Wes Tyler, CEC, CCA, Executive Chef of The Club at Carlton Woods, has created a strong foundation by prioritizing team composition.
The single biggest difference between “kitchen staff” and “Culinary Team” is in the vision and pursuit of excellence. When I think about the relationship between elevated kitchen operations and the evolution of the brigade system, one of the biggest challenges chefs face is the composition of the perfect team. A group of skilled individuals must showcase an operational objective and demonstrate a similar commitment and belief in regard to a culinary philosophy.
Upholding the standard of excellence is required in order to be consistently successful. This feat demands a Chef’s vision be complete and thorough and the overall synergy of the team needs to be clear and present. Hence, a successful kitchen is often called a “well-greased machine.”
Teams must fire on all cylinders to produce the best possible result in regards to food and performance. This necessitates strategic hiring, training, and team building.
It has been challenging to find culinarians in recent months. However, it’s far from impossible. Too often I see chefs bringing in cooks to simply fill voids and plug holes in their kitchen. This is not always bad. Any good Chef will tell you that if you’re willing to learn, you can be trained and taught. Unfortunately, when you have an entire team that needs extensive training, it demands far more time than that of a well-refined and technically sound team. It is also one of the differentiating factors that set apart a strong culinary team. This is why I am placing so much emphasis on the importance of hiring. Pulling it all together is the most important part.
Many kitchens have strong workhorses who are most certainly talented. The issue is that they often lack the creativity, foresight, and/or decision-making abilities that are required to move to the next level. These employees are often loyal to the team and necessary for production operations. However, they can challenge the momentum and trajectory of the department. Often times they struggle to keep up with the direction of the program and fail to align with new ideas and techniques. Shifting old skills, perceptions, and bad habits into a new era of cooking is difficult for those who don’t want to grow. It requires commitment, hard work, and an open mind.
Although success can be measured in a variety of ways, the team determines the strength of a culinary operation. Even with the most talented chefs, the team still needs to be cohesive and well-led. A collective effort and a unified set of objectives will solidify a team’s ability to maximize their potential and remain “in-tune” with the mission. Any disruption in this process will obstruct the ability to achieve these goals. Although there are many highly skilled culinarians in our industry, the vision of the chef is necessary to pull everything together in an organized fashion.
At The Club at Carlton Woods, our Culinary Supervisory Team has spent the last 18 months refining our brigade and kitchen programming to achieve what we believe is an extremely strong Culinary Team with a tremendous amount of potential. This has come with many hours of dialogue, interviews, cooking demos, selective hiring decisions, and hands-on training tactics that define the standards and expectations for the department. This was done in an effort to compose a team that will work well together and shares our vision for the operation. We strive to push the culinary precincts, creating new boundaries for the industry, and execute our craft at a proficient level while promoting individuality and cultivating creative growth. The bond we share serves as a symbol of growth together. We have redefined the culture in the kitchen here at the club. If we achieve success, it will be together. If we fail, we will fail together.
Prioritization of the team composition and dynamic is important in laying the foundation for the future of the culinary program. Each person has to be in the right place, and on the same page. It’s the “mise en place” of the team structure: Everything (or everyone) in place, and ready to go.
As kitchens evolve, there is a natural flow and progression for the employees, but controlling the hiring selection process can help refine your team over time. Some will leave, some will stay and grow, and some will join you on the journey later down the road. It doesn’t happen instantly, but it’s important to be meticulous and patient. If you outline your vision for the team and the direction you want to take them, you will know when the right employee comes along and how you can utilize their skill set to complete the puzzle.