Creativity is At a Premium In Food
It is no secret that maybe THE most crucial aspect in the food industry is the ability to be creative. We can talk about what we cook and put on a plate, the amalgamation of ingredients carefully harmonized into a final product. But in regards to operating, advertising, retaining talent, and ensuring a good service for the customer, there is also a demand for creativity like never before.
One only has to look at the need for labor still in the restaurant industry to realize that creativity in standing out as operators and business leaders, as well as cooks and chefs is of the highest value. I feel like in the food industry, we put the creative process surrounding food on a pedestal.
It is the sexiest part of being a chef, tolling away in research and developing recipes to produce a dish that delights the senses and leaves guests talking long after they have left the dining room. But the creative process around all other systems in the food world brings success to those who have elevated their careers to another level.
But beyond success regarding fame, there is success concerning competency. To be competent at your craft and what you work towards is something to be applauded. The ability to grow competencies in your tool belt makes you a unique and attractive candidate for better opportunities in your career. So having systems in place to raise said competencies is vital to long-term success for food industry workers.
In speaking with restaurant workers and others in the food industry, one of the biggest challenges in growing their skillset has been finding the right environment. It is often shared with me that so many are shot down by brash bosses, their creativity limited by a poor culture, and eventually, their desire to improve and do better burns out. So that leads me to this blog post.
I want to lay out some ways we can foster creativity in the food industry, especially in restaurant settings, to create a working environment where gaining competencies as a chef or food business professional is encouraged and expected.
1. Provide Clear Expectations and Guidance In What You Expect From Your Employees
In my opinion, one of the worst ways to foster creativity in a cook is to give them a task with open-ended creativity. Especially for those newer in their careers, asking someone new to come up with a dish or menu idea is a big ask and undertaking. You are asking this person to ideate a dish on your menu. This means you ask them to come to you with a dish that is almost or is actually at your level of expertise. This is a near-impossible ask and one that can lead to discouraging results.
When you give people the ability to be creative at the beginning of their food career, giving them some guidance and a general sense of what you want works wonders where they can start to bring you a quality idea for a product.
The reality is that simply asking, "Can you think of a dish you may want to run?" is too open-ended, and it is vast. It is hard to know where to begin, and without a competent recipe development background can lead to a deep sense of failure within the cook.
I would suggest giving a clear framework in these first few attempts at creating food that allows the cook some creativity with also some structure. For example, maybe the following would be my suggestion to ask them to create a chicken entree:
"Please develop a recipe using chicken breast and pasta using Tuscan influences to guide your recipe development process."
That is one sentence. Yet it frames precisely what the cook should do to create this dish in their creative process.
It is how I create podcasts. I sit down and give myself a framework to discuss within an episode, and I go from there. If I were to sit at a mic and ramble, I think only my mom would listen to my show.
2. Encouraging Work/Life Balance is Vital To Creativity
Fresh eyes are an underrated tool in the food world. When working 50-60 hours a week, it is only your nature to routine as much of it as possible to consistently get the job done. You enter a cycle, and it is tough to look beyond that loop to see any opportunities in efficiency and creativity.
It is almost cliche to say now, but work/life balance is a significant issue in the food industry, specifically restaurants. The system in food for too long has focused on valuing the time put in rather than the quality put out. I have worked and spoken to many people whose own validation of being a chef is not what they have done but how much time they have spent doing it.
This broken system of time spent equaling your worth as a chef is not only detrimental but seriously outdated. Technological advances will make this system null and void in the coming decade. I highly recommend an overhaul on valuing work/life balance in the food sector. It will be the norm to have fair and equitable working environments, even in the somewhat archaic restaurant sector.
So having this balance for chefs and cooks is essential. And I know, easier said than done, but at some point, it won't just be crucial. It will be vital. It helps refreshed chefs be better at what they do and makes your business a more attractive place to work.
A Focus On Continued Professional Education Opens New Creative Opportunities
We underestimate what a good team outing to a particular, authentic restaurant can do for creativity and the enthusiasm to create new and exciting food. What a small recommendation to a favorite blog, a reliable recipe, or the act of sharing a favorite food with your team can do to improve morale and reignite the spark of cooking.
Continued education probably sounds like it came out of the mouth of a school career counselor. Still, I believe this is highly under leveraged in the food world. If you work in a restaurant, you are bound to the menu. For those very few who work in a restaurant like Noma, yes, there seem to be endless ways to ideate food. But for most chefs and cooks, the menu in your establishment is the tome you abide by.
I understand that restaurants run on thin margins, and other food businesses do too. Furthermore, finding time to allow those in your business to ideate during service flow is almost impossible and hard to do. But any extra education or opportunity to learn holds tremendous value for the cook or chef utilizing it.
The ability to have a business leader encourage educational growth and career progression has a positive impact on employee skillsets and retention. I believe in the next decade; it will be vital to offer jobs and a well-thought-out plan to further your career as a cook or chef.
The continuous education piece offers a new perspective and better systems. It helps with the creative process as you learn more habits and actions to stash in your tool belt. This is a great way to encourage creativity and help accomplish more competency in the position your employee is in.
Creativity: An Essential Ingredient To Success
Regarding job function, the food world is highly different from most industries. The pace, the stress, the tight margins. This is such a harsh industry to be in. But when it comes to motivation, job growth, and career development, these are all still sought after by cooks and chefs.
The amount of DMs I get on Instagram about the lack of these three fundamentals is alarming and is why I am writing this post. Many demand creative genius while prov
iding broken crayons to work with.
Food industry workers are demanding better in their industry, as they should. And after pay and benefits are met, the following need will be career growth and satisfaction with the job. Competent workers who can work creatively in a productive space should be the norm. It will be the norm. Will you provide that and stand out as an operator?