Cultivating Culinary Creativity
It can be hard to get the best out of the team, but working hand-in-hand with the culinary team and the Executive Chef is key. How do you establish an environment where creativity is celebrated, consistency is a large focus, and the customer is always the first priority? Having been an Executive Chef for many years, I must admit that there were definitely times when my ego got in the way! However, I did learn a few things over the years. Here are some of them:
Many operators end up shutting down the Chefs by not allowing creativity and freedom, either out of fear of what will happen or a loss of control. Some are allowed to completely rule the roost, which is not always good for the customer experience! Finding a good balance is important. Talk about this with your Chef and kitchen team to make sure that everyone is on the same page as to why we are here, what are the goals, and what the business models looks like. Explain how important this is and how the culinary team is a major part of your success.
If everyone helps create the big picture and helps establish style and culture, then each person will be vested in coloring inside the lines of that brand. In other words, allowing freedom within a framework – a wide berth – in which creativity is supported and encouraged!
Work as a Team
As mentioned, the kitchen is a huge part of your success. How many operations include the culinary team in planning meetings and decision making? “Oh, they are not interested in that kind of stuff’ is some of what I have heard – but that is not always [or even often] the case.
Debate as a team what type of restaurant you are going to be or what you aspire to be? What is the style of the service? What is the style of food? What do we want to be known and remembered for? Additionally, explore what styles your team enjoys and what they do best. This way, it can be incorporated into your concept. If able, allow their style to grow and develop.
Bring your Chefs into all your meetings. Encourage (even insist) participation and involvement in all front-of-house issues, meetings and policy setting. A great Chef can be such a strong influence on the team as a whole, and this will help them to understand and see all points of view. However, do not let the kitchen dictate the rules and policies. I see this happening often to the detriment of our guests! “We don’t do substitutes”, or “we don’t split plates”, or “they can’t have that; it’s not on the menu” are all examples of where this can go wrong. Rather, work as a team to create acceptable rules from a guest experience side of things.
Evaluate your talent needs
Do you have the right Chef for the job? Chefs can be stronger creatively, or managerially; ideally they are both! Do you have an artful and ever-changing menu with huge expectations of creativity and have a kitchen manager in place? Or, do you have great food, where everyone follows the recipe, without much new creativity, and need someone strong and organized to make sure that it is done correctly. If that’s the case, the creative type Chef may not work. Many are looking for the creative, exciting personality of a Chef who will be the life and the character of the restaurant. While this is great, it doesn’t always have to be the case, depending on your expectations.
Getting the right combination to fit your needs is key: There are many who are really good at both. If you have a Chef that fits the personality of your restaurant, then take good care of him/her, and count your blessings!
Celebrate your Chef
Lastly, put your Chef on a pedestal and make a big deal of him/her. Do it with social media, online, press, and also in the dining room – a great Chef should be the focal/selling point of the restaurant, and If they have the personality, encourage them to get involved in the dining room to visit tables and receive feedback [good and bad]!
In conclusion remember the 6C’s: Cultivating Culinary Creativity makes for Constantly Cheerful Customers! Create the right climate in your restaurant by ensuring involvement, great communication, and strong support of the Culinary team.
Russ Blakeborough with Focus F&B is always happy to help find top-notch culinary staff or evaluate your current kitchen climate.