William Rogers, CEC, CCA, Executive Chef of Cosmos Club (Washington, D.C.), has worked alongside some of the industry’s most ambitious culinarians, who have reached a level of mastery few are bold enough to seize. This exposure has deeply impacted how Rogers approaches his role as a chef.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Rogers began his career with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. For the subsequent decade, he worked under two American Culinary Federation Certified Master Chefs (CMC), one Master French Chef and one three-star Michelin Chef.
When he left the Ritz in 2011, Rogers accepted the position of Executive Chef of Good Tidings, the University of Maryland’s (UMD) premier full-service catering program. He was responsible for a $9 million operation, five kitchens and 25 staff members.
Each April from 2012 through 2015 (while with UMD), Rogers would travel to Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, where he and many of his former Ritz colleagues helped execute food and beverage programming during the Masters. Rogers was tasked with leading a team of chefs as they produced 2,000 covers each day for the club’s members.
During the 2015 Masters, John Johnstone, CMC—a mentor Rogers had known from his time with the Ritz—was Director of Club Operations at Augusta National. He probed Rogers about his next career move.
“Every one of my mentors has incredible vision and has inspired me to always seek and embrace new challenges,” says Rogers. “I knew it was time to move on from university catering, but knowing he knew it, too, turned it into a strategic step forward.”
Johnstone encouraged Rogers to apply for the open position at Cosmos Club and to consider preparing for the CMC exam.
A Universe of Possibility
“Our former chef had been here for 30 years,” says Mitchell Platt, MCM, CCE, General Manager of Cosmos Club, who came to the club in 2013. “When he retired in 2015, we began searching for a chef who could reinvent our culinary program.”
With such a strong and diverse professional pedigree, Rogers was the panacea Cosmos Club was looking for.
“[Rogers] was young and articulate,” says Platt. “He was confident in his abilities and what he could bring to the table. He was able to share his vision and process. He was eager to help us renovate the kitchen while balancing the challenges of inheriting a tenured team and a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mindset.”
Rogers was equally excited by the possibilities within Cosmos Club.
“The club has a majestic aura and cultural significance,” says Rogers. “The membership and management team were eager to elevate the culinary scene. The potential for excellence was beginning to be realized, and I was excited to take the lead.”
Cosmos Club was founded in the 19th century by a group of scientists with a vision for “a center of good fellowship, a club that embraced the sciences and the arts, where members could meet socially and exchange ideas, where vitality would grow from the mixture of disciplines, and a library would provide a refuge for thought and learning,” according to its website.
Cosmos Club members are generally lawyers, academicians, doctors, members of the medical field, theologians and the like. The club caters to the intellectually accomplished and offers an array of programs for every member’s interest, including international affairs, science, the arts and economics, to name a few.
What it doesn’t offer are typical “country club” amenities. As an academic club, there is no golf course, tennis courts or pool.
“Food is a significant part of the experience,” says Rogers.
Eclipsing What Was
As is often the case preceding a transitional moment, half of Cosmos Club’s members were satisfied with the food and beverage program up to that point. The other half wanted more.
“Quality wasn’t necessarily a problem,” says Rogers—variety was, especially on the banquet side.
Members dine with the club weekly, either in the restaurants or as part of a lecture series; therefore, a one-size-fits-most banquet menu won’t suffice. Rogers wagered that an a la carte approach to banquets would serve a greater good.
“We wanted to strike the right balance between custom and feasible,” says Rogers, who credits Banquet Chef Ailee Apac and Executive Sous Chef Mark Linquist with the banquet program’s ongoing success. “I’m proud of our team and their ability to be agile in exceeding expectations with this type of banquet model.”
Banquet menus change daily, and the same groups are never served the same thing twice. Every lecture menu is unique, too. Ditto for weddings, receptions and parties.
On the a la carte side, Platt credits Rogers with transitioning the club into a scratch-made kitchen. “Rogers has been able to change the entire mindset of the team, too,” says Platt. “He’s taught them proper cooking technique, the intrinsic value of fresh, local ingredients, and he allows them to partner with him in the menu-writing process.”
“I love that Chef Rogers allows his chefs to fully own their departments,” says Eun Yim, Director of Food & Beverage. “We have two women running our main dining room and banquet kitchen, respectively.”
In 2017, Cosmos Club underwent a complete kitchen renovation. Rogers was instrumental in the design and execution of the new layout. He stealthily navigated the club through the renovation without suspending the food and beverage program.
“I enjoyed the logistics of building an outdoor kitchen and making sure we could continue to serve our members through the renovation,” says Rogers. “It was never simple, but the most rewarding tasks rarely are.”
Setting New Goals
Cosmos Club was hitting its stride with a strong, capable team in place and a new, highly functional kitchen. Seeking his next challenge, Rogers began preparing for the CMC exam, which he took in 2019.
“The process of preparing for and taking that exam revealed a lot of growth opportunities to me,” says Rogers. “I learned much about myself, and the process proved more valuable than the outcome. It has inspired me to stay on task, continue to grow and improve my craft.”
Rogers didn’t pass the exam in 2019, but he does plan to retake the test someday.
“I believe my biggest impact as a chef should not be based on the credentials after my name,” says Rogers. “Much like my mentors have inspired and guided me, I want that to be my legacy.”
Rogers stresses the importance of cross-training, continuing education and always trying to improve yourself and the operation. His measure of success is in the club’s Restaurant Chef, Yaya Rodriguez, who started as a line cook, and Linquist, who started in banquets.
“Not long ago, we hired a clerk in our commissary who has been promoted so many times that he now runs the grill,” says Rogers.
Yim, the newest member of Cosmos Club’s management team, accepted her role largely for the opportunity to work alongside Rogers. She believes his greatest strength is his completion of vision.
“Chef Rogers excels in making what he writes down on paper come to life,” she says. “There is nothing extraneous about his dishes, and everything works. His thoroughness and methodical approach pass through his teams and make our operations seamless.”
Rogers has elevated the Cosmos Club’s culinary program in “countless ways,” adds Platt.
“He’s improved the caliber of our team, the quality and variety of our menus and food and the spaces where we work and serve our members,” says Platt. “Administratively, labor and food costs are buttoned up, and the systems and processes he’s put in place will continue to propel the