Greg Volle, Executive Chef of the Country Club of Roswell, believes club chefs must not only teach new hires the “club kitchen” game—they must also show new hires how to adapt to it.
Imagine, if you will, living in a small town of about 700 people. Some old, some young, some with families, some just looking for somewhere to go for camaraderie and some good food and drink. Imagine in this quaint little village that the townsfolk don’t really like to cook that often and all have a stake in the ONLY local eating and drinking establishment for miles.
It kind of sounds like the lead in to a Stephen King novel. It’s not. This novel is called ‘Country Club.’ Embrace the Horror!
This is how I explain club life to incoming line cooks. I like to describe things in fun, yet cryptic terms for two reasons. One, because it’s fun and it makes me happy. The other reason is the important one. People in this industry don’t always understand basic explanations and generic terms, especially those who are younger than me. (I’m 44 for the record.) Stories and visual explanations are easier to remember. The age group not to be named, will not be pigeonholed, or worse yet, underestimated by me, EVER. That being said, some folks catch on quicker than others in every age group and from every walk of life. So I use stories and imagery to get my point across.
We run a higher food cost than restaurants because we are held to a higher standard than restaurants. We don’t limp along withering asparagus or rusty iceberg to save a nickel. We put out the best of the best and top notch quality is expected every time. Our menu items also need to give the member or guest the feeling of ‘Member Value.’ This is why my 8-oz. filet is $8-$15 cheaper than the local joint’s. It’s the same upper 2/3 choice as the steakhouse down the street, but, if prepared properly, why go to the steakhouse down the street and spend more money? This takes some serious getting used to, especially when you come from smaller ‘mom and pop’ restaurants who live and die by those nickels and dimes.
I come from that type of restaurant background and I learned not to push mediocre product, but to use product before it becomes mediocre. Don’t pull too many proteins at once, anticipate vegetable shelf life, properly vacuum seal and freeze items that aren’t going to make it to the next dinner service (when applicable) and so forth and so on.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Country club food costs aren’t so your cooks can have a waste fest. However, that is a bad habit we battle with our staff all the time. It’s vital to instill the values of the mom and pop restaurant as far as taking special care of- and paying special attention to the products that are on your station. Force them to take ownership of those items. They should feel bad if something goes bad on their station and needs to be tossed. Make them go write it on the ‘waste log of shame.’ I feel horrible when we waste food, but not because of food cost, but because wasting food is wasteful.
Play the Game
When a line cook is getting annoyed by a special order, I like to sing the song: ‘Hold the pickles hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us.’ These aren’t normal restaurant diners. Expect them not to order from the menu. Expect them to mix and match entrees with reckless abandon and order the dreaded ‘modified club sandwich’ at any given moment. We have the luxury of being in the back, so I tell my people to make it now and bitch about it later. Imagine if you had to stand there and actually record these modified orders with a smile in the dining room.
They need to give FOH credit where credit is due.
Club life kitchens can be fun, challenging and very rewarding, but you have to not only teach them the game, you have to show them how to adapt to it as well.