or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Chefs From **** or Owners From ****?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Chefs From **** or Owners From ****?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi there. I'm new here and keen for experienced advice, in fact any sort of advice. We have Chef From **** problems, or maybe our chefs have Owners From **** problems. My partner and I opened a 100 seat cafe/bistro in Feb this year in a 10,000 population tourist town. I'm the one with industry exp, my partner is the financer. We started with a highly strung female chef whose quals and cooking were fine, but turned our she had no idea how to budget, plan, do a roster, etc. (She would cry when she had to tell other staff what to do. Aye, aye, aye!)

She got pregnant and left. Recruited a male chef this time who bailed the 18 year old female apprentice up in the cool room and threatened to rape her, amongst other choice things. Since then, we've used agency chefs until 8 weeks ago when we hired the whizz bang gun chef from the big city who was 26 years old and full of fire. To say the place has gone to **** in a handbasket would not be an exaggeration, 3 kitchen staff have resigned and the remaining 12 employees loathe him, (being told to their faces they're "F***Heads and "As dumb as dog sh*t" might have something to do with it ! !) I'm sure he's on something or a sociopath, as no one has mood swings like that naturally. My partner says he's had enough of the rotating chef door & Crazy Chef has to stay as we're coming up to the busy season. I know the guy is a train wreck and I don't know where we can recruit a new one in time. I'm a pretty good pro cook myself, (I grew up in a restaruant with a teaching chef Dad). Could we as owners be the problem?, (all our other staff have been with us since Feb). Desperate for advice and thanks so much for this forum and all who tune in.
"Other people's happiness is a bloody miserable business." My father, chef for 50 years. 1935-2009
Reply
"Other people's happiness is a bloody miserable business." My father, chef for 50 years. 1935-2009
Reply
post #2 of 14
Yes.

The better run restaurants have either:

-A partner as Chef, someone they have worked with in the past and trust

-Recruit from existing staff, that they have opportunity to observe

Or

-Clear hiring practices and probation periods, i.e "what kind of a labour cost/foodcost did you run at the last place? Can we check with your previous employers?

And

ALWAYS have a contigency plan for staff, so you never get in a situation like the one you're in now.



Don't know much about human rights and labour code in Oz, but any staff here in Canada could make a royal mess for you the way they've been treated, and you'll be holding the bag, not the Chef, he'll be looong gone.

You may be able to cook, but can you run/manage a kitchen?

The two are not the same.

If you can't handle a Chef, can you handle the entire kitchen crew?

Your current Chef is running wild and figures he has you over a barrel. He has notheing to loose, you have an investment to loose as well as a reputation.
One out of control temper tantrum, one out-of-control incident from either the Chef or the employee could shut you down.

Can you control him?
Can you ditch him, pay him off, get a 6', 250 lb friend to escort him out of the kitchen without further incident?
Can you take over the kitchen untill you find a suitable replacement?
Do you have any decent staff who will work the required hours untill a replacement is found?
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
post #3 of 14
What a headache for you! I'll bet your chef is a crack head from your discription of his behavior. They go way off the deep end over nothing when they're on crack. What kind place is it? Is it something you could handle yourself? The way the economy is there's plenty of good people out there looking for work. I can't imagine why you're getting (and putting up with) all these duds. Is there anyone else on your staff that can take over the position? Fire balls like your current guy scare me because they're all full of big ideas but ususally don't have any concept of practicality of production or cost. Without knowing anything about your menu, its hard to give you much worthwhile advice. Do you even need a chef? If you have a simple menu, most line cooks can handle it with very little oversight once they have been taught to do what you want. I would definitely bounce your chef. If you can't get anyone to replace him, I would strip the menu down to bare bones and focus on simple ingredients done well so the staff you already have can handle it. For example, if you have a steak being served with a complicated sauce, make sure it's a very good quality steak, focus on cooking it right and finish with a pat of compound butter instead of the sauce. People will be just as satisfied with it. Focus on quality and skip the fancy frills and you might not even even need a chef. Most tourists are interested in trying new things unique to the area.
Showcase items your area is known for, but in a simple way. Take the money you would pay a chef and give it to your good people you already have. My kitchen staff is all college kids. I have to give them some oversight to keep them on track, but as I write this it's my day off and they're running the kitchen. I worry not at all. They do things as well as and in some cases better than I do. They're paid better than most places in the area and they know it. They take pride in what they do because I make it clear that I only hire the best people. When they believe they're the best, then they truely are.
post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 
Just a quick add on. Firstly every comment you've both made is spot on. We do need to be more spot in our recruiting questions and checking - lessons learned. We also need to recognise that in Australia, there is a current crisis and shortage of chefs, so many of them know they have owners, esp country owners, over a barrel.

