Dubuque G&CC’s Executive Chef, Chad Myers, has been struggling to fill a position on the line that he’s coming to discover is best suited for a chef like himself.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with consistency. As the Executive Chef at Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club, it is my job to make sure each dish that leaves the kitchen looks and tastes the same as it did the last time it was ordered. Our members expect this of us. They expect their favorite dish to taste the same way as it did the last time they ordered it.
But my struggle lies is finding and keeping the right people on my team to help make that consistency a reality.
We all know that finding good kitchen help is almost impossible these days. I don’t know exactly how other kitchens are run, or how big your brigades are, but in my kitchen, we have a four-person line with three on the hot side and one on the cold. The middle person is in charge of calling tickets, plating, and coordinating. In my short tenure at DG&CC, I have had a handful of people come and go from this position. I’ve had friends, colleagues from previous experiences, people with limited experience and people with lots of experience try, but never stay. No one has been able to cut the mustard, so to speak.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I have so much turnover in this position when, for me, it’s easily my favorite role on the line.
The more I think about it, the more I examine myself as a leader and a chef. I’m not the type of person who walks around like a drill sergeant or Gordon Ramsay, barking orders. I rarely raise my voice. I don’t micromanage. I’m patient and honest. I don’t believe a good leader has to treat others negatively. I may come across as sarcastic, but that’s just my personality. I’m usually trying to be funny (even if it sometimes comes across as me being a jerk). Ultimately, I want to be the kind of chef people want to work for; I want to be the kind of chef I want to work for.
I’ve never actually worked for a chef who I believe has been a truly great leader with a style I want to emulate. Most of my career, I’ve been either alone in the kitchen, with family in the kitchen of small independent establishments, or working for a chef who clearly demonstrates what not to do as the leader.
Navigating how to be a strong leader is fascinating, challenging and exciting. I have high expectations and I demand the best of my team, but I’m confident in their ability. I don’t push someone who isn’t capable or qualified. As long as everyone is doing their best and our members are happy, we’re going to succeed.
But as the chef, I want staff members who show up for work with a good attitude and a strong work ethic. I can teach almost anyone to cook, but I can’t teach you how to be a hard worker. You either are or you aren’t.
While I try to figure out what’s happening with the middle position on our line, and I try to find the best person suited to this role, I have been working that spot and it has been great. I’ve been able to make some of my specials a bit more complicated. And I know that if there is a mistake, I made it.
I can do this becuase I’m extremely lucky to have a Kitchen Manager (who happens to be my sister-in-law) with a business degree and a strong set of kitchen chops. She helps with numbers, schedules and other bureaucratic stuff. She is my rock and without her my sanity would be less intact.
While I’m on the line, I am able to do what I love—create excellent food on a whim. Some of my favorite dishes are the result of combining stuff in the cooler that needs to be moved. My latest creation is a perfect example of this.
I had some pork flatirons left over from recent specials and some parsnips and celery root that needed to be moved as soon as possible. I had a chunk of lardo that was begging to be utilized. So I seared the flatiron with a spicy rub and finished it in the oven. I made a puree with the celery root and parsnip and I candied the pine nuts with a little cinnamon chipotle seasoning. I shaved the lardo with some beets and paired that with some Granny Smith apple. I made a gastrique with sherry vinegar, barrel aged fish sauce, maple, and a touch of hot sauce. I garnished it with local nasturtium, some Chef’s Garden cutting celery and amaranth. I was really happy with how it turned out. (Earlier in my career, I would likely have done more to complicate this dish. But I have been working on restraint and simplicity, which has honed my style and made me a better chef.)
In recent weeks I have hired a couple new people who I think are a very good fit for our club and our kitchen. My goal is to cross-train these individuals in the middle position. But I think keeping myself in that role for the short term is the way to go. We will work toward being interchangeable on nights when I am better suited in banquets. In the meantime, our team will continue to work hard to do whatever we have to do to get the job done…consistently.