Category: Continuing Education for Food Professionals



Was it Ellsworth Statler who, a generation ago proclaimed, “The three most important elements of success are location, location, location,” or was it the British real estate tycoon named Lord Harold Samuel who died in 1987? In either case, those in marketing of any type have long proclaimed that location is one of, if not the most important attribute of a successful business or a valuable property.

There is little question that visibility and an already established clientele base sets the stage for success, but it never guarantees it. Restaurants are, in many cases, an enigma when it comes to this rule of thumb. Yes, there are many – in particular, the chain operators, who will not invest in a site that doesn’t fit the formula for a “great” location. This is why you’ll consistently find the major brands clustered together. The research has been done, the volume of traffic is there, the socio-economic demographic is a match, entrances and exits are easy to manage, and the area is properly zoned. If the operator is willing to invest, then this must be the place where they build. But, is this always the formula that works?

An Olive Garden and P.F. Chang’s will always be easy to find. Look for the mall or high traffic access road with plenty of parking and you will likely find these brands as well as every other significant concept that a community can possibly support. To place these restaurants elsewhere would not make economic sense.

Along come private entrepreneurs: chefs with a vision, restaurateurs with a formula for success and in both cases a need to keep occupancy costs (rent, lease, mortgage, utilities, property taxes, etc.) in check. Spending a few minutes with a calculator it is not difficult to determine what the operator can afford to spend on location. “I know I should follow the golden rule and look for the property with established traffic, high visibility, plenty of parking, easy access and other reasons for people to be there, but I can’t afford it.”

Restaurants are magnet operations, especially in today’s world of consumers who are infatuated with food and beverage and creative chefs. These magnets are frequently used when a developer or landlord is seeking to gentrify an area that has fallen into disrepair. Now, this is an area where a restaurateur can afford to build. These gentrification projects may take years or even decades to work, but many do. That terribly seedy area suddenly becomes a cool place to be. The restaurant has started to build a niche trade that will, over time, evolve into a market for unique shops, remodeled high end apartments and condos, more attention from local police departments, landscaping and lighting and an upbeat flow of hip people who have reclaimed the area as their own.

The restaurateur and chef, or chefs over time, have suffered through the tough battle. Building trust, creating an innovative concept, enhancing their image, attracting and retaining an attentive and competent staff, drawing attention from the local press and the food community and now, finally, they are beginning to reap the rewards. A restaurant with a reputation, a chef with a brand, and a supportive group of clients who came initially because of the food critics review, but now return time and time again for the experience. Ah, the restaurant is beginning to make money and everyone is proud.

Meanwhile, the community around the restaurant is starting to come alive and thrive. The shops are busy, taxi drivers are no longer leery of venturing into the area at night, vendors are clamoring for the business that the restaurant has to offer, and everything seems just right.

This story happens time and again in cities across the United States. Large cities and small towns all can point to areas that have experienced a rebirth that began with a restaurant willing to take a chance and unable to afford building in an another area that might have been a sure bet.

To those marketers of the golden rule I ask: “Did the restaurant make the location or did the location make the restaurant?” How many people ever heard of Yountville, California before Thomas Keller took a chance on The French Laundry and eventually Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc? Once created, where is the value? Is it the location, the brand that the chef or restaurateur has created, or is it something else? Can the magic simply be replanted somewhere else with the same end results? These are questions that cannot easily be answered.

So, where am I going with this train of thought? When restaurants resurrect an area they have, in my opinion, earned the right to be there and enjoy what they helped bring to fruition. A successful restaurant is much more than simply a place to dine. A successful restaurant is the heartbeat of a neighborhood and this heart cannot simply be transplanted to another part of town with the expectation that it will be accepted. Time and again this is attempted with resulting disappointment or failure.

We have all seen this unfold in our communities. A great restaurant with a solid following decides to move a few blocks away with disastrous results. Years of hard work, patience and a bit of angst have now taken a turn from success to failure.

A recent trend, especially in large metropolitan areas pressing through urban renewal, is landlords and developers raising restaurant rents in gentrified areas; areas that those restaurants helped to rebuild. Rent levels are no longer workable for restaurant operators. Many landmark restaurants are now finding themselves in the market for alternative locations. The question is, can they re-create the magic in a different area. Will their brand carry enough karma to hit the ground running?

