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Issues as new Executive Chef working with long term employees and owners

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

So, I was recently hired to be the Executive Chef at a casual restaurant. Previously I worked as Chef de Cuisine at a complete from scratch kitchen that served casual fine dining (italian stuff like bolognese, carpaccio, braciole, etc). 

 

My former chef, and also the owner, spoke with me at length about the issues I'd likely have with a 13 year veteran, along with owners who work in the kitchen. Stuff like constant statements of, "That's not how we do it here." 

 

I've never run into so much resistance in my career, I'm used to showing people how to do the thing I want and they go do it. Maybe I refine their approach or answer questions as needed, but it gets done and within a week or two everyone has the new item down.

 

If anyone has experience coming into an established place that has requested your specific expertise, but get resistance from all sides, I'd love to hear how you dealt with it. I know that I have to make adjustments to my way of thinking as well, and tips on both dealing with the staff and maybe what I mentally have to do would be greatly appreciated. I'd also love to hear from owners, perhaps I'm not seeing the other side of the issue.

 

 

 

Just for clarity these are some of the minor issues I've run into this past week (and yes, I know how minor these issues are, but they sure do pile up fast):

 

The line cooks would make a tomato cream sauce by putting in some random amount of cream into the saute pan and reduce it, then add an arbitrary amount of marinara. Some cooks had a pink blush sauce, some an orange sauce, others would have a brownish sauce clearly from the cream burning. While the owners don't use any software currently to track food, or do inventory, they want accountability for dishes. So I made a cream sauce recipe, one that's been around for over a decade with great success. It's cost effective for a bar restaurant because it's not a reduction, but a thickened sauce. Now the dish requires one 6 oz ladle of the cream sauce, and one 3 oz ladle of the marinara. My day off this week one of the cooks said, "I'm not using that shit." To which the owner responded, "I don't have time to deal with this."

 

There was a beer tasting menu done without my knowledge or input. 

 

They buy premade Pico from Sysco, but they throw away a bunch of tomato and onion scraps from slicing them for burgers. I bought a dicer, and gave them a recipe. Did a demo for the whole staff, told them what was expected. My day off the owner adds Pico to his Sysco order to help bump up the amount to hit the dollar threshold for delivery. The only thing he wanted was rack of lamb (for the above tasting). We'd just spoken about the pico change the day before, and I asked him how I was expected to train my team to make fresh pico when the next day he orders pico. His response: It's just pico, no need to get worked up.

 

Our 13 year veteran cook went on vacation this week to take a driving test. He passed on Thursday, came in to work and quit. No notice. He was supposed to work this weekend, but didn't. I found out Thursday night from the one cook I hired that this guy had told the owners over a week ago that this was happening. I call up a guy from my former job who I know is a solid chef and interview him, only to be told by the owner to not be hasty with my hiring and that he has an interview set for Monday. I ask what time the interview is, and it's a few hours before I'm to come in. When I ask if he needs me in for the interview, the owner tells me that I don't need to be there but can show up if I'd like.

post #2 of 18

Firstly Steve welcome to ChefTalk. Hope we can offer some positive advice for you.

 

At first glance, your description pretty much tells me that you and the Chef owner need to sit down and work out who's REALLY in charge.

 

If you were brought in as Exec. then YOU call all the shots.

 

No inventory controls?

 

No consistent recipes?

 

Oh Boy!

 

Unless your Chef agrees to allow you to control and organize with proper procedures to follow, you will never affect change.

If you do not have to support of your Chef, then the staff will not support you.

 

Time to either have that talk or consider brushing up your resume yet again.

post #3 of 18

Steve,

 

With all the shows on TV that give the common person a glimpse into the restaurant world, I can't imagine what the situation is like today with owners. It was no picnic 12 years ago so it can't be any better. Having the owners or even the GM in the Kitchen, when you were hired to perform specific duties and have responsibilities is nothing less than mind numbing.  My first reaction is to say the owners are the ones paying the bills and salaries so they have the final say on how they wish things to run yet your situation is something I've seen and experienced and understand the frustration.

 

I personally believe with any employer/employee relationship, there has to be balance and a relationship of trust established. What @Chefrossmentioned is dead on about sitting down and discussing things. That's the foremost important action and one that is often overlooked, most times, until it's too late. This will definitely provide some clarity for you on........are they willing to come to terms with this and if not, they will show their true colors and then the other thing Chefross mentioned, brushing up your resume again, needs to be done.

 

For me to sit here on the other-side of a computer screen and explain what you need to discuss won't work. Only you know what you require to perform your job. But I can suggest some attitudes to take. It may involve a change in yours, not that you have a bad attitude but maybe they have some preconceived notions because of a bad prior experience. This shoe is on your foot since an owner(s) in the kitchen signifies one thing in my mind, they're controlling because something bad happened and are unwilling to relinquish that control because it's their baby. This is where it's up to you to establish the trust in them. They have nothing to prove to you other than they are willing to give you a chance once they see your putting forth an earnest effort.

