“Positive Mindset” Key to Career and Managing Kitchen Stress, says Executive Chef Jake Kowalewski
A chef’s passion for cooking is often awoken in the kitchen of their childhood. But for Jake Kowalewski the “call” to life on the pass didn’t arrive until the age of 21. However, Jake soon made up for lost time. Rising eleven years later to Executive Chef – and in his own words, in charge of a “brigade of 15 chefs” at the Salt Grill and Sky Bar in Singapore.
The journey began for Jake after two years travelling in Europe when a friend asked him to help out at a resort on the Great Barrier Reef, off North Queensland. He quickly “fell in love with the intensity of kitchen life”. But more of Jake’s experience of handling stress in the kitchen later in this post.
Essential to build upon his new found love of hospitality
Jake decided it was essential to build upon his new found love of hospitality with formal career training. He returned to Sydney and embarked as a trainee steward at the Hilton hotel, progressing to a two year stint as Chef apprentice in the production kitchen. From there Jake quickly took his newly honed skills to renowned Australian celebrity chef and restaurateur, Luke Mangan, and was hired as a 3rd year apprentice at the Glass Brasserie.
Over the next three years, Jake progressed to senior Chef de partie and also joined the opening team at Mangan’s Maldives resort restaurant. “I gained valuable experience and leadership skills”, says Jake, which was clearly recognised as he was elevated to Sous chef at Mangan’s Salt Grill and Sky Bar, Singapore.
Time found to travel ply his fine gourmet skills throughout Asia
One year later, Jake was Head chef at Salt Tapas & Bar, “running the kitchen alongside six chefs, and bringing a different approach to Asian flavours in traditional tapas dining”. The next year Jake took over as Executive chef
Incredibly, Jake also found time to travel and ply his fine gourmet skills throughout Asia, from VIP events in Tokyo, a 2-week pop up salt grill at Hong Kong’s Conrad Hotel and an ‘exclusive’ on the Singapore to Bangkok oriental express. Jake’s journey reaches a summit in 2017 when he was nominated ‘Rising Chef of the Year, Singapore at the World Gourmet Summit. It’s been quite a ride in a relatively short period of time.
One of the most common causes of stress in the kitchen
Jake has also seen his share of high pressure kitchen environments in his career, to date. “One of the most common causes of stress in the kitchen is in the delivery times of ingredients” says Jake, adding, “this will affect the whole day’s schedule of ‘mise en place’ (preparation of dishes and ingredients), which can easily lead into not being ready for service on time and causing the entire system to break down”.
So how does Jake manage stress in the kitchen? “I keep a positive mindset. Plus, things get easier when we all work together work as a team”. Essential advice when working 6 -7 day weeks, as Jake often did while in Singapore. But when he did get time away from the pass, Jake says he would relax by playing his favourite sporting pastimes of golf, cricket and fishing.
“Your skill base will take you to the next level as a chef”
Finding ways to de-stress is always a must, of course, and Jake also has valuable advice for younger chefs starting out in the industry. “Listen and take everything in what your seniors are teaching… you might not use everything you learn but one day you will!”. Jake also emphasises that it is “your skill base that will take you to the next level as a chef” and sees his own “positive mindset and willingness to learn” as the most important advice he can impart.
A positive mindset is certainly a big focus right at this moment as the coronavirus epidemic continues to apply the brakes across much of the hospitality industry. As ever, Jake takes a positive, forward looking view, “I think the best thing we can do at this time is to adapt and reinvent how we do things, such as switching to Takeaway or offering fresh produce deliveries with restaurant quality ingredients”.
Career-wise, Jake is equally upbeat in how he wants to bring together all the elements that are important to him. Committed to only using “sustainably farmed, wild caught or produced, and ethically sourced ingredients when possible”, Jake is passionate in his aim is to bring all he has discovered from Asia back to Sydney with “fantastic recipes and an exceptional culinary experience.”