This has happened with Bobby Flay at Mesa Grill, the original Aquavit and most recently – Union Square Café. Profit, of course, is a primary measure in business and one could argue that we cannot and should not limit a landlord’s opportunity to improve their bottom line if the market exists for tenants with deeper pockets. But, like the Yountville example, where would these neighborhoods be without the heartbeat that a restaurant creates, and how will the neighborhood, let alone the restaurant survive when one is removed from the other?

To rent or lease is to be always vulnerable to fluctuations in fees. To buy is, in most cases, out of reach for private restaurateurs. There is no real answer to this dilemma. It is, after all, part of the challenge of operating a restaurant and building a brand.

Danny Meyer is a brilliant restaurateur as is Bobby Flay. They will certainly survive and move on, but those epic restaurants may not. Will Mesa Grill work as well in another section of New York? Can Union Square Café separate from Union Square and still maintain the dynamic personality that has been created in its current location for the past few decades?

I wish them well and although my visits to New York are few and far between, I will miss them as I remember. The communities that they helped to build will not be the same.

Take a moment to view this article offering more details on the dilemma that is faced by Danny Meyer and Union Square Café.

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Restaurant Consulting, Training and Coaching

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*PICTURE TAKEN BY: Kristin Parker – Kristin Parker Photography



I really do try to avoid getting tangled up in bureaucratic or politically influenced issues since they are so difficult to change. However, when food integrity, quality and traditions are involved, my patience starts to wear thin. Traditions are so important to a culture and essential when trying to preserve the experience of foods that are representative of that culture.

In recent years it seems that these traditions have been attacked relentlessly and in some cases even legislated out of existence. Some may be challenged because of cost, others for environmental reasons and now and then because someone reveals definitive research that disputes the need for these traditions. What is most important, from my perspective, is that we should be working harder to protect traditions even when research may demonstrate a lack of support for the traditions basis. Why should we protect some process even if it is not needed? Some things simply cannot be proven right or wrong just because of research. Some things are a mystery and quite often, cannot be adequately explained. Other times there is evidence through experience that a traditional process does, in fact, make a unique difference.

Most chefs will, as an example, prefer cooking with gas rather than electricity for a variety of reasons. The most significant is that food tastes better when cooked with an open flame. Can this be scientifically validated – maybe not entirely, yet it is, for most cooks, the definitive rule. Certain wines benefit enormously from aging in oak barrels. Aside from the wonderful undertones of flavor, many of the tannins present in wines that help with bottle aging are drawn from the barrels used during cask fermentation. Artisan breads need to be turned on wooden tables and are improved when they proof on that same wood. Lionel Poilane used many original tools and specific environments for mixing, proofing and baking his breads that in turn were uniquely his. Most would agree that Poilane breads were the best in the world.

So, where am I going with all of this? It is certainly critical that any operation that grows, processes, produces and/or packages food product for consumption be designed with guest health and safety as a top priority. At the same time we can and do throw out traditions far too quickly without having a true understanding of what is at work. What is amazing is that at the same time we embrace modern science, chemistry in particular, with little question and assume that modern science can always make everything better. The Public Health Service and local Departments of Health would love to mandate that every food production facility be surgically clean as a precaution that will protect the general public. Temperature is the friend of food preservation and when refrigeration is not feasible then science is used to add complementary preservation methods that incorporate chemicals and chemical processes. Farms claim they cannot function on a large scale without fertilizers and insecticides so science promotes modifying the genetic makeup of the seeds that farmers use so that excessive amounts of fertilizer and insecticide are not absorbed at a rate beyond what is considered “safe”. All of this is deemed acceptable and preferred over some of the traditions that were in effect for generations and still used in some parts of the world considered not as “advanced”.

Here we are, living at a time when food has never been more exciting, where a food culture in America has been emerging to become as significant as those of European countries, where people have never been more engaged with the quality and source of their food and where more people have chosen to dedicate their careers to food production and preparation than any other time in history. What fascinates people is not just the flavors and technique of cooking, but the culture that food is an integral part of.

The FDA has recently decided to enforce a nebulous standard for cheese making that will radically change the face of a wonderful, exciting, growing artisan cheese industry in the United States. Purportedly due to fears of Listeria, the FDA will no longer allow artisanal cheese makers to ripen (affinage) their cheese on wooden planks. This may not sound like a big deal, however, if you are a cheese maker it changes the whole process of making a great cheese.

“Cheese has been aged on rough wooden planks made from locally harvested spruce for over a thousand years. Rooted in ancestral tradition and sustainable local practices. The use of planks is now scientifically proven to preserve the life of the micro flora in and on the cheese, which are necessary for the formation of the rind and for the cheese’s specificity of flavors.”

