Monday, April 6, 2009

Are You A Cook or Chef

Over the years I’ve heard from several coaches the analogy as the coach as a chef and it’s one that resonates. I know Mike Boyle has used this and I think it's right on point. We are trying to produce a product that is the result of multiple ingredients. The successful chef has not only an in-depth knowledge of the cooking process and ingredients, but they are also artists.

Executive Chef
Executive chefs run the whole kitchen. They hire and fire the staff, determine costs, revamp the menu, take care of all administrative tasks, interact with the dining room managers, and generally oversee the well-being of the restaurant. In smaller, less flamboyant restaurants, the Chef de Cuisine sees to all this, and an executive chef would be redundant.

Next under the Executive Chef, depending on the restaurant, this chef is always in the kitchen. He/she comes up with the daily specials, takes inventory, watches over the staff, expedites, and basically does all the hands-on work. There are sous-chefs of two ilks: those who will soon move on to open their own restaurants, becoming Executive Chefs, and those who will remain as they are, preferring the rhythmic rigors of the kitchen to the bright lights of chef stardom.

Line Cooks
The line cooks are the people who actually cook your food. They are divided up, either by cooking technique (saute, grill, etc.), or by type of food (fish, meat, etc.). When the expeditor shouts out an order (they always shout), the line cooks jump to prepare it. Most cooks work up through the line (working every position), before being promoted to sous-chef.

Learning to Cook
Imagine. You haven’t been much of a cook in the past. It’s new to you. You got down the difference between broil and boil but creme brulee is still a mystery. If you were cooking a dish for the first time, would you take two recipes from two different cookbooks and combine them? Would you add ingredients from one of the recipes while using the preparation and cooking directions from the other? If you did, would you expect it to come out right and taste good? What if you took two cakes recipes. They both call for flour, sugar and eggs, but you double the eggs and omit the sugar. How’s that going to go over? Obviously it’s not going to work. Unfortunately, when it comes to program design, this is exactly what many coaches do.

With so many coaches taking in seminars, DVDs and internet information, coupled with an impatient attitude for honing their craft, I see many programs being written by short order cooks and not chefs. Usually the program is a little of this philosophy, and a little of theirs, with maybe a sprinkling of another guru. It’s a combination of recipes to use the analogy, and the result is less that optimal.

When it comes to designing programs, you need to know where you are on the road to being an executive chef.

Out of College / Full Internship
When you first come out of college you have some scientific basis to understand what an athlete needs. It’s like knowing the properties and tastes of various ingredients, and you have developed some basic cooking skills, but that’s it. Many former athletes that go into coaching are also at this point and they know a variety of drills and exercises. You know how to chop, broil and blend. You’re a line cook.

At this stage, you need a recipe to follow. Don’t go changing the recipe to suit your tastes. You need direction while you hone your skills in cooking. It’s not yet the time for you to be creating a menu and recipes, but you should be honing your craft with an eye on the future. As you show your skill, you will be given opportunities to display your ready for the next step. The sous-chef should be continuing to train and mentor you as you develop.

Coach well and learn how to observe the movements, analyze for technical errors, and then problem solve. Learn the rules of program design while you do this, but its not time to be creating your own dishes and menus.

Coaching for Several Years and Writing Some programs
Many third to fifth year coaches are analogous with the sous-chefs. The sous-chef is the second in command in the kitchen and have developed their ability to alter the recipe without spoiling the meal. They understand how to alter the ingredients but also know there needs to be a plan and it should be followed. The sous chef understands that the ratio of ingredients and their timing matter, and that you don't simply cook to your own taste.

The sous-chef also is the one that prevents the phrase, “too many cooks spoil the broth” They manage the kitchen staff and assign duties. This is the role of the 1st assistant in coaching. They may assign schedules and duties, and are instrumental in helping develop the younger staff.

After five years of successful program design, you might now qualify as a chef.
It takes time to learn your craft. After time serving as a sous-chef, you now think about bolder changes to the recipe because you have extensive experience "cooking". Every coach wants to do this, but you need to know the rules before you try and break them.

As a chef experiments, they don’t throw out their entire style of cooking and all that they have learned. They build on it and make smaller changes to their fundamental cooking philosophy. To use a line from Mike Boyle, “Chefs don't abandon their chosen cooking style after watching an episode of Hell's Kitchen, instead you are now making small changes to what should be a system.”

Learn to Cook
Figure out if you are a cook or a chef. If you are a cook right now, find some good recipes to follow. Find a chef to learn under and develop your skills. If you are on your own, find those recipes and mealplans and learn the appropriate time to serve each dish. Eventually you can become a chef, but go through each step to be a successful one.