This past week I have been fortunate to be the focus of two articles written about my daily work life in my kitchen at the U Club that were published in Missourian and the Boone County Journal. Upon reflection of these articles I am reminded of the changing roles that  today’s chefs have to perform as compared to those of generations of chefs that came before us. These duties are not as apparent to many young culinary students or those outside of our industry and require skills which are not taught in any culinary schools or programs.

In all successful kitchens there is little if any down time. Everyone is in constant motion prepping food, known as mise en place, or executing the meals at service times. This is true in both ala carte and banquets kitchens which is seen in this image. Photo by TJ Thomson.
In all successful kitchens there is little down time. Everyone is in constant motion prepping food, known as mise en place, or executing the meals at service times. This is true in both ala carte and banquets kitchens which is seen in this image. Photo by TJ Thomson.

It seems today more than ever in our society there dwells a fascination for what we as chefs do and how one becomes an executive chef. First and foremost all great chefs love food and cooking and can never learn enough about the techniques to produce food. This is the passion that drives most people to go to culinary school or to train to become a chef. To make a good living as an executive chef one must first learn basic fundamentals and then work as a cook or sous chef in order to master techniques in both hot and cold food and be able to produce both pastry and desserts, before being promoted to an executive chef. Once that goal is reached then the chef needs to  be able to manage large staffs that produce huge amounts of food. This is because a large of amount of revenue is needed to pay a top chef’s salary. There are basically three formats or services in the food industry: ala carte, banquets and off premise catering or a combination of all three. These are typically found in large restaurants or restaurant groups, hotels and resorts, large private clubs such as country clubs and city clubs or high end catering operations.

Banquet plate up requires timing and planning in order to serve food at its optimal temperature and freshness. Photo by TJ Thomson.
Banquet plate up requires timing and planning in order to serve food at its optimal temperature and freshness. Photo by TJ Thomson.

Traditionally the non culinary skills that chefs use to manage these operations are hiring and training the staff to perform the recipes and techniques for the menu that the chef has developed along with sourcing and purchasing the food, and cost control. Food cost and labor cost being the two largest costs and can make or break any operation because they normally total more than 60% of the total gross revenue. However, the changing management structure of many operations along with the huge field of competition for the consumers’ dollars have forced the evolution of modern chefs’ duties which go beyond the core culinary management areas.

Due to today’s rising costs for food, labor and energy many positions in upper management have been eliminated or combined with other positions. One of these is the job of food and beverage manager whose duties are now divided between the executive chef and other senior front of the house managers. In some operations, mostly private clubs, the title of food and beverage manager that oversees both the kitchen staff and the front of the house service staff has changed to become the “Chef and B”.

The operational duties of chefs today require much more than our predecessors because we are often asked to do things that are outside of kitchen. All successful chefs have to do this. These areas are former service related tasks and include: project development which entails diverse and creative ways to attract more business, marketing endeavors which increase and strengthen the company’s brand, social media content development which require good writing skills, culinary related advocacy involvement, cooking demonstrations and seminars, and recruitment, career path and staff development .

Project development is related to diverse often synergistic ways to create memorable culinary events. These type of events require lots of planning and networking with outside groups to become successful. Five that I have hosted at my club have been: The Art of Food, Chocolate and Champagne Festival, Farm to Table Festival, The Latin Food Summit and The Asian Food Summit. These events have been made more successful with the co-branding and support from other groups and associations such as the American Culinary Federation, The International Association of Culinary Professionals, and The Chefs Collaborative to name three.

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Group photos of guest chefs and staff from former food events and dinners line my office and serve as both a recruiting tool when interviewing new prospect employees and a source of pride and good memories for the kitchen staff that experienced and worked at the events. Photo by TJ Thomson.
Chefs today need to perform cooking demos, seminars and travel to do guest chef appearances. This is essential to gaining exposure and attracting new talent to work in their kithen. Besides that, chefs like to give back and help the next generations of cooks and chefs.

Giving culinary demos both for professionals and the general public are a necessary for the modern successful chef. Photo by Madeline Beyer.
Giving culinary demos both for professionals and the general public are necessary for the modern successful chef. Photo by Madeline Beyer.

The legend of the Chef toque (tall hat with many pleats) is that every pleat/fold in the toque represented the variety of ways that the chef knew how to cook an egg. Perhaps in today’s terms it should represent the many varied skills beyond cooking that chefs need to perform to be successful. For more on the article Food and Flair by TJ Thomson go to http://www.columbiamissourian.com/a/180784/from-dishwashing-to-delicacies-executive-chef-advocates-natural-foods-expanded-palates/