When I officially entered the world of cooking in 1994 you only needed to do one thing well: cook. I mean cook with a passion and energy that felt like you were running a sprint when you walked through the door of the kitchen. Twelve hours later you were exhausted and elated after accomplishing so much in so little time. If you were the Chef in one of these kitchens, you led with a firm hand and cooked with a confidence that outmatched anyone in the kitchen. Today’s Executive Chefs need to possess some of these classic traits but more is needed to help ensure success.
Today, successful Chefs need to be part culinary instructor and part motivational coach leading a kitchen through education and inspiration. Chefs need to build a team of managers and cooks around them that can feed off this leadership and allow the team to focus on what’s important: producing great food. Chefs are rarely trained to build company culture, yet that will be a critical trait for successful chefs to learn to succeed in the coming years.
Cooks have a natural curiosity. It’s what fuels them to work longer hours and often multiple jobs early in their careers. But, later, distraction, exhaustion and family demands may erode a Chef’s curiosity for food and culinary trends. Possessing this fervent interest can help develop others, inspire the team, and lead to creation of great dishes full of fresh flavors! Trends move at a much faster pace today and you must stay on top of what’s new to stay relevant. Often, I look at my candidates’ Instagram and other social media accounts to gage their curiosity. If I see lots of food pictures, it likely means they possess a strong level of curiosity.
Great Chefs are considered artists; they bring creativity to any kitchen they walk into. Notice it’s not the number one trait in my lineup. Many kitchens today have set menus and recipes. It doesn’t mean you can’t be creative, there may be other outlets for that and it’s important to show your true talents when given the opportunity. A perfect example is with Chef’s specials or specials of the day. Create items that excite the staff and allow it to be a time to develop the creativity of less experienced cooks and Sous Chefs in the kitchen. Create dishes that have everyone pulling out their phones and taking pictures to share on their own social media. Your creativity will be recognized and appreciated!
You would think that the biggest mystery a Chef wants to keep from their staff is the recipes; but, it’s actually the numbers. Yet, it seems to be a glaring weakness among Chefs during the interview process. When I ask a Chef candidate what the food cost formula is, 75% of the time they can’t recite it for me. The difference between a good Chef and a great Chef is the ability to run their kitchen as a profitable business. This may need to come from outside the kitchen, from the General Manager or the owner, as numbers are often privy only to top management. But, somewhere along the way trust must be developed with all team members. Everything from costing recipes and menus to running labor and food cost needs to be part of the developmental process of any growing culinary team. Every Chef should know their numbers!
Once you get to be an established, senior Chef, you will also need to be the chief marketing officer of your own brand. Building that brand starts in the kitchen with what’s on the plate; but, it also includes the dining room where you’ll connect with your guests and develop relationships with those in your community. Chefs today should also engage their community with Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites, displaying their creations to their loyal culinary fans. A good Chef is great at grassroots marketing. No matter where their career takes them they can plug into a concept and draw recognition for themselves and the businesses they work in.
If you are searching for an Executive Chef that can make a positive impact on your guests, your staff and your business – contact me today and let’s find one that has all the right traits to ensure your success!