The assumption is that artisan cheese makers are not capable of operating a safe cheese ripening process using traditional methods that have significantly more time and exposure to the process than the FDA.

I am not a cheese maker, nor do I profess to fully understand the process by which some of the most extraordinary cheeses are made, ripened and prepared for us to enjoy – what I do know is how passionate, meticulous, talented and serious these cheese makers are about their product. It would seem to me that the easy way is not always the right way. It is easy to simply legislate tradition out of a process when it would likely be more historically prudent to work with cheese makers in the process of refining the inspection process that helps these food artists protect and improve their traditional methods.

Once we begin to simply accept new mandates and not question others like the use of GMO’s, chemical fertilizers, irradiation of fruits and vegetables, insecticides and excessive use of antibiotics then it is only a matter of time before our food supply becomes generic, uninteresting and maybe even harmful in the long-run.

If we don’t question this new FDA mandate then we must begin to accept that beautiful cheeses like aged goat, blue vein cheese, farm cheeses like the French Epoisses and Morbier will either disappear from the shelves of our stores or evolve into something that is less exciting and uninspired.

If we don’t question this FDA mandate then what will be next? Will organic farming become taboo in the eyes of the USDA? Will a government agency decide that the process of grape fermentation that includes natural yeasts in the air; the use of oak barrels for aging and chalk caves with generations of mold is unsafe and inappropriate? Will artisanal bread bakers find themselves unable to nurture the natural yeasts used in sour dough starters because these organic microbes are living and somewhat unpredictable? If we don’t protect those traditional processes that have been passed down from generation to generation yet accept the introduction of chemistry as a “safer” substitute, what will food growing, processing and preparation look like in fifty years?

Some may say that I am ill informed and simply do not truly understand. I will admit a level of ignorance, but will stand firm on my belief in traditions. Culture is important and the way we handle food and appreciate how our ancestors respected it is a very significant part of that culture.

I have visited, talked with, observed and built a deep appreciation for artisans. Artisan farmers, cheese makers, bread bakers, wine makers and brewers have been and continue to be the backbone of the food movement in America. They have made all of us pay attention to the source of ingredients, the way to preserve and prepare food that enhances natural flavors, aware of how important good food is to our health and well being and have made cooking in America a passionate calling for thousands of young cooks and chefs. They deserve our support and understanding.

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This is the time of the year when culinary schools pass out diplomas and send their graduates out into the world of professional cooking. These young culinarians are eager, full of energy and loaded with ambitious ideas about who they are, what they are capable of today and where will be in a short period of time. Many are ready and some are not, but with that degree in hand they step outside in pursuit of their dreams. As graduates begin the process of starting their career I always feel compelled to leave them with a checklist that will, I am sure, serve them well in the years to come. These are not my thoughts alone; they represent the collective feelings of chefs, managers, fellow cooks and restaurateurs with whom I have had the pleasure to work. So..I would encourage each graduate to read and re-read these thoughts or lessons, fold them and keep them in your wallet for reference multiple times during your career with food.

