As the new Executive Chef of The Polo Club of Boca Raton, Samantha Cavaciuti is charting a way forward by responding to needed changes within the industry.
Being named Executive Chef of The Polo Club of Boca Raton (Fla.) is an important and well-earned next step for Samantha Cavaciuti. She’s been at the club since 2015 when she joined as Chef de Cuisine. Over the past six years, she has diligently worked her way up the ranks, serving first as Banquet Chef and most recently as Executive Sous Chef, before taking over earlier this summer.
As Executive Chef, Cavaciuti has defined important goals for herself and her team. She plans to refine the culture, work toward achieving a better work/life balance for her team, and pursue growth opportunities that will further enrich the member experience and the professional development of all of her culinarians.
C2C: What have been your greatest challenges in assuming the top position, and what advantages came along with having been a member of the team you are now leading?
SC: The staff has been incredibly supportive and excited about my new leadership role. Prior to this promotion, I was in the trenches with them. They know I always have their backs. I have been a constant presence during a critical transition period. I have worked to offer reassurance and stability when the team needed it most.
I believe that this team knows I wouldn’t ask them to do something that I wouldn’t do. That includes working the line, knocking out dishes or cleaning the kitchen.
C2C: I have a 12-year-old daughter who keeps a chef’s coat in my office. She loves to help out in the kitchen when she visits. What advice would you offer that might be specific to young women like her, who have a desire to pursue a career as professional chefs in the club industry?
SC: Kitchens have changed over the past 30 years. They are still changing. They have become more of a meritocracy. You must not set limits. You must work hard. Read everything you can get your hands on. And make sure this is what you want.
C2C: Having grown up in a food mecca like Chicago, what foods are “must-haves” when you return home?
SC: Chicago is definitely a 24-hour food city, but the food I miss the most are the dishes my mother and grandmother cook. I fell in love with cooking by helping them and by eating all the amazing things they created.
C2C: At my club, we navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, only to emerge into a vacuous wasteland of applicants for kitchen positions. What does the labor market look like in Palm Beach County? How are you attracting talent?
SC: Palm Beach is facing many of the same challenges as everyone else in terms of staffing. We try to offer our cooks an environment where they can learn and grow. All the chefs within our brigade were promoted from within—myself included. So we walk the talk.
We try to create a more even work/life balance and we offer good benefits, too. We love to develop young cooks by encouraging them to move progressively through stations and restaurants. We’ve also started a gardening program that we look forward to expanding.
C2C: How do you see our craft and industry evolving over the next twenty years? What role do you see yourself playing in that transition?
SC: I hope we can continue to work toward a better work/life balance within our industry. We need to stop glamorizing not eating and working around the clock. We need to try to make days off consecutive so that employees have time to relax and decompress.
Our previous model just isn’t sustainable. People who are well-rested are more productive and don’t get sick as often. It’s my job as executive chef to appropriately staff and create a productive model for our team to thrive.
C2C: What are the “sacred rules” of your kitchens?
SC: If you wouldn’t serve it to your grandma, don’t put it in the pass. Also, waste nothing. Excess products can be utilized for employee meals, as well as in our pickling and preservation program.
C2C: If you could go back in time to the hardest day of your career and tell yourself only one thing, what would it be?
SC: Keep going. No matter how hard today is, it will end, and you will get another chance tomorrow.