Mental mise en place

You find yourself sitting at your kitchen table, looking out the window, sipping your hot java, contemplating the coming day. Mentally you are running the order lists through your head, remembering that Mr. Ronald was delivering some fresh Maine Lobster that morning. Then you move your mind to the walk-in, trying to recall how the shelves were packed, and where to put the incoming deliveries. Yesterday's leftovers are jumping up and down, grabbing your attention, begging you in your mind to turn them into the day's appetizer special. Thenyou realize that pest sauce in the back of the reach in is starting to grow roots. That reach-in has been a problem lately. Have to call the repairmen in. And a call to Johnny for overcharging you on the Wagyu is in order. Sigh.

Such is the day in the life of a professional cook. In addition to the physical demands of working in a professional kitchen, management and leadership skills come to play as you steer your piratical crew through 350 meals today. It is a demanding job, a punishing career. And like all those cooks out there, I love it. Motivation is key here, as the challenges each day mount up and change, grabbing you by the nuts and showing you the door, only each cook and each chef chooses the door, no matter what fate tells them.

The following are a few motivational sayings, musings and points-to-ponder that get me by each day I wake up to what promises to be a rewarding encounter with very satisfied guests. These are my mental mise en place. These are what I meditate on whenever i have some 'me' time. When I am not screaming out orders and fire ups. When I am enjoying the solitude of the walk-in. When I walk to and from work. This helps me minimize stress. And stress is simply a reaction to things unexpected. Expect what I want, not what I don't want.
Life is what I design it to be - If your were to read your own obituary, what would you like to see? What we do in the kitchen has something to do with our purpose, our calling. Anything less is a sham.

Getting better all the time - job security is guaranteed by the commitment to continuous personal improvement. Make your mind up to control circumstances by learning something new every day.

Thank God it's Monday - I chose this work because I love it. And I never had to work a day in my life. I enjoy it so much that I lose track of time, realizing I have peeled a few kilos of shallots already.

Develop a fascination for what doesn't work - When something goes wrong, ask what can we learn from it. I celebrate it as an opportunity to learn. One evidence of this is attaining that level of zen in economy of movement when on the cooking line. When you stop learning, you stop growing.

Live for the moment - whatever is past is past. Whatever is in the future is yet to come. That is why it is called the present, its a gift. Focus in the now. Concentration follows. Whatever task you are doing now, live for the moment. Focus on it. Concentrate efforts into it. 

Practice perfection - the person that commits the fewest mistakes in a professional kitchen usually wins, and in most cases it is the head chef.  Approach performance with this kind of attention to quality. If you do not seek perfection, you can never reach excellence.

All good performance starts with clear goals - This will provide a clear focus on the task on hand, no matter how many hundreds are still waiting in line. As the Cheshire Cat said in Alice in Wonderland, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."

Trying is just a noisy way of not doing something - There is a difference between being interested and being  committed. Being interested means you will only cut those vegetables when it is convenient. Being committed means you will get that mire poix ready no matter what. In the right shape and size, in the right amount.

Work smarter, not harder - think, strategize and prioritize. Be proactive, not reactive. Look forward. Attain a fluid movement. Make it appear effortless.

What do you meditate on? What helps get rid of the stress?


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