Love Letters to Chefs: Seeking stars, seeking validation - By Ishwariya Rajamohan

The Staff Canteen

We are pleased to welcome, Ishariya Rajamohan, author of Love Letters to Chefs to The Staff Canteen blogger family this month.

What does a healthy relationship with validation look like? Pastry chef and blogger at Love Letters to Chefs, Ishwariya Rajamohan considers how striving for validation in the kitchen, whether this is a Michelin star or a simple compliment helps with motivation or if this simply contributes to increased pressure?

michelin stars

The quest for Michelin stars

Even though we’re shocked by stories of chefs returning their Michelin stars, we have to appreciate how much courage it takes to decline what everyone in the industry covets. And while it might appear that they’ve lost something, this is the reward they’ve gained from taking that risk: the power that comes from standing in your truth.

This is not to dishonour the masterful work of those chefs who meet the standards that Michelin celebrates. But you know you’ve arrived when you don’t need someone else to validate you. It’s perfectly human to want approval and affirmation for what we do.

Ratings, criticisms and reviews, oh my!

Even a simple compliment means so much because kitchens totally isolate us from the impact of our work. But it’s our relationship with validation that we need to review: when we hand someone our self-esteem on a plate. Ratings, reviews and food criticism give us much-needed recognition and visibility, hold us to higher standards and motivate us, but they’re essentially judgements. What they place value on is how the customer spends their money.

They’re not really telling the whole story about our food. But how did we get to a place where we give so much weight to those judgements that they influence our identities and how we think and act? When we’re young, meeting the approval of teachers and parents means safety or a reward. But that demands walking on eggshells and not really being who we are most of the time. You don’t want to take that into the professional arena, right, chef?

Reacting to reviewschef head in hands

So, what does a healthy relationship with validation look like? Can we simply be grateful for the attention that a Michelin star brings to our talents, but keep doing our thing anyway? Can we react to a review from a place of knowing when we’ve done our best and when we need to shape up? As professionals, we’re driven, hardworking, competitive, restless, always eager to learn.

We put enough pressure on ourselves, so do we really need a gun held to our heads? There must be something more worthwhile chasing than validation. What if we spent our hours in the kitchen chasing the flow state, instead? You know, that incredible feeling of being completely present with the task you’re executing?

Does fulfilment come from inside?

That’s when you do your best work anyway. Or like the chefs who returned their stars, maybe it’s enough for us to simply find enjoyment in doing the things we want to do the way we want to do them. In either case, fulfilment comes from the inside, independent of what anyone else thinks or expects. Once upon a time, the artisan only looked forward to a good night’s sleep after a day of serving his customers. Doesn’t that kind of simplicity sound inviting, chef?

What is Love Letters for chefs?

love letters for chefs image

Love Letters to Chefs is a blog from pastry chef Ishwariya Rajamohan and is based on her own experience in the kitchen. It aims to help chefs gain confidence in their gifts and capabilities whilst bringing the best of themselves to their work. The name  Love Letters to Chefs derives from Ishwariya wanting to see the human being and not just a person who shows up to work in a chef’s jacket and to show genuine love and care for chefs and their welfare. 

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Editor 16th March 2018

Love Letters to Chefs: Seeking stars, seeking validation - By Ishwariya Rajamohan