Last week a professional colleague of mine passed away at the age of 52 after a very brief fight with cancer. She wanted no memorial or obituary, apparently content to pass into history with no public farewell. For that reason I will only refer to her as Chef B. I cannot allow her to pass into oblivion without relating to someone the impact she has had on me and I suspect many others. This forum seems the most appropriate place to do so.
After thinking of little else for the past week, I believe I understand why I am so bereft at her passing. She was a great example of what it is supposed to mean when you call someone a professional chef. When I think of the lessons I learned from working with and observing her, I remember the following, in no particular order.
Be firm but nice. Never yell at anyone in a mean spirited way. Simply point out the problem, await recognition and agreement that there is a problem and then expect something to be done about it.
Be quiet. Watch what you say about others. Keep your criticisms of others brief and objective.
Be your best self- Strive to do any job to the best of your ability. Doing a good job, not the job itself, is the important part.
Be compassionate. Give your time to help out at area charity dinners and other culinary related events. Be willing to help in someone else’s kitchen. Not for personal recognition but because it is another opportunity to do what you love.
Be reliable. When others come to you for help and you agree to become involved, bring your A game every time.
Be a student. Always find opportunities for learning more about how to do your job better.
Be a teacher. Be quick to share your knowledge and expertise with anyone at any time.
Be a good sport. In any culinary situation, the goal is to provide the best you can, whether you benefit or not. It is never about you.
Be well dressed. When you cook, wear your uniform well. Make sure your clothes are clean, your shoes shined, your pants hemmed. You are a professional. Look like one all the time.
Be an Ambassador for our profession. In your words and deeds, you represent everyone who wears the uniform. Do nothing to disgrace it.
Be humble. Show your professional pride in your actions, not your attitude.
Be cheerful. If you are having a bad day at work, smile anyway. Don’t spread the gloom.
Chef B. embodied all of these traits. At work or out at a culinary event, she remained the same, always professional, always up for another opportunity to help in any way she could.
There had been no warning, no earlier announcement of illness or treatment. She informed very few people of her diagnosis. As far as many of us knew she was busy working and living and the day would come when we would see her again. Suddenly we learned that day would never arrive.
I am deeply and selfishly sorry I will never again have the chance to work with Chef B. Her passing has left a large void in our local culinary community but I am confident the impact she had will remain for a long time. I am honored to have known and worked with someone I can refer to without reservation as a true professional chef.
I will do my best to follow her lead and be an example for others to follow. I am now more than ever painfully aware that we do not know the hour of our departure and that every day is an opportunity to do and be our best.
God Speed, Chef B.