of their careers and either think they have it figured out, or have just given up – probably a long time ago. For the most part, though, the ones seeking guidance and recommendations for how to bring their ideas to life as it relates to food, cooking and the culinary craft skew a bit younger. Perhaps these minds haven’t yet been calloused by this challenging industry and as a result, are able to approach a given opportunity with untainted and hopeful eyes. Nevertheless, I understand what it’s like to be in one’s early twenties or thirties because I’ve been there before navigating my way through this challenging industry in the most successful way I knew how.
Success is a funny thing, and I think each of us has our own definition of success – whether we realize it or not. Some of us value our time, others value money, while many value relationships with the people most important to them. If we want to make a boatload of money, we must create opportunities to do so. If success looks like spending time with our families, we must position ourselves by creating opportunities in our careers that allow us to do so. If we want to give back to the community, we must create the time and or resources that allow us to do so.
When you think about these scenarios, what do they all have in common?
One word: Opportunities.
Assuming you want to create a successful career (based on your definition of it), the only way to do so is to actually create opportunities for yourself that align with your definition of success. You see, the job you want, the chef you want to work with, the business you want to start, or the foundation you want to start, those are the opportunities standing in front of each of us every single day.
Taking hold of those opportunities in a smart and strategic way is how you’ll create success.
Strategically means knowing what you want. If you don’t know what you want, I encourage you to do some soul-searching to get really clear on what a successful career looks like for you.
Once you are clear on what you want – now the real work begins – the work that’s going to open up opportunities for you – opportunities you might have never thought possible for yourself. The clearer you can get on who you want to be and what you want to be known for, the more opportunities will present themselves.
I was giving a talk at a culinary school in Atlanta a few years back as I was touring for my first book, Making the Cut. Being from Atlanta and with strong roots there, one of the young ladies in attendance asked me if I could help her find a job at a restaurant in the area, hoping I might make her an introduction.
I asked her what kind of cuisine inspired her and where she wanted her career to go. She didn’t know how to answer either of these questions.
I left that campus thinking to myself,
“Why in the world would I put my reputation on the line for someone who has no clue why they’re even in culinary school?”
Think how different that conversation might have gone if she had responded with:
“I love seafood; actually, I love oysters!” or “I love the farm to table movement and supporting the local farmers and ranchers!”
If she had responded this way, I would have happily introduced her to a number of people. This same situation might have happened to you in an interview for a job you didn’t get. Chances are, the interviewer was trying to unearth some information that would let them know whether or not you would be a good fit for the job.
So, if you’re looking for a job, looking to fund a new venture, or want to do anything else in this industry, it helps if you have a very clear understanding of what it is you want.
If you want to work at or open that seafood or farm to table restaurant, give the people standing in the way of you and that goal a compelling reason why they should give you the opportunity.
Become the sustainable seafood gal.
Become the farm to table guy.
Become the girl who’s into butchery.
Become the dude obsessed with foraging for mushrooms.
Become someone that when your name pops up in conversation – everyone knows exactly who is being talked about.
In essence, become known for something.
Me? I became the guy whose number one goal is to inspire and encourage my fellow culinarians. And you see, it’s gotten me here. But, before that? I wasn’t sure I was going anywhere, and my career was stuck – for years.
So, who are you going to be and what do you want to achieve in this industry?
If you want more opportunities, you’ve got to build a brand. A brand starts with knowing yourself, what lights you up and why you are even in this industry in the first place.
I think prolific speaker and author of Start With Why, Simon Sinek said it best, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
If you haven’t yet started doing that, it starts right here.
About the Author
Chef Chris Hill is regularly featured on TV shows in various markets throughout the Southeast. His writing & work have been featured in numerous publications, in addition to authoring his book “Crush Your Career: A Proven Path to a Sustainable Life in the Kitchen.” He speaks at various colleges & universities regarding culinary media, branding, social media, and the realm of food writing.
Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine
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