Throughout my career, I have been incredibly fortunate to have managers who encouraged me and made continuing education a priority. In 2006, my General Manager, Don Hunter, sent me to the Club Chefs Institute held at The Greenbrier, marking my first formal chef education experience. During my tenure at Elkridge, Kent Johnson furthered my education by sending me to Star Chefs in New York. While in Connecticut, I had the opportunity to participate in the Chef to Chef Conference and even traveled to Peru with the local chefs’ chapter. At the San Antonio Country Club, I am fortunate enough to have an education budget that allows me to travel and partake in various events throughout the year.
Although these educational sessions expose us to incredible learning opportunities and talented individuals, they can be expensive. The costs of registration, accommodation, meals, and travel quickly accumulate, making it challenging for individuals who lack club support to pursue such opportunities out of their own pockets. Unfortunately, many clubs restrict education funds to the chef and top leadership team, excluding junior management and line staff from these opportunities.
In San Antonio, my challenge was to find a way to extend these opportunities to my culinary team and junior leadership members without depleting our budget. This year, we decided to take a different approach. During the CMAA and Chef to Chef conferences, I contacted managers and chef friends I knew, volunteering some of my team members to visit their establishments and spend time with them.
We began by sending our banquet sous chef, Marco, to Bonita Bay for a week. We covered his airfare, and my friend Richard Brumm graciously hosted him at his house. Marco had the privilege of working closely with Richard and his team while also getting to know other chefs in the area and interacting with them. It is an understatement to say that he returned inspired.
A few weeks ago, we sent two of our chefs de partie, Eli and David, to Baltimore. They had the opportunity to stage at both The Eldridge Club and Green Spring Valley Club. Having worked at Elkridge, I was aware of the interclub golf tournament and the extensive work involved. The entire team, including General Managers Tina Lutzi and Sam Moore, as well as chefs Tom Hall and Todd Sellaro, treated them like royalty. From attending an O’s game to exploring Fells Point and enjoying crab cakes at Lexington Market, Eli and David experienced a different club and a distinct way of doing things. Both returned tired yet refreshed, with a renewed perspective on our operation.
The cost of providing these opportunities is manageable. We cover airfare, rental cars, and some meals, ensuring that the team provides receipts for reimbursement. Additionally, we pay their wages while they are away, so they don’t miss out on compensation. We actively seek more opportunities for our leadership team to stage at other establishments. I have a network of friends throughout the country, and I’m reaching out to find times when they could benefit from extra help to support their operations.
Furthermore, we are discussing the possibility of other teams sending their chefs to spend time with us. Our kitchen is dynamic, with several events throughout the year where we can certainly use additional assistance or provide an opportunity for someone to observe our practices and processes.
We view these experiences as opportunities to expose our team to different environments, observe diverse operations, and work under alternative management styles. They provide a chance to gain fresh perspectives and understand our challenges. Upon their return, team members bring back new ideas and innovative solutions to the issues we encounter.