There is a big difference between not having the exec in the house and not having ANY supervision, which is what Mark's opening sounds like. And if there has not been proper training of all staff, no amount of supervision by anyone at any level will ensure a consistent level of quality. Finally, if the staff don't care, nothing else will make up for it.
It's interesting to note that some of the nominees for Beard Awards
(scroll down to page 8) are not the chef-owner or the exec, but the chef de cuisine: the person in charge of the day-to-day operation of the kitchen. In some restaurants, that function is fulfilled by the sous chef, or even just a head line cook. But someone is there, someone
is in charge. It doesn't have to be the big name. Do you really believe that Jean-Georges is in all his zillion kitchens all the time, simultaneously, keeping up standards everywhere? Or Thomas Keller on both coasts? Or even Eric Ripert, in just his one? Of course not. But they have people under them who are their alter egos, and who watch when they cannot.
I worked -- briefly -- at a fine-dining restaurant where the chef was present every day for both lunch and dinner service. But was there training? It was an extreme case, but: my first day, the cook I was replacing didn't even show up to train me, and the chef arrived maybe one hour before service started. Since I was supposed to be working as the lone lunch cook, you can imagine the trouble this caused. Later on, another cook showed me how he did things, but when the chef saw what I was then doing, he yelled at me that I was doing it all wrong, AND indicated that I should have known better. Excuse me? There were no written recipes, there was pretty much no training other than one cook showing another. Yet when I spoke to another cook (a couple of levels down from me) about a procedure she was using that seemed downright unsafe to me, she was adamant about "This is how I
do it" -- and even cried at being corrected! You know the game Telephone (aka Chinese Whispers) -- one person says something to the next, who tells the next, and so on until it has gone all around the circle. What comes out at the end is rarely anything close to what started. If staff are not trained, and the training is not refreshed from time to time, that's what happens in the kitchen. Just having the chef on site doesn't matter, if the chef is not constantly training and correcting in a reasonable manner.
Finally: As Headless Chicken says, everyone in the place (BOH and FOH) should know their jobs, and be able to do them right without someone peering over their shoulder all the time. That was certainly the case in a restaurant where I worked, where the exec was often away and the sous (several of them, in fact) had problems that tended to make them go AWOL more frequently than the rest of the cooks would have liked. But we kept an eye on each other: we knew how we were supposed to do our prep, and did it that way.* We knew what the prep cooks were supposed to do, and if there was slippage, we let them know it. We watched out for each other. Why? Because we all took pride in our work and wanted to put out the best food we could, all the time.
If that pride, that wanting to do the best possible job, is not there, it doesn't matter who's there watching.