What Being Fueled by Passion Really Means

For Edward Leonard, CMC, Director of Culinary Operations and Executive Chef of The Polo Club of Boca Raton (Fla.), passion moves him forward. It fuels his work. It fuels his team’s work. And he believes it fuels the work of many of the club industry’s most talented players.

It is time here at The Polo Club of Boca Raton (Fla.) for our Culinary Pride R&D sessions, meetings, presentations and the message for 2018 and the 2019 season. My mantra is below:

“Excellence Through Passion”

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Passion is a word we hear every day when it comes to cooking and to our craft. It’s an intense word that should never become a buzzword. It should not be a flavor-of-the-month word. Passion means a total devotion to something. It means putting what you have a passion for above all else.

I have passion. I am so passionate about cooking that I would not do anything else for a living. Passion means that even when things are going badly, or when the work is too hard and the hours too long, you don’t give up, walk out or resign.

In the culinary world, passion is not just about doing what you love to do but also happily doing whatever needs to be done, from peeling vegetables to organizing the pantry to cleaning up. Becoming a quality cook involves all aspects of the craft and does not happen overnight; it takes years of adding to one’s store of knowledge and sharpening one’s skills to the highest level, much as a great wine needs time to age and develop.

Passion for your job and at your club is important, too. Some of that passion is about being part of something larger than yourself. Passion about our craft means contributing to other departments, helping to make a difference in all you do.

Having passion is ensuring that the passion creates opportunities and solutions as you deal with the member or boards challenges. It means that you walk the walk along with the talk.

Passionate people do not sit back and criticize just to be heard, nor do they gossip and use situations for self-advantage that could destroy the good being done at their club or property. Having passion is such a strong attribute and such an intense emotion that it needs to be channeled for mutual benefit.

Passion is not a new love or emotion you stumble on without warning. If you have a true passion for the culinary arts, that passion is inbred and has been burning in your heart for as long as you can remember. Getting into this business because it is perceived as a hot profession (no pun intended) or will make you rich and famous is just not the thing to do. The truly successful are the many who cook, bake and contribute to the industry because their undying love and passions consume them.

If they were not behind the stove, banging the pans, sharing knowledge and pleasing guests, they would be lost. Without the communication with fellow culinarians, getting involved in something special, or belonging to a group that loves to cook, life would contain a void. That is passion, devotion, and commitment. This is why our family of chefs and cooks we work with become our second family.

Passion is never consumed by jealousy. There are those in other clubs or our industry who may be more accomplished, who cook better or who can offer more knowledge. But true passion drives us to learn from those who possess such gifts.

True passion is contained in a humble manner as well. I also get surprised when some chefs speak how they refuse to cook certain dishes and they instead plan to train the members. We all are in business to please the customers and at times it is giving them what they want and making it the best it can be. Chefs that don’t do this have a short shelf life.

I find it humorous that a survey conducted by a popular cooking magazine revealed that 66% of those readers polled felt they could cook in a restaurant kitchen. Because one reads and follows a recipe and has all day to cook for eight does not mean one can cook for 200 in the same timeframe, while training others, managing labor and food costs, and dealing with the pressure and all the many facets of culinary work that chefs grapple with day in and day out.

In a school environment, could they really prepare daily lesson plans and teach a class with time restrictions, or supervise 20 students and show them the correct way to flavor, season and cook and perform to a high standard? I think not.

The members we serve also have very little understanding of our job, the responsibilities we have outside of food such as payroll, human resources, food cost, building kitchens and more.

While cooking may be perceived as entertainment, and perhaps yelling while you throw herbs on a plate, it is a serious business. Cooking takes a lot of your heart and your soul, and it takes real passion—the passion that drives you and enables you to wake up every day saying, “I cannot wait to do this again.”

The making of a true chef is not an easy task, but it is something we must embark on wholeheartedly. Plain and simple, it is the desire to be the best you can be, while doing something you love with a simple product: food.

I have had the good fortune to travel all over, and I have seen passion. I have seen those who every day embark on an adventurous culinary journey. My trips have been so impressive because even small countries, those in rural areas display so much pride and passion for cooking. When those chefs and cooks speak of food, go to their local market get to cook and share food, their eyes light up and the energy in the room is palpable.

Food is a universal language expressed in every culture. Families have great stories and bonds because of cooking and eating together. My grandmother was not happy unless you broke bread with her, tasted her gravy and left with a full stomach. Most holidays and celebrations throughout the world involve cooking and serving food.

I tip my toque to the chefs and cooks who do not receive accolades or publicity and work in market segments that receive no recognition, even though they are making a difference. They do what they do with passion and love for the craft.

Egos, self-centered attitudes, trying to tear down what others build and lack of respect no matter how good you are is not passion, regardless of how talented you may be. Passion is honest and comes with a set of standards that reflect quality. Passion is true to the word and to the heart.

Rest assured, passion is the passion I described. It is the desire, the love and the true objective of making a difference for our members and guests and a quest for excellence, fueled by a culture that has a passion for all and everything they do.

We may not reach the pinnacle of excellence at Polo Club all the time, but we will be powered by our passion and reach for the pinnacle whether making a burger, a sandwich or something for one those special events we love to post to social media and get excited about.

I leave you, my fellow culinarians and chefs, with this simple quote: “The roots of true achievement lie in the will to become the best that you can become.” –Harold Taylor