In my closed facebook group (feel free to join us) there is always great content coming out on a daily basis. Today in the group Nikolina shared with us her learnings and journey towards becoming a private chef for a wealthy family. I think it’s an interesting and inspiring read, so I decided to share it with you here on the blog.
This is a post on how ‘I learned how to unapologetically and fiercely pursue a job I want, how to really sell my skills in a way that it’s impossible to refuse.’
You’re probably SICK of hearing this but it all starts with confidence.
If I didn’t like myself as a person, I would probably easily get nasty and jealous. I never, ever get jealous or nasty. If I wasn’t confident, I’d probably be scared of putting myself out there and be scared of failing.
I work as a chef and my first exciting job was to work in Paris for a famous chef. He took a gamble on me because I’m self-taught. I failed miserably and he basically told me to get out and never, ever come into someone’s kitchen ever again. Pretty harsh, right?
Well, I still went looking for another job as a chef and ended up in another restaurant in Paris. Now I’m a private chef, working for a very wealthy family in London and they constantly praise my food. Words only mean so much but they haven’t fired me yet (almost 2 years), so I guess it’s true.
What I’m trying to say is; if you really want something, have BLIND FAITH that you will get it as long as you give it your all. When I met the mother of the family I wasn’t ashamed to introduce myself and tell her that I think I’ve got what it takes to work. She probably saw my conviction and gave me the job. I was super nervous but then I just remembered that I know my craft and this leads me to #2.
2. Know. Your. Craft.
Know your industry. I study like crazy. Really crazy.
I have a file on every chef, every dish, I’m not even kidding. I make sure I know everything there is to know under the sun, I study all the chef’s that are at the top of the game, I study their biographies, how they started, what made them an ‘overnight’ success, what they specialise in, I watch so many YT vids and try to mimic their cooking styles by the little glimpses I see and try to figure out from there.
I specialize in Japanese and Balkan cuisine, you bet I know every dish and every ingredient that goes into it. I know where to find them and what stores sell the best. You get the point. Studying is so much broader than just picking up a book and listening to a podcast. A lot is also doing.
3. Check your ego at the door.
The cooking industry is crazy competitive and so many chefs have such a fucking huge ego. I cooked something that people didn’t like? Give me your harshest feedback, I’m more than happy to receive it.
While many other chefs would think there’s nothing wrong with their food, I would note down why they didn’t like it and try to improve/tweak my recipe. This has helped me tremendously. Chefs often forget that taste is more subjective than universal.
4. Don’t be afraid to show people what you are capable of.
Like, literally, show it. I cooked a Balkan dish and sent it to a chef (not just out of the blue, there was a bit of context due to networking and we’re both Croatian). He thought it was great and he’s now my mentor.
Also, he helps me a lot as he shows me where to look for a job, which restaurants to avoid, etc. He said it was the first time someone did something so bold. I knew he was going to love the dish because I’ve read every interview/article I could find on him and he just kept mentioning this Balkan dish.
This is where studying like crazy comes in handy. I have confidence in my skills and I’m not afraid to say “I made this and it’s amazing, try it!”.
5. Got rejected?
Skip over the skulking part and move on to the next thing, asap. Did someone say something harsh to you? Don’t take it personally but try to understand why they said that and try to improve yourself. See someone who’s higher up than you? Whatever, don’t focus on them and think you suck. If you spend all your time doing that, you probably do.
6. I just ask.
Oh, you’re a person who constantly dines at restaurant XYZ and you know the head chef personally? Would you mind introducing us? Closed mouths don’t get fed, probably my favorite saying.
Now, here is the important part; learn how to seduce people. And I don’t mean in a sexual ‘let’s get personal’ way. I know how to say the right things to the right people at the right time. But I only know how to do this with people in the restaurant industry – it’s all I know tbh. I never impose, I just ask without really expecting anything in return.
Sometimes I think it’s a numbers game. I just keep trying my luck until someone says yes and I never get tired of it. Ever. This means discipline and this is also where your blind faith comes in handy – it will keep you going.
Hope you can use this, whatever industry you work in!
I also wanted to add:
Some of you have been asking me how I do everything, “you speak 4 languages, work as a private chef, AND you’re a student? Plus you have time to do XYZ?”
Okay, first, I’m a chef #1, and I’m a part-time student #2. I’m trying to build up my credentials so that I can go back to university full time. School is taking up maybe 20% of my time. When my uni will begin, I will stop working entirely. I know my limitations and I know that working x studying full time isn’t sustainable for me.
Second, I grew up in a multicultural family, hence why I know multiple languages. I just grew up with it, it’s not like I decided one day to speak French and voila, I speak it. It’s something that has been in the making for years. Anyone who speaks multiple languages knows that it really isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Perks of being an immigrant.
Third, I’m an incredible hard worker. I’m a perfectionist and stupidly ambitious. I’m obsessed with my Google Calendar and log in real time what I’ve spent doing all day (I have a separate calendar where I make all my plans and that I can see at the same time – I use this to track my days and see where I’m slacking off and where I’m doing unuseful things).
I’m working all day, standing on my feet all day and it’s not unusual to work 14h or more a day. My feet and back usually hurt after a day of work. My hands are cramping. I smell like goddamn garlic or whatever food I was cooking with that day. Sometimes I cry, not because I’m sad but because I’m exhausted. I don’t want you to think it’s easy. It’s not.
I’m not planning on being a chef forever. This is why I think it’s okay to let my health suffer a bit. In the grand scheme of things, this will only be a small portion of my career. It’s my stepping stone and I’m still in my early 20’s. I truly believe that your 20’s are for building your foundation. I want to have a rock solid foundation. When I’ll open up my first restaurant, I’ll know what I’ll be doing.
I don’t have parents, so I am my own support system. I kinda rolled into being a chef because I don’t have a degree and it’s the only thing I’m good at. I have this fear instilled in me, it will never allow me to fully be at peace. This is fuel for me. I am NOT doing everything at the same time, a lot of things are works that have been years in the making. I’m talking about 5 years or more here.
I think this is something that we should talk about. I see so many people being painted as a modern Renaissance person or a freaking polymath. Having 101 job titles. But it’s just not what it’s cracked up to be. It’s just good marketing, being painted in a good light (and very hard work, of course).
I used to think “omg. I will never be as good as him. I’m this age, and he already opened his 1st restaurant at my age? What am I doing with my time? Why am I so lazy?”. It makes me feel so bad about myself. But that’s not the truth. That’s the fear and negativity in me talking. This is why it’s SO important to not look at others and compare yourself. Even I get demotivated sometimes.
But then I think: “you dumb ass. You think sitting here and sobbing will get you any closer to your goals? Nah, just do it. Go ahead and start, whatever it is your doing today, just do your best. And tomorrow, you’ll do the same.” THAT will get you closer to your goals.
I really hope this will help a lot of people and that I’ve actually contributed something.
Thank you Nikolina for sharing your journey and learnings with us. If you have a story you want to share here on the blog, feel free to email me.