Investing to Keep Pace: Chefs Going Back to School
By John Brand Executive Chef, Hotel Pearl - Kimpton Hotels | August 03, 2014
Investing in our culinary leaders will give us more strength and depth and a better future. As a chef, learning is exciting as well as the opportunity to attend a prestigious culinary campus for a full immersion program. This is an amazing opportunity for ongoing education not to be afraid of. Attention to our highly specialized field intrigues our servers and line cooks who aspire to one day have our job. There is nothing better than a company that invests in its culinary program with a partnership at a culinary school. The respective property of the chef now has another tool in its kit for marketing and local public relations that can champion the chef's extended educational pursuit and qualifications.
The number of topics hotel chefs need to revisit in our industry is long and continues to develop. The thought leadership is directed by the culinary program with their depth of certified and professional instructors who have had extensive experience in the field. Paired with their first rate skill at instructing, the chefs receive objectionable and unfiltered feedback from the kitchen exercises and classroom instruction. Smaller focus groups of 16-18 leaders in the field as well as recognized rising stars are selected from an application process supported by their General Managers. Some are geared towards the leaders and some are more for developing sous chefs and banquet chefs. It is an interesting dynamic of witnessing 15+ Type A chefs quickly fold into a small group of barely four leaders once under the pressure of the classroom. Alternately, the groups and teams of only sous chefs naturally find their leader and are able to blossom a little better that the all exec team. There is no bad idea, the creativity and resources available bring out the best in the chefs.
Health and Wellness
The first and most important class for chefs is the proper working knowledge of health and wellness concerns of our guests. It is very safe and comforting for a traveler to trust the chef and the culinary team to understand specific dietary needs and advanced nutrition knowledge. The safe practices of preventing cross contamination as well as the inventory of acceptable dietary grocery items used in food sensitive preparations. Experience in the classroom provides recipe development and capstone presentations with restrictive menus of vegan, meat, sodium, gluten, dairy and sugar. Classroom sessions led by the schools nutrition and dietary chefs educate the chefs with the current and trending diets as well as the how food production is a factor in symptoms of allergies. New product knowledge as well as recipes is a part of the takeaway. The chefs now have the confidence to share with their teams and eliminate the guesswork and inferiority complex once associated with special orders. Leveraging this new knowledge and skill set into banquet menus with a modern focus assists the catering and sales manager's work with meeting planners who carefully need to choose options for their groups. The new banquet menu edition now supports many diets and can be interpreted for large groups. I have seen this as a whole focus for one meal period and not just for the small percentage of meeting guests who may have a dietary restriction. A trend gaining momentum in hotel kitchens is new culinary flavor development using vegetable powders and reductions versus the former methods of thickeners and bases. It is better to cook clean, once established in your cooking DNA, the storeroom and recipes reflect the healthier more natural approach. Even the employee cafeteria will see results in the menu. Avoiding pre-fabricated and convenience items in all areas of the property are readily noticed by the service team as well as the sales and catering managers. They can extend this confidence and knowledge to the guests and prospective clients.
Great cooks make great chefs is not always true. Zip code does not always make the chef better, regardless of their pedigree or tenure in a kitchen for a famous chef. The Zip code of the product does not make it better either, ingredients help but the flaunting the price tag and less than perfect utilization. I have worked with great chefs who fumbled and stumbled their way with training and demonstrating basic kitchen techniques. Cooks nowadays are not afraid to spot the Achilles Heel of a chef. Training and examples of cooking must be confident and with proficient voice patterns to understand. If we don't learn how to teach, we will lose the next class of chefs. The cooks need daily satisfaction and a working sense of accomplishment; else their career has no value. Understanding that social culture is a more personal, from coffee, to music, so must their training be. Going back to school for leadership training in a culinary setting is not always about cooking. Cooking is the easy part. Managing is tough, patience and understanding are not examples we get to see on television cooking shows. Learning how to manage up is another strategy lost on some of the current generation of chefs, we do not always have good communication with our food and beverage directors or general managers. Adversely, food and beverage directors in most hotels must learn to work with chefs in the ever changing climate of culinary. Very few excel at this partnership, I have had gotten to work with some who protect and support the department and all of the people directly in it. They are the ones who 'taste the soup' every day. Someone has to have the chef's back, be their eyes, ears and shoulders at all times. We need to invest in this working marriage to strengthen the operation, else it becomes very tribal. Investing in training of the leaders in food and beverage will keep pace.
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