Dealing with Tough Days in the Kitchen

hurst culinary chef school kitchen students

Everyone has bad days, it’s a fact of life. But you work in a high pressure, high performance industry, and it just doesn’t feel like there’s any room for you to have an off day. It seems like there’s always a younger, more energetic chef waiting in the wings should you mess up. You can’t take that risk. Bad days are for sissy’s.

That’s ridiculous- you’re a human being. Additionally, massive strides have been made in the last few years surrounding mental health awareness. People, now more than ever, understand that mental health illness cannot be helped, and is just like any other physical illness. You wouldn’t expect to perform at the same level if you developed pneumonia, so don’t expect to perform the same way just because it’s your brain that’s ill rather than your lungs. But even if it’s not mental health illness, you can still have a bad day. It happens to everyone, and despite the fact that it seems like yours is a high pressure, high consequence industry, you can manage bad days in the kitchen.

Kitchen lore tells us that ‘you’re not a chef until you’ve made your first thousand mistakes’ (note: first. You’ll make more). Mistakes are to be expected, in any industry. They’re how you learn, and ultimately how you’ll become a better chef. All jobs come with learning curves.

It’s important to keep a handle on the situation as far as possible, and not to spiral. Keep some perspective on exactly how you’re doing, and don’t let a bad 5 minutes turn into a bad day. Try to compartmentalise the issue- move on after the first mistake, shake your head off and get back in the game.

If it’s really an awful day, then take it slow. You’re not going to do yourself, or the restaurant, any favours by pushing yourself past your capacity. You’ll burn yourself out, make yourself worse, and your product will be subpar. The problem will also go on for far longer than it needed to- rather than nipping the issue in the bud you’ll turn a bad week into a bad month, then year… you get the point. Slow down immediately, and you’ll recover sooner.

You can do this by letting your superiors know what’s up. The thought of that might make you laugh (my head chef will tell me buck up!). If you don’t have an understanding superior (sorry about that, is this the right kitchen for you?), then stay out of sight as much as possible and keep a low profile until you’re feeling better. If things are really bad, take a sick day. You’ll contain the issue and be back at work sooner and back on form.

Ultimately, it’s a learning curve. There will be ups as there will be downs. The point is to stay positive throughout it all, keeping in mind why you’re in this field- because this is your passion. The author Mark Manson made an excellent point; success in life is not made up of achieving your dreams and realizing all of your goals. It’s suffering for the worthwhile ones. Another way to say this is that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. This sounds a little cheesy, but the sentiment is in the right place. You can’t spend your career waiting to run your own kitchen and be the most popular restaurant in the world. You have to find joy in the slog of achieving your dream. That means finding joy in the little things, and taking the bad days as they come.

You suffer, you learn, and you keep going.

 

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