We push hard in our early careers to get to the pinnacle of our chosen professions—to become Executive Chefs—only to realize that when we finally get there, the job is less about cooking and more about managing people and running a business. At this phase of our career, there are still long days, mandatory holidays, and time away from family.
I have always believed that chefs have a mortality in this business. I know how my body felt at 40 years old. Do I want to do this at 60, day in and day out?
So, what happens to your professional life when you reach that point? Most chefs go to one of two places: they either become a sales rep or broker at a food service provider or transition into a food and beverage director position. The choice depends on how polished you have become working the dining room floor at your club over the years. Can you walk into a room and converse with someone, no matter their background? Do you prefer to hide away from the members in the kitchen but can get along with other chefs and owners?
We all know that the executive chef of a country club is a rock star. When the chef walks into the dining room after a successful service or event, everyone wants to talk to him or her. Have you mastered talking but not saying anything and working a room of people? Of course, you have. You are a chef.
About six months ago, I moved to the Food and Beverage Director position. Going from celebrity chef to just another face on the floor was, I’ll admit, a bit of a hit to my ego.
Instead of the kitchen’s four walls to worry about, I have the whole business to look after. What a change in mindset this has been. I have always looked at servers as ambassadors of what chefs do. You must properly train the service staff so they understand the blood, sweat, tears, and passion the culinary department puts into their job. What I am finding is the kitchen must be equally trained on what the FOH goes through daily. Both locations have two different mindsets and personalities to manage and understand. The one constant is that people want accountability and to be treated fairly.
Coming from the kitchen and moving into the FOH, I quickly realized that there is a lot I don’t know. The good thing is I don’t have to know everything right away. I need to know how to put the right people in the right place and do the right jobs. This was a skill I learned early in my culinary career. I inherited a bar manager who needed to be set free and is now flourishing. Positive reinforcement with my managers and giving them the necessary tools have gone a long way.
We are building an F&B department based on trust, honesty, hard work, and most importantly, no egos. We are constantly asking ourselves how we can be better for our membership. The first step is accepting that we are imperfect and make mistakes. The second step is owning up when we make mistakes and always striving to improve. Just because a member had a great time does not mean everything was fine with an event or dinner service. Good is not good enough. We strive to be great.
My chef and I have a trust-but-verify relationship. I try to stay out of his way and allow him to have his own identity as a chef. I trust he will do what is needed, but I verify by looking through his walk-in every week. It is no longer my kitchen (another tough pill to swallow) to manage and run. I keep my knives in his office in case I am ever needed, and there is a monthly specialty dinner that I still personally handle. This keeps me engaged and ensures I don’t lose my hard-earned calluses. And I do give advice and my opinion when it is necessary. I want my executive chef to be more successful than I was and learn from my mistakes.
Ultimately, we are all here for one thing: to ensure our membership has an excellent F&B experience.