What is being a chef really like? 

This year we’ve seen shows like “The Bear ” rise to fame, with its fictionalized, but also fairly accurate portrayal of the industry. It’s prompted discussions about if those outside of the restaurant industry have a real idea of what’s going on behind the scenes. 

 There’s more to being a chef than cooking and chaos.

International Chefs Day is an opportunity to celebrate the talent, knowledge, dedication and sacrifices it takes to be a chef, while serving as a reminder for chefs to proudly pass these culinary skills to the next generation. 

To celebrate and showcase some of the work that goes on behind the scenes, we asked chefs;

What’s something about being a chef that no one expects? 

Here’s what 13 chefs had to say.

You are only as good as the ingredients you use. 

“At the end of the day, you’re only as good as the ingredients you use. It doesn’t matter how creative you are or how good your technique is, your ingredients are the limiting factor. You must develop relationships with purveyors, farmers, fisherfolk, butchers, and on and on.

Only once you have acquired incredible ingredients does your technical ability really matter. And then it’s a matter of how to do less to highlight the beautiful products. It’s that simple, and also that complicated.”

Chef William Kresky 

Executive Chef at Richmond Station, Toronto

You have to have equal parts leadership and management skills. 

“Cheffing is a very collaborative process – it takes a village. When you are an executive or “head chef” you have to have equal parts leadership and management skills to that of an executive in any other industry – as well as the passion & creativity of an artist.

My current role is event planning and operations at Kerr Street Cafe with a lots of experience as a “chef” in many forms of the meaning – I’m very interested in organizational psychology and how it plays a crucial part in the hospitality industry but rarely gets the attention it deserves.”

Chef Taryn Casey

Event Planning & Operations at Kerr Street Cafe, Oakville

You don’t need to go to culinary school to excel in the industry.

“One thing about being a chef that no one expects is that you don’t need to go to culinary school to excel in the industry. Some of the most successful and talented chefs I’ve worked with simply opted to work at great restaurants instead of taking on student debt and going to college.

It’s super cliche but in the movie Ratatouille Chef Gusteau said “anyone can cook” and I really do believe that’s true.

Another thing I don’t think people would expect… a lot of the time we don’t use recipes in our cooking. A lot of purées and sauces are made strictly by tasting and adjusting.”

Chef Solomon Mason

Executive Chef at Aloette Restaurant, Toronto 

Burnout rate is high, and competition is tough.

“Something I never expected was to be part of the chef community for so long.

The burnout rate is so high and the competition is so tough, I didn’t think I would last 25 years in the game. I’m so proud of my accomplishments, but I still have so much to do.”

Chef Rob Rainford

Executive Chef & Grillmaster
Host of Licence To Grill, Food Network Canada

The complete package of a chef’s responsibility is greater than just cooking and menu creation. 

​​”In some cases, many think chefs just cook. The complete package of a chef’s responsibility is greater than just cooking and menu creation. They are often required to manage finances, how to market a menu for the appropriate audience, know how equipment works for repairs and most importantly skillfully manage a team with a variety of personalities.

For me, I get the most satisfaction from watching people who have worked with me grow, expand and turn into successful chefs themselves!”

Chef Nicole Gomes 

Co-Founder & Chef at Cluck n Cleaver, Calgary

Being business minded is an asset. 

“I went to culinary school just wanting to cook, and become a chef. But if I could start over, I would also take business courses. Something like an MBA – I’m working on that now.

Chefs are more than just cooks these days.”

Chef Joe Friday 

Founder of Chef Collective
Owner/Partner of Friday Burger Company, Toronto

Cooking food is the easy part.

“I never really planned on becoming a chef, & I think it’s important to define a chef here. To me a chef is a cook with responsibility, responsibility to lead, to teach, & to do food costing & labor cost.

I really had no idea how much I would need to be able to use spreadsheets. Cooking delicious food is the easy part!”

Chef Anthony Falco 

International Pizza Consultant & Author of Pizza Czar Brooklyn, NY

Timing is everything in the kitchen.

