Considering a culinary arts school, before you do, read on.

Chef-Savory

We have hired several newly “minted” chefs directly from culinary schools usually through an internship program. In every case culinary students find their biggest challenge to be timing and pressure. They have the knowledge to create dishes from scratch (a valuable tool for an Executive Chef) but can only understand the pressures a commercial chef faces by working in an actual commercial kitchen environment. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to view the hiring of culinary students through intern programs a valuable tool and find qualified students who continue to advance in their career at our bistros and bakery. However, my first hand experience is that, despite all those newly learned skills and knowledge, only one out of three will make it in the industry.
Before you spend the money, you need to ask yourself three key questions that will tell you if you are right for the chef position
Question One –  Do you thrive under “blow and go” pressure and love having new challenges thrown at you from left to right? A yes answer allows you to move on to Question Two.
Question Two – Can you maintain a clear mind and balanced personality with the ability to inspire people to push themselves to the limit day in and day out? If you answered yes, fantastic! Move on to Question Three.
Question Three – Can you consistently produce quality dishes that not only taste great but also look fantastic each time?
If you have answered yes to these three questions, you may just be chef material.

Now you can move on becoming a chef.
Culinary school is a valuable (but not necessary) tool if you plan to move up to Executive Chef. As mentioned above, it provides you with valuable knowledge on the “how to” of creating and in some cases, saving dishes. It will also give you a pretty good idea if you want to be a savory chef (cook) or pastry chef (baker) two very different professions.

Working in a commercial kitchen is a “required” tool to get in and move up in the industry. And we’re not talking in a chain, which will only teach you how to heat up and serve food.
If you plan on making this your career, it’s better to start out in prep for free in a fine dining restaurant then get paid to work as a “head chef” in a chain.

If you have answered yes to my three questions, get into a fine dining restaurant doing anything you can. Watch, listen and learn. Move up through the ranks. Experience is a more valuable asset than culinary school at this stage. Don’t get me wrong, culinary school is a valuable arrow to have in your quiver, but experience is the bow. It will tell you if you’re cut out for the business, what area you excel in, all while providing you with added chits for your resume. Think of experience as the cake, culinary school as the frosting. It should be the finishing touches to position you in a very rewarding industry that, although extremely challenging is also extremely rewarding.
Good Luck.

J Stephen

Why do all restaurant waiters tell me their names?

Watress Two Older Guests

The answer to this question is simple…. Tips. Research has clearly shown that when a server states their name they become a real person to the guest. When they kneel down, touch your shoulder, speak to your kids, they further personalize themselves, all resulting in increased tips.

You might stiff a faceless “food deliverer” but almost never a person you are acquainted with.

This may sound like a cold hearted fact but doing these things is actually a win/win for all parties. The server makes more money (usually) and believe me they work hard for every penny they get, the guest feels special and the proprietor has provided a service that will assure their guest will come back to that special place that treats them so well.

Where the system breaks down is when the process is institutionalized. When chain restaurants all “train” their staff to follow “standardized” welcoming rules, they become rote and lose their meaning. Servers then “blindly follow” their “training” without thinking because it’s the “rule”.

At our Forney, TX European Bistro, we ask our servers to treat people like they have just come in to visit them at their home. Do those thing that will personalize you to your guests, but do them because you mean it, just as if you are talking to a friend.

Not easy to do when you have a line of guests waiting to be seated, looking for refills and awaiting their dishes. But that’s the art of being a professional server. Understanding who needs attention and the attention they require is an art not a process. Chains who are all about systems and controls often lose site of that fact.

J Stephen

Eating alone at a fancy restaurant. One simple change can make a difference!

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I personally like to eat alone on some occasions, especially when I’m working on business issues that I need to think through. One of the things I do hate is when hosts make you feel like a loser when they ask “JUST one?” The question makes one feel as if, you really can’t find even one more person to dine with?

At our European Bistro in Forney Texas,  I always have my team ask “will anyone be joining you?” When the guest says no, we say “great, let me clear these settings so you have a bit more room.”

I believe this simple change makes our single dining guests feel welcome and comfortable.

J Stephen

Do many/any nice restaurants serve meals to a table “one-at-a-time-when hot” vs. all-at-the-same-time? What is the general restaurant trend around this?

Server Delivering Food

Our chef’s are all classically trained from Le Cordon Bleu. Although classically trained, when they start with us (or any restaurant for that matter) the most challenging task they immediately face is the ability to create AND provide all dishes simultaneously. This is when most aspiring chef’s “wash out” (decide that being a chef is not for them).

Delivering dishes on time goes beyond one dish and one ticket. It includes the monitoring of multiple tickets all with multiple dishes. Most chef’s use several timers to help achieve this. Our kitchen features multiple staff members, all gliding from task to task, reacting to multiple timers, to assure that each table is served as quickly as possible in a timely manner. Granted, we make all our dishes from scratch which only add’s to the complexity of the assignment and in order to cut down on the complexity and time to provide dishes, many kitchens pre-make many of their dishes. However, the basic challenge still remains.
A great example of this is the following scenario for a seemingly simple party of five breakfast at our European Bistro in Forney, TX: Our sample order consists of five dishes; (1) waffles, (1) pancakes, (1) soufflé, (1) eggs Benedict and (1) oatmeal.  Seems simple, right? Well lets give you a little insight into just what goes into crafting those dishes.
Our chef’s know that the waffles take 4 minutes, the pancakes 11 minutes, the soufflé 20 minutes, the Eggs Benedict 4 minutes to poach the eggs, 16 minutes to bake the crab cakes and the oatmeal takes 8 minutes to cook, 1 minute to slice the fruit and 3 minutes to brûlée. In addition, our chef’s are usually working multiple dishes at the same time.
This simple breakfast seems quite simple to the guest but involves great training on the part of the chef.  Now take that same ticket and multiply it by 20 tickets all in queue at once with some parties as large as 20 people! I believe that will help you understand what it means to be a chef and just what goes into providing those SIMPLE dishes all at once to your table.
Being a chef requires two often conflicting capabilities, intense focus as well as the ability to multi-task while under great pressure.
To assure all dishes come out simultaneously all cooked to perfection is the magic that separates the chef from the cook.
J Stephen