KnifeofBrian: How much longer can I do this for? The exit strategy of a chef...

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th May 2019

"The more profound realisation, was that this year, I will be turning 45. I know this is by no means “old” but it made me think. How much longer can I do this for?"

I was in the gym recently. I jumped on a fancy new machine and I was asked to enter some details via the digital display. Weight, height and age. Not the first time I’ve had to do this at the gym. So, without giving it too much thought I answered the questions. Weight: 92kg (ouch!), Height: 183cm (Whatever 6ft is in cm), Age: 43….yeah 43?…Hang on… shit! I’m 44! I had seriously forgotten my age.

How long had I been saying that I am 43? Considering my birthday was last November. Had I completely disregarded that one? The more profound realisation, was that this year, I will be turning 45. I know this is by no means “old” but it made me think. How much longer can I do this for? I’m not talking about the cross trainer I was on, but, this life as a chef.

What’s your End Game?

I know there are a certain level of chefs, who may not be able to relate to this. But, to the faction of us in stained whites, who are serving up the not so glamorous burgers and chilli nachos to the beer and Prosecco swilling masses. The days can be long and monotonous. The only reprieve coming when taking a moment to scroll through Instagram and daydreaming about being a part of the Tweezer Crew in some chrome and steel plated, high-end kitchen.

credit www.polygon.com
credit www.polygon.com

So, what’s the plan Brian? What’s your End Game? (that was going to be the name of this blog, but didn’t want you to think it was an Avengers Movie review). As I’ve stated, I know 44 is not old, but it is an age which I feel I should be seriously considering my next move. I’m not actively looking for a new job, but I always consider new opportunities, ventures and collaborations, whether it’s cooking, consulting or teaching. This usually fits quite nicely into my current roll at the pub and with my website. That’s kinda what I do…but how long can I keep doing it?

For the purpose of this blog and for those in a similar situation, I thought I should list some of options I’ve take or thought about. With a view that those who actually read this post, can add their own ideas in the comments below, thus creating an inspiration wall of strategies. Ya get me?

Me, myself and I:

The approach which I am currently taking, is more psychological. I enjoy my job. I find aspects of it frustrating, I wish I had more money. All the normal qualms people have with working full time. But, what I do now is, I focus more on my life outside of work. Making the commitment to something which is not related to pots and pans. For me, it’s running, going to the gym and working on improving my fitness. It’s making me focus on something else which is inherently more important. Me! Ironic as it was the gym which triggered this whole episode. Fitness does not need to be the focus here. The point is, making structured time for yourself and moving the kitchen, bar or restaurant away from the top of the list. Reading, audio-books and podcasts are another thing I add to this tool kit of self-preservation. Shut the world off. Focus on myself.

Money:

Taking a reduction in pay or hours is an option I toyed with. Could I go and work in a school or care home for a reduced wage, more family friendly hours. Stepping away from the restaurant sector and more in to the care/private sector. I know a few chefs who have done this. It works for some. But this is where the balance of mental welfare and financial stability can be like walking a tightrope. There are a few chefs working as sales reps. Still in hospitality. Selling everything from chilled pastry items, fruit and veg, to Combi ovens. These jobs tend to pay a little better than being a dinner-lady/man. But as with most Sales Rep jobs, these are mostly commission based. So the pay will fluctuate.

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'Taking a reduction in pay or hours is an option I toyed with.'

Start-Up:

Go for it….or don’t. That idea you’ve always had for your own place. Can you do it? Take the time to develop a business plan. Do your research. Whether it’s a Bar, restaurant, tea room, food truck, pop-up or something completely different. Stop procrastinating and grab that pen, a piece of paper and start scribbling down your idea. Just by focusing on this, it will give you something to think about. Even while you are working, use those moments to think about what you’d do differently or even, the same! I have a new business idea most weeks. I know this is the area I need to commit more time to personally. I’m hoping to host my first official pop-up within the next 12 months. This comes with a lot of stresses and hard work. But as Maya Angelou says Nothing will work, unless you do!

Freelancing:

A booming sector right now. Lots of chefs are taking themselves off the grid and becoming wandering hands for hire. You can end up working a lot more than you were before, but in theory, you do get paid for every single hour you work. But if you are looking to take your foot off the gas, this may not always be the best option. Your employer will want value for money and they tend to demand more for the £20 per hour chef even when it’s not so busy. Again, this works for some. Have you got a car? This is a very viable option. My advice would be to get your negotiation skills up to speed and get short term contract agreements signed.

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'To date, I am one of the few remaining chefs still

cooking professionally, from my

graduating class at catering college.'

Career change:

For a while, I went in to teaching. I was an instructor of Professional cookery at the local college. I loved this. Well. I loved the teaching part. The bureaucracy of the roll was what frustrated me. But that’s for another blog.

Needless to say, This is where I fell in love with teaching. I was only in the roll for a year and a half, but I still now do visits to schools and colleges. As well as private cookery tuition.

To date, I am one of the few remaining chefs still cooking professionally, from my graduating class at catering college. They mostly dropped by the wayside to become bus drivers, bank workers, firefighters, taxi drivers, mums, dads and in one case, running a Skip Hire company! I love being a chef.

I don’t feel I could stray too far from what I do now. The changes I look for are more to do with coping strategies.

I can’t see myself doing anything which is not related to food. Maybe you see yourself in an office or “doing lunch” with colleagues. That’s not a world for me chef! Put a pin in that, we’ll touch base over brunch yah?

Talk:

This is the one which is most important. If you are struggling with your workload. Talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be a coworker. Just talking with someone WILL make you feel better. But if you can talk to someone at work who can influence your conditions, then do it. If they want you to be happy, the humanity in them will drive them to make it so. Leaving a job is not always the best solution. We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve left a job, then found out the thing that was pissing you off there has been changed for your replacement.

If you have no one you feel you can chat with, drop me an Direct Message for fucks sake. I’m proper nice (mostly). I’m no therapist but you’re still welcome to pay me £150 per hour or just buy me a beer if we meet.

I can’t claim to be an expert on behaviour, social well being or any sort of psychologist. But I have wrestled with the subject of “What next?” a lot over the past few months. This blog is by no means detailed. I can only apologise for that. Maybe one day I’ll be in a situation where I can afford more time and resources to do more research. If you are like me and starting to think about how you want to see out your career, please comment below. There are so many options these days. The hospitality sector is so vast. Your dream job or opportunity is never that far away. It just takes a leap of faith and self-belief. I will keep doing my thing. I love what I do, but I know it’s not sustainable. I’ll still focus on self-development. Maybe one day I’ll look back at this blog and think what was I worried about?

Maybe I’ll write a book.

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About Knife of Brian

Brian Powlett is head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably) - a male suicide charity and has recently finished his first pop-up event at the Suffolk Show.

If he wasn't a chef, he would be a gigolo.

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian, visit his website www.knifeofbrian.co.uk

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th May 2019

KnifeofBrian: How much longer can I do this for? The exit strategy of a chef...