Thursday, April 14, 2011

Executive Chef – Aint What It Used To Be

Used to be it was enough for an Executive Chef in a hotel to be a great cook, someone who could consistently put out attractive dishes, that tasted good, while also having the skills to deal with multiple outlets, potentially putting out different kinds of food, and a reception and banquet for 1,000, all at the same time, without losing your cool.

Well, truth is, lost of them did in fact lose their cool as well, but back in the day, everyone put up with that too for some inexplicable reason.   (I can still recall working in a hotel where I have to referee a battle between an angry executive chef and some poor underling who had inadvertently spoiled a sauce, at which point the executive chef had thrown a fair sized sauté pan at him, narrowly missing his head).

I can also still recall having a conversation about the situation with my general manager at the time and having her tell me to lighten up: “he’s a chef, if that’s the worst you’ve ever seen, then you haven’t seen anything.”

But that was many years ago, and the culinary playing field has changed along with every other discipline in hotels, (or any business for that matter), as people came to understand and value their employees and work to foster positive relations that would not tolerate those kinds of behaviours.

Aside from the issues of employee relations, there was a much greater influencer at work that has forever changed the role of the executive chef – the Food Network.

Along comes the Food Network showcasing all of these interesting and in some cases flamboyant chefs scurrying about in their respective kitchens in various cities around the world, and suddenly, those people that were responsible for putting beautiful and delicious food in front of us had a face, an identity, and now, we wanted to know more about them.

As a result, you suddenly had more patrons under the impression that there was some kind of a culinary magician at work behind the scenes, and, they also assumed that these same culinary geniuses were always to be found in their kitchen.  (It never occurred to them that someone initially crafts a menu, perfects the recipes, etc., then trains a series of line cooks to reproduce their masterpieces when they’re not there, which, when it comes to the celebrity chefs, is most of the time).

Regardless, for the mere mortal executive chef, his or her role had forever changed.  Now, you had guests asking to meet the chef, asking if perhaps he could come out into the dining room, so that he could be properly thanked for what had been an exquisite meal, and, at the same time, you had owners, or perhaps general managers, recognizing the value of this kind of a seemingly spontaneous appearance in the dining room, at which point someone decided this was now to become a nightly occurrence.

Now, the executive chef had a new role to add to his or her other duties – public relations, but there is no arguing that it has worked.  People love it when the chef puts on fresh whites and comes out of the kitchen and gracefully moves from table to table, inquiring about how everything has been proceeding so far, and asking if anyone has any comments or suggestions.  It makes them feel special, important.

Everyone has always appreciated a good server for their ability to take good care of the guests at their tables, adjust their service to the many different needs and moods of their clients, while also doing an awesome job describing the items coming out of the kitchen, but the guests know that he isn’t the one doing the cooking – that’s the guy that they want to meet.  Well, now, more and more often they’ll get to do just that.

And if you’re opening a new restaurant, who do you want making the circuit of morning news shows, cooking up little samples and tasters for the hosts of the show?

Executive chefs – now half culinary genius, half master of public relations, perfecting their recipes and their 30 second sound bites.   Hmmmmm, who’s hungry?

Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.

New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.      

No comments:

Post a Comment