Fiddlesticks CC’s Executive Chef Ryan Daniels believes that truly great club chefs are slowly cultivated over a career of doing all the small things right.
Why are there so many chef vacancies in our industry? How can we better establish a profession that nurtures great club chefs who can develop culinary cultures that improve the food and beverage programs across all clubs? Are great club chefs a dying breed?
The biggest challenge for chefs in my opinion is finding quality help. Individuals who are eager to learn, spend copious amounts of unpaid hours watching and learning from others to improve their craft. They have zero sense of entitlement when they start in the kitchen. Yes, I said it. Entitlement. We live in a society where everyone gets a medal for participating. What happened to rewarding those who put forth the most effort? Just showing up and performing at a mediocre level isn’t enough to elevate our industry or ourselves. Arriving in a kitchen with a culinary degree does not mean you will have the waters part and kitchen staff bow to you. Respect is earned—and skill is learned.
Chefs who take pride in their work, regardless how big or small the task, are passionate. Those who achieve executive level status as chefs take great pride in every minute detail. For example, a thumb smudge on the plate presented to the pass is unacceptable. Ditto for serving knowingly overcooked foods. Once mediocrity is the “norm,” the kitchen is doomed. The EC sets the standards and must tolerate nothing but excellence from every member of the team, no matter the circumstance.
Expectations need to be clear and enforced. They must be consistently practiced by all brigade members. The EC must make it clear that his or her kitchen philosophy is transparent and applies to all. This is a must. If you made an error, own it, then fix it. Never ever cover it up.
To have a true “team,” it is critical to know what to expect from each member. Once that is achieved, it’s like working with a well-oiled machine where each person has a role, relies on the other members of the team for their respected contribution and an extraordinary product is delivered. This only works if each member of the team is operating with the same level of commitment. No one person in a kitchen can deliver on his or her own. It takes a team.
Chefs have become lazy. In a day and age where you can buy virtually anything and everything pre-made, how are we supposed to foster a culture of excellence if we aren’t paying attention to the quality of products. Perhaps management is focusing on saving on labor, but at what cost? And what is the impact on the industry? And even more of a concern: Why are we okay serving foods that aren’t our own to our members and their guests?
Our craft is a labor of love. Good food takes time. Stocks need to simmer to develop flavor. Soups should be made in advance so all the flavors can meld together. I have attended numerous chef meetings and have been shocked to find that this is simply not the thought process for most. It is easier for them to just buy it and not worry about it. When did this this become an industry standard?
Easier isn’t always better. Take pride in doing the mundane tasks. Remember why we are in this profession. Ensure we are setting the standards and culture for the future of our culinary programs. We are mostly type A individuals. We can’t sit still for more than 5 minutes. Use that to your advantage. If we teach this, we must also hold ourselves and everyone around us to the same standard. The “weak” ones will weed themselves out and eventually we will wind up with a thriving team who will exceed not only the members’ expectations but the chef’s as well.
It only takes a small culture change to shift an industry’s mentality and culture. I am sure there are numerous other points that lead us astray—complaints, long hours, finding good help, personal issues, money, etc—however, we need to remind ourselves why we picked this profession in the first place. If you thought you were going to become a celebrity or get rich from cooking, I would like to be the first to tell you that this will not happen. But if you chose this path for the adrenaline rush, the instant gratification, and to be part of a second family, please know that you can create change. A small culture shift, sharing knowledge, supporting and pushing your colleagues and paying attention to the details will transform the future of our craft.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I was given when I was promoted to my first executive chef roll was this: “From now on, you will not be judged on what you do or how you perform. You will be judged by how well your brigade performs.”