I had a conversation with a friend yesterday, who asked about an ex employee that worked for me for three years. When he showed up at the back door of my restaurant he had absolutely no culinary experience and wanted to become a chef. Although he didn´t own a white coat, or kitchen shoes or a set of knives, he came with passion and desire for the art.
At the time he was working in Anoka, Minnesota as a city planner. After he told me what he had done I pointed to a 50 LB bale of carrots, told him to clean and wash them and then proceed to Julienne them exactly the way I showed him.
I really didn’t want him to complete the task. The last thing my small kitchen staff needed was a city planner with dreams of culinary bliss. We had used the carrot trick before and if nothing ever transpired from the exercise, the remains of the project sans chopper, always made a very smooth textured carrot-ginger soup. Perfect by the way in any season- warm in the winter and chilled in the summer, lakeside, it was a popular menu item.
Surprisingly, Scott managed to chop the entire bale of carrots in record time, and in relatively good form. It turned out he was a keeper. Within weeks he was running the kitchen- a one man show with a recipe file- of one of our small eateries that primarily had a beautiful food case filled with a variety of salads and take-out items. His career soared as we opened more restaurants. He learned how to bake numerous styles of bread from a baker who had a tendency to smoke weed all night at our small bakery. When confronted with the constant aroma the old baker claimed the it was merely the essence of oregano in the Focaccia filling the air, welcoming everyone in the morning. That guy got the boot, Scott filled his shoes.
When we opened our 350 seat lakeside restaurant, Scott became the head line chef and the catering chef. He prepared the foods for Harvey Mackay’s party, Jimmy Dean’s Christmas reception, and a few dishes for the Pillsbury’s.
He worked the grill and the broiler on busy Saturday nights and throughout his career he always wanted to own his own place. He had that look in his eye. A packed house twinkle that an owner gets when everything is running on all twelve cylinders. One of theose Ferrarri nights.
Eventually that dream came true. He opened a small, 70 seat restaurant on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis and became a very popular restaurateur. His place was always packed and it appeared that the bottom line was looking pretty good. I lost contact with Scott over the years, however, the last time I saw him, I stopped into his restaurant and asked how he was doing.
Everything was fine he said, except his ice machine had just broken and he needed the weekend receipts to get it repaired or replaced.
He said I never told him about the down side of the business. That’s because I never thought it had one, I said.
The moral to this story is very simple. Every January, as restaurants cut back staff and begin to get rid of dead-weight and added payroll, the streets become crowded with resume packing employees desperately seeking a place on the line. And, as you look to the busier months you know that you will have to fill the position that recently became vacated. Don’t discount the inexperience of a person with a passion for food. It doesn’t always work out the way it did with Scott, but once in a great while, a great person comes along without a chef’s coat or a glistening case of unused knives.
Take a look at that person. They may have the skill of hand, the eye for presentation, and the palate for taste that can make them a star in your kitchen. Plus, they may be thankful to learn.
Scott eventually got that new ice machine, and also sold his portion of his restaurant to his partners.
When we spoke last he simply said he learned a very important lesson.
Be careful of what you wish for.