Cody Middleton, one of the pastry chefs of the Polo Club of Boca Raton, believes it is important to listen to encourage colleagues to try new things.
Efficiency, consistency, and quality are three of the biggest pillars that we as chefs try to achieve on a day-to-day basis. Without consistency and quality, the trust of the member or guest is lost. Thinking in terms of a business, the speed that an employee works plays a role in the operation’s overall success, too. Training an employee to master his or her job correctly and efficiently is ultimately the manager’s goal. At the same time, this sometimes puts cooks into “boxes” of tasks for them to complete.
Cross training is beneficial to an establishment as well as to individuals. It is inevitable that an employee will become absent and leave his/her position for a number of reasons—illness, life events, or to pursue a new opportunity. Having someone else that is familiar enough to temporarily fill this person’s position allows for the operation to flow much more smoothly than if the individual would have to do the job with no previous experience or training. Personal growth is valued by employees as well. The best employees seek additional information and want to build their repertoire. They aren’t solely looking for a paycheck, but to tap into the pool of knowledge at their disposal. In my opinion, enriching and mentoring each of my employees to become better culinarians than when they started is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Two of the positions that are frequently limited in the tasks that they are assigned are our baker’s assistant and pastry cook who works the line for our a la carte restaurants here at Polo. Naturally, the baker’s assistant doesn’t get to work with pastries, cakes, chocolates and our a la carte pastry cook is trained on the importance of mise en place and methods to set-up his line to be most efficient and usually doesn’t get to work items that are not needed for the restaurants. Some people simply accept that nature of the job and excel at it, however, each of the gentlemen in the aforementioned positions have repeatedly expressed interests in other pastry disciplines.
Just discussing the theory or science behind a certain task or ingredient adds value to another’s career. Many times, our pastry cook has asked me about the reasons and adaptions to a formula when adding, removing, or substituting acidic ingredients in a batter. This conversation turned into talking about the effects on a product with the improper pH and certain tell tale signs that are indicative of these imbalances. Additionally, he has asked me to show him the process of lamination and to explain the benefits of using a croustillant/craquelin on pâte à choux. Again, it is unlikely that he would be asked to do this on a regular basis, nonetheless, it keeps him engaged and interested in what can be a monotonous job of just getting ready for service. At the same time, on slow days, we bring our baker’s assistant downstairs to the pastry kitchen and a work events so that he can involved in things (such as liquid nitrogen ice cream/flambéeing) that don’t only involve flour, water, salt, and yeast.
While it is important to push employees to produce at the highest level possible for the purpose of their specific position, it is also important to ensure that they are getting more out of their experience that just clocking in and out each day. It lets your employees know that you value them as an individual with goals to better himself/herself instead of a replaceable object. Our baker’s assistant told me something the other day that really stuck with me. He told me, “If you keep the knowledge with you, it does no one any good except for yourself; you simply die with whatever information you had. If you share your knowledge and show others what you have learned, you pass along a legacy that will benefit someone else for the rest of their life.”