With that in mind it's time to rethink the egg. I've taken greyeaglem's advice, which I was mulling over prior to this but was lacking in confidence to do, and simplified the whole menu. The complicated reductions and crustacean oils are off the menu and we're going for fresh, fresh, fresh, easy to prep and cost effective. I may have to buy in the duck already confited for the salad or whatever, but production and skill requirements are reduced.

Oh and one more thing for you - I sacked Crazy Chef on the spot late yesterday. So Foodpump, it looks like I'm it. My FOH Manager has Culinary quals and has offered to carry the kitchen in the interim while I get the new look together. What happened you ask? Well it seems that Crazy Chef had a problem with cocaine. I know this because he was using one of the local kids to find it and buy it for him. And who was that kid? Well the local kid he was using was his kitchen apprentice - our employee !!!! I kid you not. When he was confronted with this he remarked it was none of our business because it happened after hours !!!!!!!!!! I didn't need a 250lb friend to get him out of the kitchen Foodpump, I bounced him out myself.
"Other people's happiness is a bloody miserable business." My father, chef for 50 years. 1935-2009
Reply
"Other people's happiness is a bloody miserable business." My father, chef for 50 years. 1935-2009
Reply
post #5 of 14
Good job with the bounce:bounce:
That was a great first step. Simplify and win sounds like a good motto for you right now as you seem to have assessed your situation honestly. Yes you need better HR skills but then we all could do with a crystal ball when it comes to employee relations. Good luck with the season and have faith you will find that person who is a good fit for your kitchen.....................
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
Reply
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
Reply
post #6 of 14
Sorry to hear of your situation, some advice which may help is to find restaurants that you like (food, technique etc.) and maybe talk to the chef "if he knows anyone". You could find a good person that way. Yes always check credentials, give a probationary period and think up a good responsibilities/duties contract for the new chef. This way there is no vaguery and everything is black and white.

I wish Australia was not on the other side of the world for me I would love to go.
Fluctuat nec mergitur
Reply
Fluctuat nec mergitur
Reply
post #7 of 14
I'm very sorry to hear about your problems. But not surprised.

I believe that there is a very fine line dividing 'genius' and 'insanity.' The very qualities that make chefs and artists unique and creative are the very personality quirks that make them almost impossible to live with.

I sharpened at a four-star run by a female head chef with a Transylvanian accent akin to Maria Ouspenskaya. She had a favorite knife, a small leaf shaped four-inch oddball that looked more like a deer hunter's blade than anything I'd seen in a kitchen. The sous-chefs 'presented' it to me like carrying around the crown jewels. Grown men were scared to death of her. In fact, I was a tad edgy myself, and I didn't even work there.

She quit in the middle of the night, immediately and with no explanation. That same restaurant hired another whacko, a "kid" in his early thirties even more bizarre.

And yet, both made excellent food.

I'm convinced that if a kitchen isn't tearing itself apart like a Klingon Bird of Prey the food can never amount to anything. And I'm also surprised that such kitchens don't provide job promotions by that same Klingon method!
post #8 of 14
Tourist,

Stick around long enough in the kitchens and you get to see the aftermath of some of the whack-jobs/drug addicts.

Ever spend hours and hours of your time waiting for court appearances because employee "A" threatened (physically or verbally) employee "B"?

Ever had the Cops waltz into a kitchen to arrest one of your staff who pulled a knife or blow-torch on another employee?

Ever experience 3 or 4 employees walking out-en masse-- because one of them were threatened?

Ever clean up after a whack-job leaves? Broken crockery, spoiled ingredients, broken/sabotaged equipment, kicked in walls, etc.

Ever had the opportunity to get rid of drug dealers who hang about around YOUR back lane waiting for YOUR employees to get get off-shift?

Ever dealt with the labour board when they follow up on complaints? (Hint for those who are reading: Never tell them anything on the phone, ask for a case number and the name of the case officer, inform them you will all information via registered snail mail. If you don't, your butt is naked and exposed, as anything said on the phone becomes one big "He said/she said" with the Labour board always having the advantage. DAMHIKT.....

No one wants whack-jobs in the kitchen. They are an accident waiting to happen, and I've never seen any substance/alcohol abuser EVER reach the peak of their career. Reforms, yes, but never users.

