From Culinary to Corporate

Four habits learned from my Culinary Studies that apply to function within a corporate team.

I wasn’t always a Marketing Executive. After changing majors several times, I landed on the drive to pursue Culinary Arts and Business Management when I went to college. Throughout the two-year Culinary Program, I learned many things about kitchen management operations and how to properly contribute, manage, and run the entire business of our dining room and pastry cart. Day in and day out, starting as early as 5am, going into the late afternoons for two years taught me incredible muscle memory on what seems more and more like the basics. Considering the habits I have now, I realize that those have only come to me due to years of vigorous practice. 

Even more surprising has been the recent realization that some of the skills and habits have been incredibly useful as I have navigated through various roles over the last decade and the Director of Marketing at Finastra. Within my first 30 days, it became apparent that if I allowed these habits to atrophy, my superpowers would decline as a contributor, leader, and strategist. I would be a less effective member of the team as a whole. Allow me to share the functions I have found most useful as I encourage you to design your workflow so that you’re more prepared, productive, and impactful for your work. 

Mise en place:

Mise-en-place translates into setting up. Mise-en-place comprises three central values: preparation, process, and presence. When practiced by great chefs, these three mundane words become profound. The byproduct of these values may be wealth or productivity, but the true goal is excellence. When viewing any food demos or cooking shows, this is simply translated to the recipe being prepared for each ingredient’s exact measurements so the chef will be ready to conduct the presentation. In my studies, this not only meant having each item prepared for each dish pre-opening but knowing what I was doing. I had to be well studied on the cooking method, the intricacies of each of the mother sauces, and the proper temperature cook for each meat. Being prepared for each plate before the ticket came to the line helped each member perform synchrony with one another and much more effectively than reactionary.

Likewise, for any role, there are several ways we can prepare, process and be present for our upcoming tasks, whether that’s reviewing meeting notes ahead of time, ensuring we understand the subject matter of a presentation. This is vital to optimize focus and the ability to be ready for anything that comes our way. Building a cadence of daily prep can shift the focus factor from jumping from item to item to navigating the day with more intention and purpose. 

Challenge: Instead of stacking each meeting hour to hour, how can you build in meeting prep time or focus zones on your calendar to be more effective? 

Line Communication:

Have you ever watched Hell’s Kitchen or any chef communicate from the service line to those preparing at a restaurant? That’s line communication. Each team has formed its own terminology and what it means to give each other a ‘heads up’ of what’s next. Before attending college, I worked at IN-N-OUT, and it was typical for a cashier that had an order of more than 2 fries to call back to the fry master 3 fries down to not stop the production line for a full cook on fresh fries. 

In the business case, we all have our own terminology, and even within our teams, we may have a more profound common language. It is important to regularly evaluate these together so that as a team, you all agree that specific call-outs help give each other a heads-up. Whether it be something like, “Is this blessed?” Or “Ship it,” each team has a language unique to them.

Challenge: Collaborate with your team to discuss what your line looks like and when it’s proper to call out individual team members for various tasks with the intent to prepare them for the milestones ahead.

Family Meals:

It’s a little known secret that the best run culinary staff all have a family meal right before each night of service. This serves two purposes.

  • For the chef to communicate with the team with everyone included about what is on the menu, what specials to push and any changes to the line’s previous flow. IT also gives and opens an opportunity for the line managers to share what they’ve been working on.
  • Sit down and break bread with the team. While from a 10,000-foot view, the organization may seem to have a hierarchy, sitting elbow to elbow as a whole team can engender a strong feeling of community and support for one another’s roles.

Everyone from the maître d’ to the potager is involved.

On a team, leadership needs to set each meeting’s tone and control the conversation while allowing contributors to collaborate and share. Running an effective meeting, whether daily or weekly, setting the tone, is the head of the meeting’s direct responsibility. Make a plan, distribute it, follow it, and take risks to champion camaraderie on the team. 

Challenge: Host a meeting where you are all “breaking bread,” whether this means a virtual event where you’re sharing a similar meal or a socially distanced team picnic, then try to recreate that environment in your regular meetings. 

Garde Manger:

My favorite kitchen position was Garde Manger. We were responsible for the appetizers, including soups, salads, and small bites. As the Garde Manger, we were also responsible for the proper utilization of the ingredients that would otherwise go to waste in the kitchen. Being in this role, I was encouraged to be agile, innovate, and implement creativity daily while still utilizing the best practices taught by my repeated habit of mise en place. One of my favorite inventions was a delicious red onion ring with a bleu cheese dust that was salvaged ingredients from a previous day’s menu of Bleu Cheese Halibut. It was the most ordered appetizer on the menu that day.

This may be somewhat difficult from a bird’s eye view, especially when challenged with being overbooked, recurring project deadlines, and constant communication inflowing. But if you really break it down the role of the garde manger comes down to a being highly-skilled with the ability to be agile. In business, it means to foster a growth mindset to instill innovation and creativity. It’s not an easily taught mindset but with collaborating and practicing in cross-functions, it can be a great asset.

Challenge: Ask your team how they can cross-function some of the incredible things they’re doing in other areas of their responsibilities; you may be surprised what they come up with. 

If there’s one thing I know for sure, I plan to utilize these skills to encourage and foster my productivity, preparation, and focus as I embark on my adventure in this new role. Question is, how will you utilize what I’ve shared with you to enhance your workflow and team function?

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