In his first year at Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, Executive Chef Colby Newman made great strides, but he has new goals for the year ahead.
I don’t know where the past year went, but it has come and gone. The week of the Fourth of July marked my first year with Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Yacht Club and it all feels like a blur. I think I accomplished a lot that I set out to do this first year, but there were also many challenges I had to face.
One of the most important things about being a club chef is getting to know your members and developing some kind of relationship with them. Running a constantly busy kitchen and finding the time to check in with members who are dining is difficult, but I think it was something I was able to do really well. Of course, I probably don’t know every single one of our 700+ members yet, but I definitely know the ones who are very involved with the dining in our club.
There are still changes that will continue to happen, but I made a lot of progress updating our menus, our recipe book, and improving the quality and consistency of our food. There are a lot of important annual events at the club that members look forward to and events like these always seem to be a little extra stressful because you know members are going to compare everything to the previous year. But I managed to help contribute to making each event successful with glowing reviews of the food. So, now that I know what members are expecting for each of these events, I can continue to improve each one with hopes of making them better than the previous year. With constant feedback from our members and general manager, I think our food and dining experience is moving in the direction that everyone was hoping for.
Overall, my first year went really well, but I also felt like I lived here because one of my biggest struggles was being able to staff my kitchen. I had this idea in my head that moving to a larger area with a larger culinary scene meant that I would be able to easily find people interested in working in the kitchen. I was completely wrong. Whenever I finally felt like I had my whole team in place, something would disrupt it. I also thought that having several culinary schools nearby would work in my favor. But, with so many schools throughout the country closing, or schools trying to get as many students through their programs as quickly as possible has resulted in students having a lack of knowledge and not as qualified as they thought they were. I love to train people and share my knowledge, but it’s also helpful to come across people who can just easily fall into place without needing constant training.
There has yet to be a time when I felt like I was fully staffed. It’s important to me to have my employees cross-trained, but when I don’t even have enough employees to begin with, it’s a challenge. When someone can’t make it to their shift and I originally planned to try and leave an hour or two early, the extra time I was looking forward to spend with my family is now limited because I have to cover for them. My end goal is to have one or two “flex” employees. People who are able to jump from station to station depending on what our needs in the kitchen are for that day. But, it’s impossible to hire such an employee when I’m already understaffed to begin with.
Still, my constant struggle seems to be finding that balance between work and home. My wife says that my biggest strength, but also my weakness, is that I care so much. I don’t want to do the bare minimum just to get by. I care so much about my food, my reputation, and that both my staff and members are all happy. But, at times this constant need to please everyone can take away from my life outside of work.
Penelope Wong’s most recent blog about her decision to leave her club after 20 years to finally have a life outside of the kitchen really hit close to home for me, and I’m sure it would for most chefs. I’m not ready to leave the kitchen yet, so it’s really important to me that I keep working on trying to find this balance. So, if there’s a chef out there who has discovered the secret, I would love to talk to you.
This past year, I was given a lot of support from our commodores and board. Having a board that is supportive of my choices and encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing reduces a lot of stress from my job. We also went through a lot of changes throughout the club in order to build an executive team that all have the same vision for GPYC. We’ve all discussed our individual goals for our own departments in order to make sure we continue to provide our members with excellent service and the qualities of one of the country’s top yacht clubs.
I can’t believe my first year is already complete, but I’m ready to see how we can continue to strengthen our dining experience at GPYC and to see what else we can accomplish in all areas of our club.