Lessons an Executive chef could teach your CEO
At seventeen years of age I joined the world of the professional chef. This was the start of a journey that would take me round the globe for the next 23 years of my life both inside and outside of hotel kitchens.
Looking back I can honestly say with a big smile on my face that at seventeen I was ready for the long hours but not for the brutal honesty of the conversations and the politically incorrect humour that entered my young ears. Let’s just say that If Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre-White ever acted in this way on their TV shows then they would be looking for a new hobby in the morning.
Gaining such unique global work experiences have been invaluable for my growth as a person. It was not just the hospitality motor skills I gained along the way but more the raw understanding of human interactions. If you have ever spent anytime in a professional kitchen you immediately notice it welcomes everyone from all walks of life, educational ability and cultural beliefs then quickly form them into close knit teams that seem to act almost like a family unit. The best of these teams were always be led by an outstanding Executive chef whose daily drive to deliver the best in terms of quality and ROI were balanced out by their experience of understanding human emotions, team dynamics, time management and personal branding. When I say Executive chef, I am talking about those who head up multi- million dollar businesses with in the great hotels of this world and those few who have expanded their empires to reach the palettes of thousands daily.
So what could your CEO learn from these masters of food and psychology?
Communication style is everything.
If is fair to say that we all understand that to achieve anything, everyone needs to know what they are doing, at what time, all of the time and who with. Great chefs have turned this into an art form of almost military precision as their kitchens flow through their twenty four hour daily cycles. Communication is constant with items being checked, rechecked and checked again. Then as the restaurant floors open for business the communication style completely changes. For the next 3 hours the chef’s levels of concentration moves to the next plateau as the pressure builds up with everyone trying hard to deliver perfectly. The communication style becomes one where only punctuated instructions are heard over the feverish noise of foods being cooked. Problems are solved quickly without fuss, there is always time later on for more expansive conversations behind a closed door.
Communication must always be the main priority in any organization but should be extremely adaptable to your cycle of business. Sometimes it has to be one way, sometimes instructive and other times good natured two way honesty is the best.
If it is not right throw it in the bin.
Letting a customer wait 20 minutes for a dish to be re-done is better than losing a customer or your reputation. What do you think is better for you as a customer? Wouldn’t you have rather have the restaurant manager explain to you that the chef was not happy with the result and has decided to do it over again rather than you send it back to the kitchen unimpressed?
Yes it costs you money but what is the long term damage to your business by continuously serving substandard results to your customers.
It is OK to use someone else’s ideas.
Yes you read that right. You should using other peoples ideas and knowledge…. Who first took 70% Cocoa chocolate and married it with orange oil? Who decided that scallops would taste better with crisp pancetta bacon? No one really knows. By openly sharing ideas and allowing other chefs to place their twist on them, chefs continue to create new dishes, new trends and change national diets.
Small incremental improvements are necessary for the life cycle of any product or service so by sharing information openly in your community is vital. Just imagine if Georges Auguste Escoffier had patented the ideas he collected and listed in his book “Le Guide Culinaire,” in the early 1900’s. Modern cooking may have not evolved as the lawyers would have stopped the chefs using these great combinations under intellectual property laws.
Real success is all about mutual beneficial relationships.
To achieve unwavering consistency in the kitchen the chef requires high quality products gained through a reliable network of others. They seek out suppliers who deliver on their promises of quality and importantly are keen to be a part of the chef’s ongoing success by going out of their way when required. This philosophy allows the supplier to be given the respect and acknowledgement for their efforts which allows their businesses to grow healthily alongside the chefs. The Executive chef knows that if the respect is lost or the supplier is placed under undue financial pressure then the relationship becomes one of monetary exchange under which quality is placed second. If the system gets infected; corners are cut and the links in the chain become weak enough to break which could cause irreversible damage to all businesses involved.
Many large companies seem to always push smaller ones to become exclusive suppliers or to reduce costs. Take the recent problems with the supermarket supply chains as an example of people not helping each other’s business. If your supplier relationship is only about a monetary exchange then you could be sitting on the edge of a disaster.
Respect natures cycles.
With each new season nature brings us all an opportunity to evolve our businesses. Chef’s learn to respect nature more than most, they welcome each new season with open arms knowing that here lies a clean slate on which to write the new plan for the next few months. They change their menu offerings, respect local seasonal traditions and take the opportunity to re- engage with their customers. The changing seasons effect the psychologically of the customer too in the way they spend, the way they dine and the way they celebrate. Chefs manage their business in all four seasons individually and do not just focus on the most profitable one. The brutal commercialization of nature means that perfectly shaped ingredients never leave the supermarket shelves these days but great chefs know there is no real substitute to hand-picked, hand fished or home grown local produce. These can be picked, caught or slaughtered as close to the time of preparation as possible. In this way flavours are maintained, local community engagement is high and nature’s resources are respected.
Taking this into account in your business is vital as many take from nature without a wish to give back. Support a system of local controlled production, which is always welcomed, as you focus on a seasonal change to your offerings to suit your customers needs.
