Maybe you can take a moment and steer me in the right direction. I am having a little trouble with my chef’s cooking. The problem that I have is telling the chef when we either don’t like a dish, or when there is a problem with her preparation of it. When I try to tell her, either as she is preparing a dish or after we have eaten it, that it needs some slight adjustment, I can tell that it really hurts her feelings. Sometimes she says, well I made it that way last time and it was OK, or, I followed the recipe that you gave me, but she doesn’t seem willing to be asked to use her judgment to adjust a recipe toward a particular end (like, good sauce, next time make it less thick).
Last night I asked her how I could tell her to adjust something without hurting her feelings, and she almost started to cry. She said that she has cooked for lots of different families, and they would always give her a recipe and she would follow it and no one would complain, but we have such particular taste that she is always nervous that it won’t be right. Do you have any advice?
In general, it is not a good idea to comment on work performance while the employee is still at it unless there is a safety or other serious concern or you have agreed previously to a regular critique after the meal. A less seasoned chef is too likely to react emotionally rather than professionally to the comments given while cooking, or when comments right after mealtime are perceived as criticisms, instead of the honest feedback that you intend them to be. Feelings like “breathing down my neck”, “breaking my concentration”, “interfering”, are emotional responses that can occur even though you are well meaning. Your goal should be to turn this situation around so that Chef is concerned about how you like her cooking and sincerely wants to please.
Meet with chef on a regularly scheduled basis to talk about the job, and make it the time to discuss each of your concerns and feelings. You have to be up front with her about your expectations at these meetings, while always attentive to chef’s issues. Tell her that if she is willing, the task of pleasing you can be learned, but that it has to be a two-way effort based on mutual respect. You should stop commenting until meeting time or unless asked. Let your plates tell the story. When she does ask after a meal, start with the positive comments first and then give the “refinements for next time”.
Your chef has to be motivated to make the effort and you do this through a mixture of praise and setting the “bar” a bit higher. I think you should talk about the next days menus the day before at a quick meeting and make any comments that you can to explain what you are looking for and to make suggestions. Encourage her to take notes.