Published Articles

El Chef Michael Niksic

 

Sounds like you’re just being let out of a prison. “Life outside these walls”. Which is true in many similar ways. Inside most kitchens the walls are brick, tile or stainless steel. No windows, regimented day, uniforms, pecking order, routines, steel doors and mass feedings. Why would anyone want that environment for so many days, hours, weeks, months & years during a lifetime? There is so much more going on outside of that back door. Its not just a place for dumpsters and deliveries. No really It’s true………

I learned early enough in life the truth of kitchens. I also learned that you had to put in hard time first and lay a career foundation to be able to create a life outside of the restaurant kitchen. I’m not talking about just hard work or long hours. I am talking about a specific amount of your life and adding into the fray formal training. By doing so I doubled my pace to obtain culinary goals. Not every career path will take the same turns as mine did. Those turns you will decide for yourself.

I was 40 when this picture was taken in Lake Havasu. I managed to beat a hasty retreat out the kitchen door weekends during the busy season. That is true. I did so without endangering my job. I trained my staff really well, gave them freedom of thought to problem solve. I gave them some independence, and all the logistics & supplies including adequate staff & training to enable me to disappear. When I returned Monday mornings they only asked me “What did you bring us?” Depending on what part of the country I was competing in determined the goodie bag contents.

The bigger point is there is always an alternative way to gaining a life outside of the kitchen. If it is in your interest to raise a family, mountain climbing, travel, playing in a band or any other interest you may have. Don’t believe for a moment you have to be a slave to the skillet. I have no desire to stroke out in front of a stove and neither should you me thinks.

The old guard will insist on the working weekends and holidays till you die theorem. Not here bubby. Yes you will have to do that to some extent at some point no matter what. Don’t let them think it’s OK as a norm. It’s not normal. Life is too short in too many instances for too many we knew and know. Since there are no guarantees I’ll dance to my own tune thank you.

Finding this balance isn’t easy. There are a lot of possible complications. Time to spare, logistics, monetary concerns, age, physical ability or physical limitations if any are just a few. Then business wise there can also be conflicts of interest or staff jealousy/envy which is so irritating. Getting involved in something as physical as a freestyle sport combined with the stress of a Chef’s duties is not something I recommend for everyone. That itself can cause a conflict due to injury.

Looking back on that section of my life where I combined both successfully for 27 years it’s amazing I was never laid out and missed any shifts in my kitchens. In fact the only time injuries prevented me from working were acquired or made worse in kitchens, not in the water or gym.

Besides the competitions, sun, water, sand, and huge crowds (largest was over 1.4 million live) there were additional benefits. I saw much of our country driving through it and flying into distant corners. I met many many people, not one was an A–Hole to me. Not one! The career of chef and freestyle jet skier opened many PR doors to TV and printed articles(which were hard to come by before the internet blossomed). It opened new business opportunities. After I met my wife I proposed to her at a competition before it was a cool “thing”:)…………. I adopted a cool dog, moved into a home and changed career course again. All made possible with options created by “outside” activities. I even opened a very successful Ebay store selling toy soldiers which has been a hobby of mine since age 6! If anything it opens your eyes to possibilities you would not have even known of while wasting away in a kitchen.

Don’t let this huge great big planet spin off into space without you. Get out of the kitchens and enjoy the rest of the experiences we have at our fingertips. Your work attitude will upswing dramatically. Productivity follows suit in rapid order. Your attitude can become a positive influence to share with your staff even if you are not Le Grande Poobah. I see too many senior aged kitchen staff (and servers) that carry the burden of “what if?” on their shoulders. What if I am right?……….

Some will demand total culinary commitment. To a point, yes. For a lifetime, not a chance. That is a serious regret I can live without when I draw my last breathe. There is nothing I could ever do in a kitchen that can, for example, replace the moments spent with kids in hospitals while on tour. Driving into the sunset in the mountains knowing in the morning you’d be ripping it up with great competitors, fierce water conditions in front of big crowds. Doing so pushed me in front of audiences wearing a Chef toque preparing food. Like I mentioned. You don’t have choices without options. Make yourself some options with dinner tonight.