Steve Boeger, Executive Chef of Hendersonville (N.C.) Country Club, has spent his career developing a philosophy and strategy to care for his culinary team.
A lot of memberships ask me what my biggest strength is. They are surprised when I say, team building and people. The way I care for my staff has changed much in the same way culinary trends have evolved and changed over the course of my career.
I was trained by classical old-school chefs. When I climbed the ranks I lead the way I was lead. Keep this in mind I come from a German household and my brother and I are first-generation Americans. This old-school style of management seemed like a no-brainer and honestly it fit like a glove at the time. As I’ve evolved, I’ve realized this style no longer suits me or what I am trying to accomplish and work towards.
My modern philosophy is simple. It’s not unlike many of the basic techniques we use every day in the kitchen and on the line. I listen to my team members I have worked hard to build a true team that supports one another. It’s sort of like that co-op or farm stand you shop at on your days off.
Notice I said days.
Employees are people just like you and me. We need to have a life outside of the kitchen. I understand that there are times when all hands are needed on deck, but I firmly believe two days off is foundational to my philosophy on taking care of my team so that they can thrive at work and outside work.
Gratitude is another characteristic I try to show the team often. This refers to my readiness to show my appreciation for a multitude of things they do, big and small. I am grateful for so much today—Prime beef, local tomatoes, day boat fish, those Royal Red Shrimp, my dishwasher Zack, my membership, my Vacmaster, the mountains, my kids, my partner Allison, and the list goes on. The more I can show my gratitude the more others will feel it and the harder they will work because they know they are appreciated.
Healthy boundaries are one of those things that I struggled and struggle with, but acknowledge the importance of. Healthy boundaries can improve our relationships and self-esteem. They allow us to save our emotional energy, and help us to grow together. Setting healthy boundaries leads to building a stronger team.
When I interview or hire I look for a positive attitude as I have never learned how to truly change someone’s attitude when met with aggression. When attitudes align in the kitchen, though, employees become responsible for the success of the operation and they hold one another accountable and support as needed, even if it doesn’t fall under our job description.
Vulnerability is another tool I have learned to engage as a leader, especially during the last two years. We share our trials and tribulations with each other and this creates a genuine bond between the staff. We talk and share real-life stuff and we understand that every day will not be perfect, but we will continue to strive for it. It’s in our blood and it’s the reason why food and beverage hooked us in the first place.
Trusting my employees was foreign to me for many years. I can do it better now, but there is always room for growth. My staff understands my expectations and they look for direction. I enjoy seeing their thought processes and the results they can accomplish when they know I trust them. This empowers the staff to reach new levels and to realize that we can all learn from each other.
I value what goes in and out of the club, too. I was sitting on a panel in Asheville, North Carolina and sustainability quickly became a subject. The floor began to shift and people were engaged because they were talking about a concept they love and are passionate about. As I was listening to others speak, I realized that we owe the same passion to ourselves and to our team as we show to the craft.
Self-care goes hand-in-hand with being a sustainably successful chef. I also value my employees and we pay a top living wage, offer 87.5% paid insurance, benefits, uniforms, a voice, flexibility, and understanding. In return, I ask my staff to do their best.
This approach to taking care of my team was foreign to me years ago. But it is working well for me now and I suspect it will continue to evolve and improve. Today, we are one of the only kitchens comfortably staffed for the operations we run now and hopefully into the near future.