 

There's also something you need to ask yourself, How bad do you want it to work. That will make all the difference and allow the owners to determine if you're someone just here for a paycheck or really there for the long haul. Just be careful how you are perceived. Firm, fair, willing to stand you ground on a principle but not unwilling enough to have your view changed to new points of view or ways. I guess you need to show them they hired you for a reason and you're not there just to take up space. It's important they understand you all have the same objective and the best interests of the restaurant in mind.  Although you would think that should work all the time, just be prepared for it not to. Just remember the day and age we are living in as a constant reminder why.

 

In some respects, it can be an insurmountable task that goes nowhere but if you can get through to them, the job will become like paradise. It's a tough thing to do and me saying it is something I often use to remind myself how important it is....remove the ego and make it about good, sound, balanced business decisions. Also remember there are two sides to every coin. 

 

Personally I believe the owners really do need to get out of the kitchen when they hire an Exec. There are so many other things they could be applying energy toward like......building rapport with the clientele and growing the business.

 

Good luck!

post #4 of 18

Unfortunately I have experienced a similar situation. I was hired to run the kitchen, but the owner wouldn't let me.

 

As a former owner, I know how hard it is to let go of control. I only had to concede the reins to someone else in order to have a day off and even that was difficult, but I slowly learned the lesson that a good executive knows. Hire good people, train them in your methods, then get out of the way and let them do what you hired them for in the first place.

 

My similar situation turned out to be short term one.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the welcome! For someone who was big on forums and met his wife online via a political discussion board it's surprising that I've never joined this place during my career. 

 

The procedures thing is big for me. I'm very detail oriented, keep all of my SOP's and recipes and forms organized in my Google Drive. I'm hesitant to create new SOP's for the restaurant because their line organization is broken. I have to fix it, although the task feels insurmountable. 

 

My plan is to sit down and have a concentrated discussion with the owner, today hopefully although it is the day he does the Sysco order (not me, by the way). And after that, as long as we come to some sort of terms, I'll plan to sit with him each week to go over the changes I plan to affect. That way maybe he'll feel like he's approving of my ideas.

 

I also have a major interview today for an exec job that would be a smart money making and stability move. And I have offers that are currently active I can take if needed, so I'm not reliant on this one place for a paycheck.

 

Thanks so much for the advice, sometimes you just need a little outside perspective.

post #6 of 18

Well.. at least you got rid of the 13 yr old veteran....

 

Unfortunately, what's done is done, and right now you don't have much room to do anything.

 

They say hindsight is 20/20, so allow me to tell you about my hindsight.

 

First, you work a day or two as a "stage"  no strings attached, you can sit on your butt and drink coffee and watch the show, or you  can participate.  Main thing is, you get an idea of how the kitchen runs before you start.

 

Now that you have an idea of what you're in for, you pitch your "vision" to who ever pays your salary. Before you are hired. O.K. so you want this and this, with standardized recipies.  More importantly, this happens when the staff comply, and that happens if they don't.  If the owners don't buy in, or worse yet, hum and haw and give the ol' "let's wait and see" schpeil, get outta there.  It's only cost you a day or two, and that's a bargain.

 

The owner knows he needs a major shake up, that's why you were hired.

But....

Here's the $4,356.99 question:

 

Can the owners put their money where their mouth is? Can they discipline staff (including partners/family) for not following rules and regulations?  Can they turf out suppliers who have gotten lazy, or are they locked into contracts and golf games?  Are they committed to a major shake up? Or do they just hire someone, give him/her no power, and no back-up, and then watch them fail and then complain it was all just a waste of money?

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 

That is a great question foodpump. Let me say this about the hiring process for me. I presented them with an 8 week "takeover" plan, with items each week to occur. I'm on week 9 at the restaurant, but at week 2 with the plan. I also presented them with a completely overhauled menu which utilized a lot of multi-use items (we currently have at least 10 menu items which contain ingredients that are only used for those dishes). This was done because of what I was told during initial meetings about what they wanted at the restaurant.

 

Their cook line is completely messed up, and I'm told it's not broken. The grill guy for the night does the following: grills all steaks (3 on menu), grills all burgers (we do around 35-40 per day), grills chicken, drops fries (4 different kinds), drops all fried goods (wings, tenders, fried herbs for garnish, et al), sauces all items as the steam well is at the pass with the grill, plates up all starches except risotto (rice pilaf, mash, bakers), bakes the french onion soup. And the grill guy runs the window. there is no food runner, so the grill guy also has to buzz and get a hold of servers to run food.

 

I did speak with the owner today briefly, but we were both busy. Our plan is for me to come with a comprehensive list of my issues on Wednesday, and we'll hash it out. He didn't seem all that receptive, but he was also hectic today.

 

foodpump, I'm going to be sure to address the things you brought up as well. A few were already on my list, but with the owner's brother as our prep guy there is a question of what kind of discipline I can dish out if things aren't done right.

post #8 of 18

In that case, you've got some negotiating power, you're pulling your weight, but are hamstrung by lack of commitment on the owner's part.

