Chef Hal Decker sat down with me at Cupcake Royale a few days later and began introducing me to his culinary career and to the knowledge that he has developed over the years.
“A chef is a mother, father, counselor, doctor, confidante, and therapist to the staff,” he states immediately after sitting down. You will get to know your staff deeply, because their lives affect their work. But don’t get too personally involved, he cautions, because personal relationship or friendship can look like favoritism. A perception of favoritism will lead to the development of jealousy and will cause a rift in the team.
“Don’t go out with them individually, but you can go out as a team,” he says. He cautions from individual, private contact. You’ll know them personally, but know them as a manager, knowing what their motivations and challenges are. Know which buttons to push and know how to turn up the heat. Find out what are good incentives for them
He said all of this within the first ten minutes of sitting down together. Clearly, managing personnel is a big role in being a culinary professional.
Then he paused, and looked at me slyly. “Do you still want to get into this field?” I waited, took a sip of my coffee. I thought of my time in the Air Force, working as a Food Service Officer and generally following the NCOs around the kitchen and office. I also thought about my days at Seastar and my observations of the staff and management. “Yes, you haven’t scared me yet,” I said.
“Good,” he said. “Let’s begin. We will have a booth at the Ballard Seafood fest, we’re doing a wedding, and we’ll be serving food at the Kirkland Go Dog Go.” I learned that I would be doing food preparation, purchasing, planning, serving, cleaning, and everything in between. Wow. Chef Hal believes in on-the-job training.
I’ve never had a true mentor whose conversation with me focused on developing my skills and personality to become successful. Most of the time, when he talks to me, while we’re prepping, driving, cleaning, or setting up, he is usually talking about knowledge I should know. Maybe these were skills he saw in himself or developed over time. Maybe these were lessons he learned over time. Either way, I wrote them down as quickly as he said them. Better to file a lesson than to learn it the hard way, I figure.
*Buffet pictures from a wedding Master’s Touch Kitchen catered on July 17th in Redmond. My camera’s battery died before I could get the rest of the pictures.