Cultural Chef Exchange is a five- week-long programme developed with one of Canada’s most acclaimed chefs, restaurateurs and environmental advocates, Chef Darren MacLean. The exchange seeks to actively promote Canada’s culinary background and cross-cultural character around the globe. Square sponsored Cultural Chef Exchange and powered this mentorship series consisting of five topics, to share techniques, knowledge and encourage discussion of important issues the restaurant industry faces; from environmental stewardship to food waste and sustainability from successful chefs and restaurant owners from across the world.

The second year of Chef Darren MacLean’s Cultural Chef Exchange is underway in Calgary, AB, where MacLean recently met with visiting chef Andrew Wong to fish, forage, and discuss how to build rest into the daily grind of a restaurateurs’ life. Read on to learn more about their conversations, which have been edited for clarity.

Lead by example by focusing on your body’s needs

DM: To me, being a chef is akin to being an athlete. So if you want to perform at your best, you have to take care of the machine, and that starts with your body. Because working at a restaurant can be very physically taxing. If you’re going to be on your feet for 8 hours or more a day, it’s really important that you are eating correctly, that you’re keeping hydrated, getting enough sleep and taking small steps to take care of yourself. For example, at my restaurants we don’t allow any pop consumption. Staff can have as much tea or water as they like, but no soda. That’s a small measure that can add up when it comes to a healthy lifestyle.

I go to the gym daily, and all of my full-time staff have access to a gym membership as part of their employment. I encourage them to use it, to do something for themselves in a day, to move their bodies. If you’re physically fit, and well-rested, you’re better able to endure the long hours working at a restaurant because your body is ready for it.

AW: I think physical aching is part of the job when you work at a restaurant, and I feel that more than ever in my 40s, when my body can’t do everything it did when I was in my 20s. You can pull a muscle more easily, it can be tougher to get out of bed. This makes it even more important to make an effort with your physical health and prioritize your wellbeing, to prepare for those long days on your feet. I see a chiropractor once a week to help me be at my best.

Mental health and physical health go hand in hand

DM: I believe that physical health is in direct proportion to your mental health. And if you don’t prioritize yourself, you will always skip over your needs for everyone else’s, which can make you bitter and angry and upset — basically, not the best leader you can be. And that also hinders your sense of creativity, and what is a chef without creativity?

AW: I agree that physical and mental wellbeing are strongly related. You have motivation and drive that you internalize in yourself, and you have to grapple with your mentality on a daily basis, in spite of your physical condition. And if you’re not in the game mentally, you’re more likely to have accidents or injuries that impede your work or routine. I think that stuff can be a byproduct of not being in an optimal frame of mind a lot of the time.

All-in-one restaurant POS system

Get started with Square for Restaurants for free.

The right people and the right schedule can help you build rest into your hustle

AW: More than anything else that I’ve learned in all of my years in the restaurant industry is the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people. It’s about having that like-mindedness, someone who understands when you are not at 100%, when you are at 80%, they give you that extra 20. When you’re 70, they give you that extra 30. Whether that’s your partner or your manager or whomever, it’s the most important thing to have people like that around you at work.

It can be hard to give up some responsibility and delegate to others sometimes. I know I’m wrong, but sometimes it feels like when I’m not at a restaurant, it’s going to burn down to cinders. You can feel like no one will ever do the job as well as you do. But I have realized that there are a lot of people I work with who can do things better than I can. They’re more skilled, they’re more experienced, and it took me a while to know to look for that kind of staff instead of trying to do everything myself. When you hire those people, you can take time to focus on your family and your kids and the other areas of your life that aren’t work-related.

DM: When you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re trying to find time to prioritize your health, look at your workload and actually create a schedule that works for yourself. Being organized is so helpful when it comes to self-care, because you can free up time that would otherwise be used dealing with whatever fire you’re putting out that day. Square for Restaurants helps me with inventory and team management, which in turn helps me take the time that I need to recharge for my next shift. If you build a schedule for your staff, and for yourself, it will allow you to create a life that works for you.

Show up for yourself so you can show up for others

DM: Entrepreneurship is not an easy road. If it was easy, everybody would do it. If you want to have longevity, you have to find time for yourself. If you’re in the restaurant industry, you’re not working 9-5. Your friends and family, the other people in your life, they might be on a 9-5 schedule, but you are not. Restaurant people are attracted to this lifestyle because you’re around people pursuing excellence in hospitality, which means you’re always trying to please everyone.

I really believe that for one hour a day, you just have to set aside time for yourself. Get rid of your cell phone, don’t talk to your friends, don’t talk to your family. I make sure to hit the gym, or walk my dog — anything that gives me some time to recharge so that I can be mentally and physically healthy and prepared to work. You can’t show up for your team if you’re exhausted. You’ll be better able to give of yourself when you’ve charged your own battery first. It’s not selfish to make sure you can show up for everybody in your life.

About the Chefs

Andrew Wong
Chef Andrew Wong

Andrew Wong is a chef, anthropologist and cultural observer. British born of Chinese heritage, his environment and nurture have had an equal impact. The marriage of both, combined with a solid academic background, has led to a cooking style that has one foot placed firmly in the future and the other inspired by the past. He released his debut book A.Wong: The Cookbook, in 2015, and was awarded a Michelin star in 2017, along with a chef consultancy in 2018 at Baoshuan restaurant within the 5* Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi.
Chef Darren MacLean

One of Canada’s most acclaimed chefs, restaurateurs, and environmental advocates, Chef Darren MacLean was Canada’s sole contender and a finalist on Netflix’s global cooking competition ‘The Final Table.’ MacLean is passionate about sustainability and the food building community. While he regularly participates in events as an educator, speaker and culinary judge in Canada and abroad, he is happiest in his kitchens.