“What’s something about being a chef that no one expects? I can only speak from my personal experience and I would say, our obsession (or my obsession) with time. 

Cooking, baking, plating all and every aspect of the industry requires attention to the clock. Timing is everything in a kitchen and I now have applied it to almost every aspect of my life, be it positive or negative.

I wrote an essay in high school titled  “My Life, Ruled by Time” – I think I must have had a premonition that I would find myself in the hospitality industry one day.”

Chef Charlotte Langley 

CCO and Brand Founder of Scout

It’s about creating an environment for learning.

“One aspect about becoming a chef is that it’s no longer about cooking food anymore. It’s about teaching new passionate line cooks to hone their skills and display their creativity through the food they produce.

And making sure that nothing is considered a mistake in the kitchen – that it is a learning opportunity to grow from.

Chef Oliver Thomas

Head Chef at Ivy Ristorante, London, Ontario 

Chefs don’t spend time cooking for themselves (or even eating). 

“Something about being a chef that no one expects? Since we spend all day cooking for other people and tasting as we go, we often don’t spend enough time cooking for ourselves (or simply even eating).

Our staff meals are often eaten in a hurry over a garbage can, and that’s if we eat at work at all. Then when we get home after a long day of work, the last thing we want to do is cook ourselves an extravagant meal. It’s often a quick sandwich, or a fried egg on rice.”

Something I love the most is when other people cook for me! I find it sweet when friends and family worry that chefs might be judgemental or hard critics, but in all honesty – there’s nothing that we appreciate more than someone else cooking and taking care of you.”

Chef Sam Medeiros

Previous Chef De Cusine for La Palma

It changes you and your relationships. Plus, you might light yourself on fire. 

“A few thoughts on things I never expected [as a chef];

How disconnected from the actual food system you can be. You just order it and it shows up to your door without fully grasping all the steps along the way!

How much it changes your relationship with food. People think we generally eat so well but it’s basically the opposite after we spend all night cooking

The impact on my social life; for the longest time people just stopped inviting me out because it was assumed I was just working the whole time (they were right, I was).

How fluid you become in high stress situations – I can feel calm and collected, even when I once literally lit myself on fire by accident. You’re taught to have calm nerves and be precise.” 

Chef Matthew Ravenscroft 

Culinary Director of GIA, Toronto 

Nothing will make sense if you don’t believe in yourself. 

“It’s the life that takes a little longer but it’s so rewarding when you can make your food taste like velvet. You have to learn and give yourself more credit.

Know that you’re part of a masterpiece. There’s an art to it like a veloute— dreams can come true but only if you create it. Have an idea? Brand it and believe in it. You gotta do the work. The inner work. Because nothing else will be easy if you don’t know how it tastes or feels. Nothing will make sense if you don’t even believe in yourself.

Try high-fiving yourself every morning. It’s usually a happy thing to see someone when you high-five them so do that too with you. Be proud of the little girl/boy in you who has all these dreams. Find gratitude in your self-care routine. Be proud of the foods you made, the fruits you eat, and the water you pour. When you look at yourself in the mirror every day you release the shame that you can’t do something. You’re cheering yourself on and there’s tons of magic in that.

If you’re a chef in this messy industry, you need to take care of your body. You’ll be amazed at how good your food and ambiance can be after you come home to yourself.”

Chef Cindy Fung

Founder of Caviar Citizen Inc. Events Lifestyle and Hospitality Group (Preserve, Sixteen Ounce)

You’ll make friends who create endless opportunities. 

“I think that something about being a chef that no one expects is the variety of people you will end up meeting.

You end up making friends from all over the world, and those friendships end up creating endless opportunities!”

Chef Kristopher Kurus

Chef & Co-Owner of Deer + Almond Restaurant, Winnipeg

Our team at notch sees first-hand the hard work and countless hours that being a chef demands. We are endlessly in awe of those who continue to bring their passion, creativity and dedication to the industry, daring to elevate dining experiences and gastronomy all over the world – despite the challenging nature of the job.

To every chef pursuing their passion – we admire you always. 

#InternationalChefsDay #ThisIsWorldChefs #ChefAdvice