In this mini series I will share some of my leadership savvy which I have learned and successfully applied during the past 27 years in international kitchens around the world. If you want to know more then click here: Leadership skills can be learned, that's the good news!
December 2005. My last days at work. The culinary management training program in San Diego was coming to an end. It felt surreal. In a few days from now I would be back in Germany for Christmas. I was looking forward to seeing my mother.
I loved “America’s Finest City” and I still do. I love the Southern Californian climate. The average temperature is between 20 and 25 degree Celsius. The sun is shining on more than 260 days a year! I would surely miss this place, knowing that I will be experiencing freezing temperatures soon in Berlin.
I wanted to surprise Chef Garry with a farewell gift. For the past 2 years he took great care of me. He taught me a lot. He always made time for me. Even though he was such a busy man, he never said no to any of my requests. When I asked him whether he would write me a reference letter, he immediately went on to prepare it. It was a great letter by the way. I remember him walking into the pastry shop saying,
“Hey Marcel, here is your reference letter. I made it overly sweet.”
He was smiling. I was happy too because reference letters are the most important documents among your application files. There was no LinkedIn at the time.
My culinary training included working in almost all kitchen sections. I spend time in the banquet kitchen, cold kitchen, fine dining restaurant, coffee shop kitchen, deli shop kitchen and pastry kitchen. Yet, I was interested to also train in the stewarding department, the purchasing department, and the sales department because they are all closely related to the kitchen. I asked Chef Garry if it would be possible to also train in these 3 sections. He promptly approved. That is why I liked him so much. He always supported me and made things happen.
What kind of farewell gift should I present to Chef Garry? I was racking my brain. I wanted it to be something personal. I noticed that in his office there were heaps of books on his shelves. These were mostly cookbooks. Suddenly I had my lightbulb moment! I got it, I thought. I am going to buy him a cookbook featuring German recipes. I found it a great idea and I was positive that he would like it.
Friday, December 17, 2005. This was my last day of training. It was a day like any other day because we were busy. As a matter of fact, we were extremely occupied because the weekend was around the corner and so was Christmas. Many companies celebrated their staff Christmas gatherings at our hotel.
Our property offered massive function room space, altogether more than 300000 square feet. That is the size of over 5 football fields or 63 basketball courts Imagine that!
I was still in charge of the pastry shop. Today we had to serve 2 groups, one of 1100 people and another group of 850 people for lunch. We had to pre-plate the desserts. We also had to prepare a set dinner for 1500 people. In between we had other groups to serve. We needed to pre-arrange these desserts as well. It was one of the busiest days I have ever experienced in my life up to this point. Our pastry team was highly organized. Working with the guys and girls was a lot of fun. Most of them came from Mexico and the Philippines, some were Americans.
We managed to arrange all the preparation on time. In the late afternoon I grabbed my German cookbook I had purchased for Chef Garry and knocked on his office door.
“Hi Chef,” I said.
“Hi Marcel, what can I do for you?” Chef Garry asked.
“As you know, today is my last day and as a sign of showing my appreciation to you I want to give you this farewell gift.”
I handed over my book which was wrapped up in fancy paper. I was excited as he slowly unwrapped his gift.
“That’s great Marcel, thank you very much!” Chef Garry almost yelled.
“You know, I love to read books, especially cookbooks. I collect them. Look at my shelf here, there are hundreds of books lined up. Most of the books you see here are actually personal gifts from other colleagues.”
Wow, I thought. How many people the chef must have worked with up until now? There were so many books. It must have been collecting these books for decades.
“I really appreciate your book and the fact that you presented it to me Marcel.” chef said.
“Let me show you something,” he continued.
Chef Garry reached into the many books on his shelf, grabbed one and pulled it out.
“The book you gave me I already have,” he said with a smile.
“What, really? I did not know this!” I replied surprised, almost shocked.
“No worries Marcel, I value your book as much as all the other ones because it comes from you. It comes from your heart. Look at this collection here in my office. I consider this compilation a collection of hearts, not necessarily books only. Behind every book you see on these shelves there is a heart behind, a special person, a unique story. These books are symbols to me. Every single book represents a personal story, an individual life. All the editions here stand for significance, impact, and importance. They are part of my life. If I am the dish, then all these books are special ingredients who helped composing it. Every single ingredient is important and plays its unique role in the composition of the plate.
Now you have added yourself to it Marcel. Now you have contributed some flavour to my life as well. You have blended yourself into it. What I would like you to do is to write a short personal note into my book. I would love if you could share your inscription.”
And so, I did. I penned down a few sentences and signed the book. Then we had a final chat for a few minutes, and I left his office.
The next day we celebrated our own staff party at the hotel, so I was sure that I would meet Chef Garry during this event. It was then when I wanted to say goodbye to him. Unfortunately, I did not catch up with him. Either he was not around, or I simply could not find him because there were massive crowds attending this Christmas dinner. I think our hotel had over a thousand employees.
That was it. My time was up. Chef Garry had helped me to secure a great opportunity in Auckland, New Zealand. In a few months from now I would be in my first Sous Chef role ever. I was 28. I had achieved my goal and Chef Garry has helped me reaching it. My target was clear: I joined this training in San Diego because I wanted to make myself fit for a management position in the kitchen.
Mission accomplished! 14 years would pass until I meet Chef Garry again.
I left San Diego full of excitement and inspiration. I was now ready and all set to walk my path. Chef Garry infused something into me. This is what inspirational leaders do. They not only motivate. Chef Garry was inspired himself, that’s what I knew from our chats and talks.
There is research out saying that inspired employees are more than twice as productive as satisfied employees.
Thanks for reading my post!