Tom Birmingham, CEC, Director of the Club + Resort Chef Association, encourages club and resort chefs to lean on one another as we move through the COVID-19 crisis.
I was fortunate enough to attend an Escoffier earlier this week in downtown Chicago. The night is typically reserved for 99 chefs and purveyors. However, with the recent outbreak, the attendance was predictably low.
As we were settling in during the reception, everyone’s phone started going off with breaking news updates. Governor Pritzker announced a mandatory shutdown of all restaurants and bars, effective end of day Monday March 16th through March 30th.
You can imagine the looks and subsequent conversations as chefs scrambled to get a hold of their staffs to start contingency plans for utilizing to-go protocol and having to make to make staffing adjustments on the fly. That, as it turns out, was just the tip of the iceberg. There were owners of produce and meat companies getting calls and texts about cancelled orders.
At an event that’s typically a food and wine lovers dream, the energy quickly turned anxious and uncertain.
I was sitting next to three local club chefs during this dinner. The conversation focused primarily on how to prioritize our thought processes and how to triage our operations so clear, cohesive messages could be sent to each club’s membership. Fortunately, here in the Midwest, it’s still off-season and most clubs are closed on Mondays, but we all knew we needed a plan. So we began discussing the challenges and sharing strategies we each thought might help.
Here are the biggest questions many of you are likely facing:
- How can we collectively keep our staff working?
- How do we make plans for an ever-changing situation?
- What message do we put out to our memberships?
- What do we do with perishable inventory?
- How can we keep everyone—staff and members—safe and free from exposure?
- How do we keep our supply chain intact and informed?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that the club chef industry is full of innovators. So let’s tap into that database and collectively navigate these unchartered waters together, shall we?
While speaking at the 2020 Chef to Chef Conference about the Club + Resort Chef Association, I tried to convey to all of our attendees how networking and support comes from reaching out to local club chefs in your area. It can be as simple as calling to ask what plans your peer clubs have put into place to mitigate this outbreak or offering to share staff members (who are healthy, of course) to get them whole.
Now is the time to come together virtually as a club chef community. You don’t have to go it alone. Set up a text or email chain with as many chefs as you can. Join our association (click here to join) and participate in our online forums. Try to keep each other informed about the challenges and solutions that you’re facing. And together we’ll come out the other side much stronger and much more connected than ever before.