How do you measure success in the culinary world? Is it about the dining experience, flavor, creativity and skill or is the cash still king regardless of what enters the dining room? Should it reflect critical acclaim and Michelin stars or only what coin remains when the curtains close? Is it about the success of individuals or a restaurants success as a business?
Don’t be fooled by the pseudo intellectual chefs gallivanting around restaurants persuading guests that their latest creation is meant to taste that way…are you sure? The neon lights and industrial chic of modern Asian restaurants is very hypnotic, but not all chili paste & sambal are created equal. The most successful restaurant in the world will never have the most successful chef in the world, but again it all depends on how we measure success.
Top gourmet restaurants always walk a fine line between art and reality. Smoke and mirrors are everywhere when trying to measure this creative and lucrative industry. Every profesional eatery is a registered business so technically business performance should be based on GOP. But who are we to judge anyway? Is money a true measure of success in life? Are some experiences truly priceless? Are burgers the most valuable food in the world? Why are so many dining experiences simple, affordable pleasures? When does art become food and food become art? Is it about business or pleasure…and can it be both?
Some forms of cooking closely resemble art, not the appearance but the approach and thinking behind a creation. Art of course is personal for the artist and can tell stories about themselves, in some cases art reflects the current conversations of the world at any point in time. Ground breaking art is not inclusive, art is rarely planned to appease the masses, rather it is subjective, challenging and open to criticism. There are chefs who cook similar to how an artist creates, a self-consumed process that channels their own thoughts and opinions vs what the public wants or needs. It’s a passion project first rather than a business venture and looks to appease the creator versus consumer.
It’s for the same reason that some are happy to pay huge amounts of money for a unique piece of art, while others will scoff and think it’s junk. Either way progressive food and art will always get varied reactions from the audience, its hit and miss with success.
A PASSION FOR BUSINESS
Cooking is a business, right? Also cooking can inspire passion in the participant, very few chefs were crazy about cooking from day one. Passion for cooking (not eating) takes time to mature, often growing from a fascination of the unknown. There are also career chefs that have no burning passion for cuisine at all, but are extremely successful business men within the industry.
So what about a chef that owns a gastro bar flipping gourmet burgers all day long? Or the airline chefs producing thousands of the same meals every day? These professions don’t sound arty or creative but they can be more financially successful than most progressive restaurant in the world.
The business chefs don’t cook for themselves they are cooking for the people with the goal of generating revenue not michelin stars or social reviews. The business chef is trying to deliver a consistent product based on high volume demand while maximising GOP, personal achievements play second fiddle to feeding the masses and fattening the bottom line. Reverse this thinking for a passion project and leave just enough cash to float the books, cover wages and keep the chiller full.
THE CHOSEN ONES
The modern industry presents an image that cooking has a higher calling, something you can’t touch or see, a feeling of immense satisfaction only a chef could understand. But honestly who would do it for free? Or how many would be inspired or passionate if the cash stopped rolling in?
Every chef’s career & body has an expiry date, you can only sling pans and deal with the pressure for so long. The lucky ones take second seats at the industry table as writers, suppliers, critics, consultants or owners. It’s so ironic that a career chef will never really loose the itch even when the industry left them partly broken or swearing never to return. Its often the simplest sounds that make them reminisce – the damp skin of fish pressed in a hot pan (this sound it everything), the clapping of knives on wooden boards or the rasp of a knives edge on wet stone.
There are a select few chefs that get the best of both worlds, the passion project becomes a successful business venture with avid following and a window full of accolades. As with every industry making it into this elite group is a mixture of timing, skill and connections. Some talented (and untalented) chefs will fail at their passion project returning to work for someone else. While others take a strictly business approach using their talents to fill gaps in the market while giving the people what they need vs what chefs want to cook.
It doesn’t mean there is any less passion when filling a gap in the market, it takes a lot of creativity to prepare the best version of something everyone loves. The fact is that for most of us personal and progressive cuisine will never replace the daily pleasure of our favorite flavors. In-fact its a poor comparison as they don’t really compete on the same stage.