 

Wednesday ought to be fun.....

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #9 of 18
Thread Starter 

I don't think anyone should be beholden to a job, so if this doesn't work out then so be it. I have an offer right now to manage a multi-million per year kitchen if I want it. I'm just more interested as a professional to do something at a small casual kitchen. Why can't you serve amazing burgers and bar grub?

 

The ironic thing about your statement is that I don't feel that I am pulling my weight. Pulling my weight, to me as an exec, is affecting change and inspiring the BOH to be better.

post #10 of 18

The whole situation sounds snake-bit from the get-go.  You're supposed to be the exec but the owner seems to treat you like a sous.  If he's not willing to make some major changes and turn the reins over to you to run the kitchen as you see fit then I'm not sure what the point of staying would be.  Unless the money is ridiculously good, I suppose.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by foodpump View Post
 

Well.. at least you got rid of the 13 yr old veteran....

 

Unfortunately, what's done is done, and right now you don't have much room to do anything.

 

They say hindsight is 20/20, so allow me to tell you about my hindsight.

 

First, you work a day or two as a "stage"  no strings attached, you can sit on your butt and drink coffee and watch the show, or you  can participate.  Main thing is, you get an idea of how the kitchen runs before you start.

 

Now that you have an idea of what you're in for, you pitch your "vision" to who ever pays your salary. Before you are hired. O.K. so you want this and this, with standardized recipies.  More importantly, this happens when the staff comply, and that happens if they don't.  If the owners don't buy in, or worse yet, hum and haw and give the ol' "let's wait and see" schpeil, get outta there.  It's only cost you a day or two, and that's a bargain.

 

The owner knows he needs a major shake up, that's why you were hired.

But....

Here's the $4,356.99 question:

 

Can the owners put their money where their mouth is? Can they discipline staff (including partners/family) for not following rules and regulations?  Can they turf out suppliers who have gotten lazy, or are they locked into contracts and golf games?  Are they committed to a major shake up? Or do they just hire someone, give him/her no power, and no back-up, and then watch them fail and then complain it was all just a waste of money?

 

 

Spot on here, but unfortunately only experiences can morph into 20/20 hindsight.... 

post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 

So today was fun.

 

It seems to come down to this: they weren't ready to hire an executive chef when they hired me. I laid everything out, and presented it like this: I can not do my job as an exec if I'm not allowed to get rid of a produce supplier that gives us horrible product, if I make recipe changes and they're changed back by staff or the owners I can not do my job. And I told them that I had more responsibility as a sous than I do currently. I'd barely call myself a kitchen manager.

 

I have to think about things, but in the end I just said that while I love the place and most of the staff it's a waste of my time and talent to be a glorified line cook at this point in my career. 6 years ago I would have flipped burgers for anyone all night long and done a produce order on my way out the door with a smile on my face.

 

They want to make sure I have the "core" recipes and ideas of the restaurant down. The menu was supposed to change right before I started, but they delayed to let me change it. That was to be implemented on Monday. I proposed a new menu (more of a tweak in my mind) a month ago, they loved it, and then said they didn't want to do it yet. All of that is fine, it is their restaurant after all, but I don't have time to be going backwards in my career. 

 

If I'm not given full reigns of the kitchen when I go back in on Friday I'll have to move on.

post #13 of 18

Yup...

Owner can't/won't let go. 

 

Betcha anything that a week after you leave the 13 yr veteran will come back again.

 

Like you said, it's the owner's restaurant, he can do whatever he wants to.  And he will.

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #14 of 18
Thread Starter 

Update: I've moved on.

 

The new chef, who they hired on the week before I left, came to me and asked about the place. I was honest, but not condemning of the owners. I figure he'll learn, he'll assimilate, or he'll leave too.  He did mention that after going through the Sysco order with the owner he said that he'd start doing the order, and the owner could follow him around. The response was, "Well, let's give it a few weeks." He was not pleased, as he'd been doing not only the kitchen order at his old place but the entire bar order as well. 

 

New job is opening a 385 seat venue scheduled for Feb next year. We're training, researching, putting the core team together now. As of today I'm the only kitchen guy, we have our server/foh manager and a fantastic GM. And hey, a few days on the job and they seem to be turning to me for the culinary/kitchen info. So far so good.

post #15 of 18

Maybe owner will change when he figures out why all these people are leaving.

post #16 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by kuan View Post
 

Maybe owner will change when he figures out why all these people are leaving.


Yeah right and I have a  bridge  to sell you Kuan.

post #17 of 18
Ive been looking for some bridge locations in the NYC area Chefross, any suggestions? smile.gif
post #18 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagom View Post

Ive been looking for some bridge locations in the NYC area Chefross, any suggestions? smile.gif


Brooklyn comes to mind.....That's where the fresh fish market is every morning.

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