Glenmoor CC’s Executive Chef rediscovers the importance of her role.
In an ideal world, I would live inside my little chef bubble and do nothing but play and experiment with food, creativity, plate presentation and menu composition. But as a professional chef, my days are filled with non-stop activity, stress and emotion. It’s amazing how quickly daily intrusions can burst my little bubble.
Before I take the first steps into the double doors of the kitchen at Glenmoor Country Club, I’ve already had at least four conversations. Most start with, “Good morning, Chef.” Then quickly progress into: “This is my problem. How do I solve it?” Or: “This piece of equipment is down and we’ve got an event this afternoon for 150 people. What can I offer them?” It’s unbelievable to me how many questions I can answer in a 23-second walk.
But these first four conversations have a big impact as they begin to shape my day.
On the rare days when I’m not met at the door with the interrogatory greetings, I usually judge how well the day will go simply by my first taste of the soup of the day. Is it properly seasoned? Is it hot enough? Yes? no? F***!
As these little things have taken hold, I’ve begun to lose sight of what is most important to me as a chef. I’ve even discovered my measurement of failure.
We’ve all been in it—the heart of the in-season slaughter. We go through it every year. Whether or not we’re prepared, it’s coming. Our current in-season has been especially grueling here at Glenmoor CC. I’ve mentioned before the continuous increase in volume that we’ve been experiencing at the club year after year. That increase in participation has leads to increased expectations which are quickly superseding by what we are realistically capable of providing with staffing levels, dynamics and structural limitations.
Don’t misjudge me. As a chef, I’ve always been one to welcome new challenges rather than shy away from them, no matter how ridiculous or strenuous they are to overcome. “Bring it on,” I always say. However, our recent circumstance of compaction coupled with our current staffing crisis (we’ve gone through our entire season short-staffed by five bodies) has left us doing anything and everything we can to simply stay afloat while maintaining the illusion to the membership that we are as great and as accommodating as they see us.
Here’s where those daily intrusions come into play in the bigger picture: In an attempt to help my team stay afloat during this season, I’ve found myself in the trenches with them every day during all service periods and throughout prep periods. I set up my station with my knives and my sous set up beside me. Away we worked on prep lists for the day or week. Off and on throughout the day we would get bombarded on the line during service. Once it settled down, we would return to our stations to finish hammering out the prep list which would continue to grow as more items made their way onto those lists throughout each service period. At the end of the day, every day, there was no sense of accomplishment, only defeat.
This has been our entire in-season.
As much as I revel in the adrenaline boost from getting through the grind on the line, this new dynmaic is particularly hard for me to accept. I’ve always thought of myself as strategic and mindful of what it takes to stay proactive rather than reactive. But no matter what ideas I’ve implemented this season, nothing helped. We couldn’t get ahead. We got worked.
We recently hosted a Guest Chef dinner with a very good friend of mine. This Chef came in as a favor and cooked alongside me and some of my culinary team for an outstanding food and wine pairing event at Glenmoor. In just the few hours my staff spent with this Chef, I saw how much they learned from him. I saw how eager and excited they were. It dawned on me that over the last three months I’ve been doing absolutely nothing for to propel my team forward as professionals. I realized my measurement of failure when I saw how eager they are to learn. As I’ve been trying to stay afloat with my own executive responsibilities, while doing what I can to physically help keep the operation afloat, I’ve stopped teaching them.
As grateful as I am to this Chef for this an invaluable experience for my team, I’m even more grateful to him for bringing back into focus what it means to me to fulfill my role as Executive Chef to its full capacity. I must help my team to constantly learn and grow.
In a dream world, we could all live inside our protected little bubbles to create, play, and repeat. But in the real world, we have to learn to welcome the intrusions while maintaining a sharp focus on what is important to us as chefs and why we do what we do.