Reducing risks are part of daily activity.
There are not many industries that have the natural health challenges and legal implications that hospitality one deals with constantly so holding a ‘safety month’ every year to tick the box is not a viable option. Kitchens are by nature a dangerous place as you have knowingly placed extremely sharp knives in the hands of very passionate people, who stand in extreme heats, use explosive chemicals and then there are always unwanted germs knocking on the back door of your building looking to set up home in this lovely warm space . So how do our chef’s reduce as many of the risks as possible without effecting the operation? Easy, they highlight the areas and just make in an inclusive part of everyone’s job as part of daily business life. I remember in one kitchen we had a prominent sign “time to lean is time to clean” to remind us all that if you have time to kill then go clean a surface, sterilize a fridge or even go clean 20 bags of onions.
This is just basic productivity at its best, reminding everyone that there is always time to reduce risks rather than stand around. It beats your modern office sign saying “time to procrastinate, send a Facebook update”
Awards matter…. but not that much.
Chef’s love awards just as much as anyone else. They gain Michelin stars, rosettes, restaurant of the year awards and a whole host of others. They put their patterned chef’s jackets on, smile for the cameras, display them on their walls and celebrate knowing that tomorrow starts the challenge to maintain or elevate their newly found recognition. They do not have the luxury to live off the award for the next year like an Oscar winning actor, a TV producer or a smart phone maker. The next customer who enters the door will tell them if they are worthy of the award, not a plaque on a wall or a write up in a magazine.
Do not get me wrong, recognition for effort is always welcome as it heightens your profile and drives more people to your front door but what you do at this point defines you as today you can only effect the present.
All customers are not the same. Everyone is unique.
You will read, and quite rightly so, that many chefs do not allow salt and pepper on their tables in high end restaurants. This is to help us all experience the chef’s art of perfecting his/her dishes before we immediately waste it by inevitably seasoning the food BEFORE tasting it. If the customer takes a bite and then requests salt, pepper or any manor of sugar based sauces then it is their prerogative as they are paying the bill. Executive chefs realize that they can only suggest the best way of presenting nature’s gifts but at the end of the day it is the customer experience and their money that matters. Every customer that comes through the door has had different experiences in life and so their view of the world is different than yours. One Michelin star chef tells a story of how his fish course dish was ruined by a guest who plastered it in Tabasco sauce. He was so furious he went to see the guest only to find out he had spent many years in India so his body was used to highly spiced food. Who is wrong in this situation? The answer is nobody. The next time the customer visits there is now a chance to add spices to the fish and to create a dish unique for that individual’s expectations.
If you run a company large or small, effecting a change for your customers only takes these two things: Firstly a genuine understanding of the individual customer’s needs and secondly effort. Is it scalable for a large company? It has to be in 2015.
Sell the emotion.
Reputation has always provided a solid platform from which to launch a brand. Some chefs have used it to place themselves front and centre, reaching almost Hollywood star status with their TV show persona, public appearances and Triathlon medals (Yes you Mr. Ramsay).
Some have even infiltrated our psyche enough that we welcome their brand into our homes as they endeavour to teach us how to create dishes for ourselves. Admit it you feel confident as you stand in your kitchen wearing your Jamie Oliver apron over your Jamie Oliver Christmas boxer shorts as you weight out the ingredients on your Jamie Oliver scales, cut them on you Jamie Oliver chopping board with your Jamie Oliver knife. You then cook it in your Jamie Oliver pans, timing everything just as it says in the Jamie Oliver cookbook hoping for a result as close to Jamie’s as possible. The results may not always be as great as the restaurant experience itself but for you and those who dine with you, the experience is emotionally better as it is YOU who have spent the time to create the dishes for them.
I do dig a little at Jamie and Gordon but I do have the utmost respect for what they do and what they have achieved over the years. This is branding with a twist, it not only sell the brand but it also creates an emotional connection with people as they learn new skills, taste new ingredients and gain self confidence in their own abilities.
There is nothing wrong with this blatant self- promotion as long as you firmly remember that your key to longevity is still the emotional experience you deliver to your customers in your core business even if your brand has been lucky enough to go global.
Too much really is too much.
When you dine in globally recognized restaurants you will notice quickly that the Executive chefs have clearly set out to define the limit on their creativity. For their food to be appear special then they need to be refined enough to genuinely enhance the flavours and textures of the natural ingredients and while placing a great deal of focus on perfecting the execution of the cooking techniques used. In this way they do not over complicate dishes by adding additional unnecessary arrays of essences or hide your delicately tasting Striped Sea Bass under a menagerie of garnishes and flowers.
The core of your product should never be disrupted beyond recognition by unnecessary items. Seek to enhance the core elements of what you do and correct the execution, thus adding value to your product rather than hiding behind an array of ‘bells and whistles’. These may look great on a photograph but are they really necessary to your customers when they purchase your products?
Thank you for reading the article and I hope you have changed your mind slightly about the Executive chef. I for one strongly believe that many great chefs could give their CEO’s a run for their money.
This was originally posted on my website www.rdhawksworth.com