When you transition from a culinary academy to working in a restaurant, you are bound to face many challenges. Between the endless shouting of orders and instructions, the searing meats, bubbling pots, chopping and mincing, being a chef can be an especially tense position.
A 2007 survey from the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management found that chefs deal with a huge amount of stress. That includes long hours – in excess of 70 hours depending on the position – communication breakdown and feelings of being undervalued. Working long hours in a high-pressure environment can be emotionally taxing and finding healthy ways to manage stress is essential.
Fortunately, there are tons of ways around the inherent stress, and it just takes a bit of effort to keep your cool in even the hottest kitchen setting. Here are several surefire ways of overcoming stress:
Know your stressors
Not everyone reacts to stress in the same way. While you might be bothered by overt screaming in the kitchen, that might inspire others to work harder. That’s why it’s so crucial you identify the things that stress you out the most as a chef. Will messes routinely put you on edge? Does a breakdown in leadership cause feelings of uneasiness? Whatever it is, recognizing what causes you the most turmoil is the first step in finding behaviors to overcome these stressors. It may help to consult with others about any problem areas or concerns.
Stick to it
To be a successful member of the kitchen staff, you need to take command of the work’s emotional impact. One important aspect of handling stress simply comes with experience and increased confidence. Being faster, more efficient and more assured in your technique for preparing ingredients or cooking and plating dishes makes the constant litany of orders less intimidating.
Keep it clean
In a busy kitchen, it can be hard to keep your work station, or even your uniform, neat and tidy. However, doing just that can help combat stress by giving you a sense of control in your personal universe. Cleanliness has other, more emotionally-centered benefits as well. According to a 2014 study from Rice University, clean people generally behave more ethically and are notably more organized.
High expectations for cleanliness begin with each individual employee. Restaurant workers tend to work long hours, and it can be easy to let your personal habits slip. However, maintaining a tidy appearance will both make the workplace safer and improve the impression you make on customers and coworkers.
One of the most basic, yet most important, aspects of restaurant sanitation is frequent hand-washing. Guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration call for employees who work with food to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap repeatedly throughout the day.
Be sure to clean food-contact surfaces throughout the day to prevent cross-contamination. Wipe down the surfaces at the start of the day, each time you use them and before you change between preparing different types of food, like switching from cutting raw meat to chopping vegetables. Take special care with equipment that has internal parts that may be harder to reach, such as slicers, or larger items that cannot be simply placed in the dishwasher.
Attention to cleanliness and sanitation requirements makes for a healthier workplace, better food and happier customers. For a restaurant or any other business that serves food to be successful, every member of the team in the kitchen must be aware of the guidelines for personal hygiene, cleaning and food storage and held accountable for following them.
To help save time, you can tidy up between shifts, or take a few minutes to organize your station between various tasks or during a lull in meal service.
Ask for help
A truly successful kitchen is a lot like a sports team. There may be a star athlete or two, but wins are generally earned through teamwork and collaboration. As a result, you shouldn’t feel as if you’re isolated in the kitchen and without a safety net when stress starts to build. Communicate with fellow kitchen or wait staff and let them know how you feel and the kind of help you might need. Simply ignoring these feelings can actually cause your situation to worsen. Similarly, don’t be afraid to take breaks when necessary, as even a brief breather can do wonders for your stress.
Create new relationships
Many cooks also manage stress through talking and developing ties with their fellow workers. Kitchen staff often have a sense of camaraderie that helps to cope with long, busy work days. As former kitchen worker Scarlet Lindeman discussed in an article for First We Feast, cooks use slang and other colorful language to communicate quickly and blow off steam.
A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggested that exercises in team resilience might also help young people bond with coworkers and deal with a demanding kitchen environment. Regardless of how they find common ground, relating to coworkers is a major factor in how staff learn to manage stress and build long, successful careers.
Don’t forget to have fun
Most people become chefs in the first place because of their deep-seated love of food and cooking. Yet along the way of building a career, so many chefs forget those emotions and cooking turns into just another job. If you find your work as a chef becoming too stressful, carve out time to make food for yourself. No matter what you whip up, just make sure it’s a dish that interests you and engages your culinary skills. Having this opportunity not only builds creativity, but it also makes cooking fun and enjoyable again.
If you’re enrolling in culinary academy, learning these techniques early will set you up for a long and successful career.