A genius, by definition, changes the world for the better, a whack-job makes it more miserable.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
post #9 of 14
Academically I would like to believe that. My problem is that I have known a great many artists and innovators that were **** to get along with.

Now granted, a kitchen is a workplace and covered by OSHA and provides protection for its employees from hostile work environments. That much is obvious.

But if everyone played by the rules there would be none of this innovation. And to some extent, I'm one of those guys.

For example, when I called Ben Dale to order stones at one point, he asked if I had just gotten a gig with a Japanese restaurant. I told him no, but I was sharpening at a sporting goods store. He responded with, "Are you actually putting sashimi quality edges on folding knives?!!!"

What I considered a 'slight innovation' was seldom being done in most markets. And I think that's the secret. It didn't seem odd to me, just the world.

So, an oddball chef brings in what he believes is a 'slight innovation.' No one has done it before, it cuts across the grain, and frankly riles the folks.

When one of the young kids who put himself through culinary school as a barista told me he was now catering, I asked about what he served. He told me what seemed to be an odd slant.

"I serve sushi for the American palate," he stated, "Some of it is cooked..."

That was about six years ago, and at that time it was heresy. I've heard about the idea several times since. I wonder if what we really are seeing is mutiny and then an angry rebuttal. People get their feelings and ideas belittled, then they choose up sides and the next thing is a hostile kitchen.

By the time cleavers are being thrown and the cops get a call, the kitchen has probably been simmering in anger for weeks.
post #10 of 14
Well, maybe, but mostly not. I see hotshots come out of cullinary school that think they know it all. They want to break the rules, but they don't even know what the rules are. I know, because I was one of them. When I look back and see how ignorant I was, I can still turn red. I was too stupid to realize what I didn't know. Thank God I never got the chance to ruin someone else's dreams and finances with my stupidity. Someone, I don't know who, said "There is nothing new under the sun." That is true. Someone else already thought of it and if they're not doing it, there's a reason. I can sit around at home all day and think up great dishes, but is it realistic to pull them off in a restaurant setting and do them justice? Probably not. Do I want to try it anyway and make an *ss of myself? No. The more I know, the more I realize I don't know. And someone fresh out of schooll or with 4-5 years in this business doesn't know either. They just think they do.
post #11 of 14
Uh-huh.....

Problem is, they work alone..... Either that, or they have a "swinging cook's door" where staff never last long, and this places hardship and stress on the owners, the other staff, and eventually, the customers.

One of the best Chef's I've ever worked for had the technique of riding a cook's as* down pat. He could ride it all day long without verbal or physical abuse, and without any anger on either part. At the end of the day he would go to the bar, order a round of drinks for the crew to sip while they cleaned up, and could make intelligent, idle, albeit interesting chit-chat. Next morning he would be back riding your butt. That was over 20 years ago, and I only stopped writing him Christmas cards when his wife informed me that he had passed away.

I've known other Chef's--well decorated and highly motivated who would scream, kick and hit, throw things, insult, etc. One got to see the inside of a pillow case--that is, after shift a pillow case was thrown over his head and he suffered bruises and a black eye. Another was recorded on a waiter's cellphone during one of his hissy-fits and broadcast to his girlfriend.

There are two ways to get the most out of your staff: Postive and negative. Both will yield results, and very good results, as a matter of fact as history shows us time and time againe. Negative methods have consequences--negative consequences, as I have described above. Positive methods have postive consequences. Again, history shows us this time and time again.

A good leader earns the respect of his underlings, and uses this respect to get things done.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
post #12 of 14
Find a retired Chef in your area to help you pull things together. She/he should have the years of experience and talent you need and the level-headedness to keep things calm.
post #13 of 14
A M E N You nailed it, all culinary arts students please read this. It should be made part of required text.:D
CHEFED
Reply
CHEFED
Reply
post #14 of 14
when I turned sixteen I got a part-time job washing dishes at the Silo Restaurant on Kingston Pike, Knoxville Tn. The owner was a drunk who lived and slept in the office (his wife had kicked him out). He would often argue with customers who complained and then throw them out of the restaurant. Guess what? Within three month's the place was closed. It's amazing that now, at the age of 43, I'm still working in catering!
UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
Reply
UNDER PRESSURE AT PEMBROKE
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
http://thepembrokekitchen.blogspot.com/
Reply
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Professional Chefs
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Chefs From **** or Owners From ****?