Scott Ryan’s impressive winning streak includes the enthusiastic following of members of The Country Club, as well as major culinary competitions.
I get anxious enough contemplating what dish to prepare for a trade show or local club dine-around. But in the 2012 American Culinary Federation’s National Chef of the Year competition in Orlando, Scott Ryan, CEC, Executive Chef at The Country Club in Pepper Pike, Ohio, had to come up with four plates in an hour, all to be judged by a panel that included Master Chefs.
Scott not only wasn’t fazed—he won. And that earned him the right to go to Las Vegas this July to compete for—and win—the honor of representing the Americas in the World Association of Chefs Society Global Chefs Challenge, to be decided in Norway next year.
|Scott A. Ryan, CEC, AAC
Awards and Certifications:
After coming to suburban Cleveland and The Country Club in 2009, Chef Ryan hasn’t looked back. When I asked him for this interview, he was in the middle of a 4th of July clambake and lobster cookout for 1,200, the next week was his member-guest, and the following week was the Las Vegas competition. Needless to say, we appreciate his taking time to share thoughts on how he approaches all his duties at this fine club with the same creative spirit that’s served him so well in major culinary competitions.
Q: Chef, you have been very successful recently in ACF competitions, winning “National and Regional Chef of the Year” honors. What’s been your winning game plan for these events?
A: The same as it always is for me: HAVE FUN. I love what I do, and I think that shows in both my food and my interactions with others. I wake up every day and make it a good day. I also enjoy joking with my team. I believe that if work is fun, it keeps us motivated to not only strive for our best, but push beyond that, every day. So far, it’s an approach that has worked well for us.
Q: The Board and membership of The Country Club has been very supportive of your competing at the highest level. What is your limit as far as the outside commitment, given the hours of practice required by the process?
A: The Country Club enjoys a very busy food-and-beverage operation, and that somewhat limits the amount of time available to me to practice. I have a great team in place, and that lets me put in the extra hours of training that are needed to be successful in competition. But my first responsibility is to take care of the club.
Q: Chef, your motto at The Country Club is “recreating culinary classics with a modern twist.” Can you share a few items the membership has taken to and some detail about the dishes?
A: On our latest menu, we did Duck a l’Orange with a much more aggressive approach: sous vide duck breast, confit thigh, duck fat potatoes, carrot puree, burnt blood orange gastrique, and an orange cilantro relish. Another example is the Chicken Coq au Vin, which featured pan-roasted chicken, mushroom potato hash, red wine syrup, and a bacon broth that is poured tableside.
We also run different variations on carbonara; we might make parmesan noodles, and use dehydrated prosciutto powder, or crisps, as the bacon, and top the dish with a sous vide egg yolk.
The possibilities are endless, but the flavors must still represent the dish you are trying to recreate.
Q: Chef, The Country Club is a nationally recognized “Platinum” club. You expressed to me how important this is to you. What is it that sets your management team apart from the rest?
A: Everyone on our team is focused on the main goal of not only achieving, but exceeding, our members’ expectations. Our General Manager, Rob Josey, stresses a team-oriented environment. He trusts us to be creative and have fun with what we do; but at the same time, he never lets us stray too far from our objectives, by constantly encouraging a “trust but verify” environment. Communication is also key; our management team has a great rapport and we enjoy working with each other. The passion and drive that we all have for what we do is what makes “Country” such a special place.
Q: You seem to be especially proficient at team building and leadership. What specific steps have you taken to improve morale between the culinary team and the front of the house?
A: I truly feel that respect is one of the most important factors; you build that relationship and continue to grow it. I wouldn’t ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. The service team is an extension of what we do as cooks and chefs. We also offer fun staff incentives, and make training fun by playing food-related trivia games. Also, nightly pre-meal meetings and tastings seem to work well, and allow for two-way communication.
Communication and training are so important in our line of work, and the processes we have in place seem to work well here. Also, we don’t separate the “back” and “front” of the house; we are one unit, the food-and-beverage team.
Q: Scott, since you’ve taken over as chef at The Country Club, many staff members have moved on to different opportunities. All of us have experienced the challenges of making tough staffing decisions, including encouraging talented people to pursue opportunities we can’t provide for them. What advice can you offer to those chefs who might be reluctant to do this because it could cause too much of a shakeup within their kitchen?
A: We take the approach of mentoring and training our staff so they are prepared to someday move on to better positions in the industry. You need to trust in your team and your leadership skills. It is important to hire people who have aspirations of growing their responsibilities; this creates an atmosphere where people can push themselves to fill bigger roles as others move on. I am proud to say that just recently, three great cooks from Country took on new opportunities as sous chefs or chefs at other area clubs. I look it as an opportunity for the others in the kitchen to step up and move into those positions.