Mentoring the Food Truck Generation

Building a successful kitchen includes shining the light for the minions that have shed the stuffy chef coat for the short-sleeved dishwasher shirt and black tee. Opening the restaurant door for the newer denizen of eager cooks that have kicked off Doc Martens for Mozo and Chuck Taylors is the mission. These are excited, quality-driven, foodistas that aren’t necessarily looking to work 80 hours this week and are probably not about to give up seeing the Foo Fighters in exchange for keeping their $8 per hour job.

This is a group of digital natives. They are used to touchscreens and have relegated the computer to near oblivity. This is also a group that engages social media not as a novelty, but as a tool that contributes to the path of each day. They have to be let loose to explore digital infrastructure to manage FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out. Yes, that’s a real thing. What voice is most effective to help usher them to and through the often landmine-ladden walk along and behind the kitchen line? These are the members of Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials and Baby Boomers all taking courses to be part of a kitchen crew. And they all learn (and they do want to learn!) in different ways.

We have all seen the screaming chefs of days gone by. Gordon Ramsay pushes the envelope with his tyrannical pursuit of kitchen domination. Does it work? Does a blistering lash by a villainous tongue get desired results for both the mentor and mentee? “Pay your dues” is a dated concept. No, not like eliminating boot camp or driving discipline. But, the mentee is more visual, wants to be involved and empowered. Providing sustenance for curiosity is as important, if not more important, that instilling technique. Technical skills are the mechanics that every cook most posses; basic food safety, knife skills, working clean, sautee', roasting a chicken, preparing rice, grilling a piece of fish. It is the next level of learning that is so vital; that is the empowerment to be part of something.

This generation of learners is engaged with social causes and are globally aware. “Quality” is a catch term. Why? Because local, sustainable, ‘green,’ and seasonal are not new concepts, rather, they are expectations. Quality is what you get at Whole Foods. Quality is what you get at the Green Market in Union Square. Quality is what you get at Reading Terminal Market. Quality is what you get at the Farmers Market in LA. And everybody knows it. Doesn’t it make sense that food trucks are so amazing? Two or three dishes that are perfectly crafted and reek of quality. Expertly prepared. In touch with the demands of the public. Let’s call them the Food Truck generation.

So what works best with 8-minute attention spans and meals of snackable content?

Instant Feedback No, not ego stroking. But insight that works to better outcomes. ServSafe has gone online with results nearly instantaneous. Amazon delivers overnight. Why wait for email when text messaging happens right now? Digital blips, online flashes and real-world engagement happen quickly. So should feedback on the flavor depth of the stock, the construction of the crab cakes and the crust of the Italian loaf. Need a recipe? There’s an app for that! Let them use it. It’s instant!

Explanation versus orders. Take the time to get into why not just “do it!” and hastily move on. Again, this is the era of engagement; it may not get done if there is no relevant tie. Nobody likes exercises or 8th grade worksheets. Relevance is more vital than ever. Nobody likes to clean and scrub and wipe and wash. But explain the critical aspect of not making people sick AND how it ties to decreased business which means less money for payroll, and *poof* the kitchen glistens. Hopefully.

2-step instructions. Bits and pieces. Keep the guidance succinct. Rather than lengthy explanations on the virtue of the Maillard reaction, break the sautee of the duck breast into a demonstration using two steps at a time. Better retention, better results.

Informal Dialog. No more sarcasm, rhetoric and barked orders. Rather, talking about outcomes and the best way to get there. Nobody is relaxing the value of a perfectly braised osso bucco, only explaining how to get there and why it is so important. And doing it with a speaking volume rather than a screeched order from chef’s office.

Simple. Relevant. Informal. Instant. Informed. Keep the discussion going - Offer your ‘best practices’ below.
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