The tasks of the chef are fairly universal: planning menus, putting your signature on each dish, hiring and training staff, ordering product and building vendor relationships, controlling costs and adhering to budgets, maintaining a clean and safe kitchen environment, etc. etc. So, wouldn’t it be safe to say that if you can manage a kitchen – you can manage any kitchen? The answer is emphatically – no.
Sometimes the difference is the sheer scale of the operation. Some restaurants can operate efficiently with a staff of 10 or less, while others might require more than 50. An operation with one restaurant outlet is far different than one with several. Even the difference between restaurants that serve three meals per day vs. one that focuses entirely on dinner will be an entirely different ballgame.
That 1,000-room resort hotel will likely have three or more restaurants and a variety of banquet spaces plus full room service that can be available 24/7. Each presents the executive chef with a different set of challenges and opportunities. Does the chef take care of his or her own ordering or work through a purchasing agent or steward? In this size operation there will likely be a sous chef for each restaurant outlet and a banquet chef whose focus is large-scale events. There may even be an executive sous chef so that the executive chef can focus on future planning, communication, team building, concept development, and budgetary issues. Each property is unique – thus the job of chef is also unique.
Clubs provide an environment for chefs, which has come a long way from where it was just a few decades ago. Always a specialized space for members, the club setting maintained a market space for food that was based on tradition, classic preparations, and to a large degree a “food cost free zone”. In other words, for a very long time membership had little concern for the financial viability of the food and beverage department – this was simply a service for members that was expected to be there, in any shape or form that members wanted, when it was sought. So – what is different today, and why would I refer to this as maybe the toughest environment for a chef and one that also provided the greatest opportunity?
The club of today is a business where food and beverage plays a significant role in the financial viability of the operation. Restaurant outlets are expected to reflect what is happening in the greater food world in terms of product, ambience and service and each operation and event is expected to meet the same or similar profit goals as their counterparts on Main Street. The chef must be on his or her game – adept at preparing and presenting food that rivals the best free standing restaurants – even reflecting the most contemporary trends and techniques. At the same time the chef must be a savvy person who has a known history of effective business acumen.
Like their counterparts in exclusive resorts and quality restaurants – club chefs must invest considerable time in building a cohesive team of professionals who can execute experiences and events at the highest level.
On top of everything else – the club chef will likely report to not just the general manager and food and beverage manager of the club, but also be responsible to the food committee of the club board. The standard rule that an individual can only function effectively when he or she reports to one boss – simply doesn’t apply to the club chef.
On the positive side – the chef will find that his or her job is always challenging and always exciting. Every day brings a new set of challenges and a new set of unique opportunities to shine. In many clubs – if the chef needs a specific piece of equipment to be effective in the job – the membership will ensure that the order is placed. If it is deemed necessary to update or expand a kitchen – the membership will find a way to finance it. In many clubs one of the roles of the board is to take away reasons why the chef cannot effectively meet the needs of the membership.
With this complex list of unique responsibilities it is no wonder that only a select few meet the needs of the position. So – you want to be a club chef – what does it take?
 A STELLAR CULINARY SKILL SET
Safe to say – it is expected that a Club Chef will be a master of his or her trade. The skill set that he or she brings to the table will be as good as one might find in any segment of the food service industry. At the same time – the Club Chef will always seek to improve on and add to those skills.
 LIFE EXPERIENCES
A club chef will likely be a person who is fairly well traveled, a person who has been there – done that, an individual who over a period of time has built a network of influence that is there to support and assist the chef as is needed. This chef is an individual who can always fall back on those experiences in the process of facing a current day challenge or opportunity. Problem solving is always much more fluid when the chef can access the history of facing something similar in his or her career.
 FINGER ON THE PULSE
The club chef is an individual who knows what the current trends are and who is able to establish what the next trends might be. He follows what other chefs and operators are doing and when necessary – seeks to acquire the skills that will allow him to be competitive in that arena.
 BREADTH OF KNOWLEDGE
Outside of physical skills – the Club Chef will truly understand a variety of cuisines, traditional and contemporary techniques, know flavor profiles and how to adapt cooking to achieve a certain goal, appreciate the differences in culture that exist in the kitchen, the dining room, and among the membership of a club and know enough about each to function effectively in their presence.
 A SPOTLESS BRAND
The brand of the club food operations and the brand of the chef are closely aligned. Club members are interested in a chef who at the very least can support the existing brand of the operation, but typically a person who can enhance that brand in the eyes of members and in the words of the press. The chef’s brand brings prestige to the club.
 SUPERIOR ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS
Considering the breadth of work and events that will take place in a club from golf outings, weddings and family events, multiple restaurant outlets, and food service offered, at some level, from sunrise to way past sunset – the ability to organize and facilitate is likely the Club Chefs most challenging, and absolutely essential skill.
 TRACK RECORD OF LEADERSHIP
The Club Chef is the conductor of the orchestra. He or she must be able to do the work required of any position, be adept at training others to become accomplished in those areas, and humble enough to realize that the chef’s job is far too complex to fail at delegation, support, training, and encouragement. This is what leaders do.
Unlike many other executive chef positions – Club Chefs are subject to far more scrutiny and advice (sometimes unwanted) than any other chef position that I am aware of. He or she must be comfortable with the realization that as much as a decision is best made immediately – there are many more channels to work through in this environment.
 UNQUESTIONABLE PROFESSIONALISM
The Club Chef, maybe more than others, is the face of the food and beverage department. He or she must look and act the part – all of the time, on the job and off.
 AN OUTGOING PERSONALITY
Club members expect to see the chef, they want to be on a first name basis with the leader of the kitchen, they expect that the chef will be there when they are dining, and they fully expect that they will be treated by the chef as if they are the most important person in the club at any given moment. The chef must be outgoing and sincerely enjoy interacting with members.
 A SUPERB COMMUNICATOR
The club chef cannot hide behind the kitchen doors. There will be loads of opportunities for the chef to make presentations, offer a cooking class or wine pairing event, interact with the press, write articles and newsletters, and talk with members about their special event.
 A TRACK RECORD OF FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE
Today’s club food and beverage department must be financially viable. Membership may accept a solid breakeven performance, but will rarely tolerate a budget in the red. If you don’t have the financial bones to do the job, then club work is not for you.
 A VISIONARY
Club membership, particularly as younger members begin to fill the seats once occupied by an aging population of loyalists are anxious to align with a chef who has a high level of excitement about where food and beverage might go in the future and how to get there. New membership, in particular, want bragging rights about their chef and what is happening in the club’s food outlets.
 STRENGTH OF CHARACTER
The Club Chef, like any other professional culinarian, is expected to be honest beyond reproach, empathetic yet strong, consistent and trustworthy (a person of his or her word), and a truthful envoy of the kitchen.
 A PERSON WITH A SERVICE MENTALITY – ABOVE AND BEYOND
Whatever it takes, “yes” is the first response, “how can we make your experience special”, and “we would be happy to do that for you”, is the dialogue that members expect from the Club Chef. Going above and beyond is the norm. As has been said by US Armed Forces as the slogan for their method of operation:
“The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little bit longer.”
Do you have the right stuff? Club Chef positions provide a fantastic career track, typically better than normal compensation and benefits, and extraordinary opportunities to sign your work and build your brand.
If you think you fit the mold – stay connected to David Meyers Associates website and watch for Club Chef opportunities that strike a chord.
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Club Chef Placement