What Really Motivates People To Become Chefs?

What is it like being a Chef, and what really motivates people to become a Chef? After many years working as a Chef, I think I know the answer to this question. I am not sure, though, if I can explain it. But anyways, I can at least try. Trying is for free.

It seems to me that an entire generation of cooks chose this profession influenced by the cooking shows on tv. Probably, when they first come into a kitchen, they look around to see where the tv camera is. I don't own a tv set, and please, don't offer me one, because I don't need it. I don't play any video games, either.


Chef George Krumov

All my information about the cooking shows comes from when I was sitting somewhere and the FoodTV was on. From what I have seen I can say that this is the worst of the worst. Only an adrenaline and ego-driven junkie can get motivation from that kind of shows.

It is true that Chef is an adrenaline and ego-driven profession, but if you are good enough you might even get past this stage. It takes many years, though, and most people never get there. I call the last stage, the stage of the spirit. I'll try to explain that briefly. The ego-driven stage is when a Chef is obsessed with control, achievements, and making everything taste good at any cost and getting the praise for that. The spirit stage is when the Chef's only obsessions are with impeccable self-control, and making everything healthy without expecting praise for it. During the first stage a Chef thinks that he is near the top with his skills, even if he is just an enthusiastic amateur. This type of Chefs who during this stage think that they are great, I simply call them the MSG-abusers.
During the second stage a Chef doesn't care where he is, because he has learned how to trust his intuition. A Chef that manages to cross into the spirit stage knows that culinary is such a vast field that there is no top to it, and only your intuition can make you great. You can't learn that by watching FoodTV and copying the recipes of some pseudo-chefs, that they have themselves copied from someone else.

What fuels a person to become a real Chef? Is it the adrenaline highs, or may be poverty, or the desire to learn? Your motivation cannot be money at least at the start, or otherwise you'd find another job. Can working evenings and weekends, and sometimes being taken advantage of in the name of the "art", be a motivation for someone to want to become a Chef? For some people may be, but not for a real Chef.

I think that the motivation of real Chef is the love. Love for something that actually does have meaning, not like the love for tennis, golf or hockey. Watching a PED doped athlete run around for 4 hours, like your life depends on it, has no real meaning. It just wastes precious time and resources. Cooking has real meaning, because you add value to what Mother Nature gives you, but only real Chefs know how to add value.

How to recognize a real Chef from a phony?

- A real Chef doesn't tell people for which "celebrities" he has cooked, simply because he doesn't give a fig about stuff like that. A real Chef gives the same quality and respect to everyone who comes into the restaurant.

- A real Chef doesn't allow the culture of badmouthing and back-stubbing develop in his kitchen.

- A real Chef doesn't take advantage of his crew, and knows how to give credit where it is due.

- A real Chef treats all food with utmost respect and doesn't use any "funny stuff" in his food.

- A real Chef doesn't try to control the crew; he knows what he knows and explains it in a way that even a kid can understand. Most people put up with long hours and low pay to master a high paying profession. What is a cook's motive then? Where is the big payoff for all this? The payoff is to learn a trade that you can use three times a day for the rest of your life. If your Chef isn't that good, you will learn nothing.

And, at the end, a word of warning from me. If you are a Chef that has already crossed into the "spirit stage" of your career, it is important that your resume still includes some "ego stuff", such as phrases that start with "I controlled...", "I achieved...", "I implemented...", and so on. Hiring managers want to see stuff like that, and you don't want to put yourself in disadvantage by being above the ego. I think that the space above the ego is the space of real knowledge, but most hiring managers don't know that, and even worse, they can hardly perceive it.

So, my friends, that's it for now. I have written many other articles about what it is being a Chef, and you can find them here. If you would like to send me a comment, use the "contact" page, and I'll publish your comment here. Cheers.

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Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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