1. TREASURE TRADITIONS: The profession of cooking has a long and arduous history. Many, many chefs came before you and tirelessly worked to build a place for cooking in the halls of serious professionals. How they looked, acted, approached others, relished food and the processes that they developed over decades will always and should always have a place in your consciousness and in your actions as a serious cook. Don’t forget what came before.
2. BE PATIENT: Your career is a journey, not a destination. It will likely take you 5 years or so to get to that first sous chef position and maybe another 5-10 before reaching Executive Chef. This is an investment you must be willing to make.
3. STAY PROFESSIONAL: Yes, there are numerous examples of unprofessional kitchen environments to choose from. There are those who yell and scream, belittle and undermine, treat others with contempt, fail to thank but rather choose to always find fault; those who are careless with product and do not respect their commitment to the source, the place or the guest. Do not fall into the trap. You have been taught to take the high ground. Stay there and be the example for others.
4. RESPECT OTHERS: One of the most beautiful things about working in kitchens is that they are some of the most diverse working environments to be found anywhere. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to learn about other cultures and beliefs. Remember that at least in the kitchen everyone is equal. Respect others for who they are and they will respect you.
5. YES CHEF: As much as you think you know, there is so much more to learn. The person who holds the title of chef has invested many years to reach the position that he or she currently holds. It is his or her kitchen! The best way to learn and set a path for professional growth is to respect the chain of command and know that if the chef expects something done a certain way, your response should always be YES CHEF (unless it violates rule #3 and in that case still say Yes Chef but start looking for a new environment).
6. THE FOUNDATIONS WILL NEVER DO YOU WRONG: All those hours that you spent in your foundational classes in school were the most important parts of your education. How to hold a knife, vegetable cut dimensions, the basic cooking methods, how to caramelize, the proper way to build a stock, etc. are relevant no matter what style of cooking or type of food that you will work with.
7. KEEP YOUR KNIVES SHARP: Each day before you start your shift make sure that your tools are in order. Use a stone and keep that chef’s steel close to your work area. A sharp knife makes the work much easier, reduces the opportunity for injury (as long as you respect the knife) and is kinder to the product you are working with. A serious chef will check your knives and know how serious you are as a cook.
8. SANITATION AND FOOD SAFETY IS YOUR OBLIGATION: Nothing is more important than proper food handling and your commitment to the safety and well being of your guest. Don’t ever forget those rules of operation that were taught in Food Sanitation.
9. RESPECT THE SOURCE: Food is not something that simply appears off the tailgate of your local or regional food vendor’s truck. A farmer, producer or manufacturer somewhere dedicated their passion to preparing those raw materials for your hands. It is the dedication of the farmer that makes a carrot delicious. Your job is to protect, nurse and define those natural flavors.
10. BE DEPENDABLE: You will quickly learn that the most important trait of a kitchen employee is being dependable. Will they show up on time, with the right attitude, prepared to work and consistent in their approach to their responsibilities? Be the example. The chef can work with any other shortcomings, but a lack of dependability has no place in a kitchen.
11. LEARNING NEVER STOPS: The diploma in your hand is not an end game. Walking across that stage was just the beginning of your formal education. Every day in the kitchen provides a new opportunity to learn something that was not part of your repertoire before or improve on something that you are familiar with. Grab on to every opportunity to learn and know that SOMETIMES THAT MIGHT MEAN “OFF THE CLOCK”!
12. LOOK CHALLENGES SQUARELY IN THE EYE: “I can’t”, just doesn’t fly. When a person says, “I can’t” what they really mean is: “I won’t”. If you don’t know how then ask or research the answer. You will never further your career unless you understand that the only answer is YES, I WILL.
13. STAY HEALTHY: You will be of little use to a chef if you are not in good health. Eat a balanced diet, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, see a doctor yearly, drink in moderation, get enough sleep and maintain those important relationships with friends and significant others. It is the WHOLE person who will become that successful chef in the future.
14. TAKE CARE OF YOUR FEET: You may think that this is a redundant statement after #13, but your feet are SO IMPORTANT to your well being as a cook. Buy the right shoes, change them during long shifts, wear white socks when working, soak them after those twelve -hour days and never take them for granted.
15. RESPECT THE EQUIPMENT IN THE KITCHEN: You will quickly learn that equipment will not hurt a person; it is the person who does not respect the equipment who will hurt him or herself. Meat slicers (if I see another person cleaning a slicer while it is still plugged in I will go ballistic) are only dangerous in the wrong hands, pressure and convective steamers will only burn those people who don’t use common sense, wet towels and hot pans do not work well together, liquids and hot oil in a pan are not friends, 10 gallon stock pots full of liquid that is not properly lifted and carried will be unforgiving to your back, and that great tool: the mandoline will do the same things to your fingers that it does to a zucchini (use protective gloves or a guard when slicing). Then there is the cost of all that equipment that must be shown respect. The blade from the Robot Coupe does not belong in the pot sink (you use it – you clean it), the dicing blade for that same machine falls under the same rules. Each piece of that equipment will cost the operation hundreds of dollars to replace because of your carelessness.
16. WE ARE ALL DISHWASHERS IN GOD’S EYES: An idle moment in the kitchen is a chance to jump in and help someone else. That dishwasher has an awful job, but one that is absolutely crucial to the restaurant. Help him or her out! Ten minutes jumping in on the dish machine or washing some of your own pots will show that person that you care and be reflective of point #4.
17. BECOME A SERVICE PIONEER: We work so that others may play. The guest is the guest and your task is to allow them to have an exceptional experience in the restaurant. Don’t fight their requests, learn to adapt and WOW them with your desire to go the extra mile.
18. READ, TRAVEL AND INVEST IN BUILDING THE RIGHT FRIENDS: Great chefs are worldly individuals who understand other cultures either through hands-on experiences or at least by reading as much as they can about them. Broaden your horizons, associate with other cooks who are equally interested in this endeavor and make the investment in this important part of your life.
19. BUILD YOUR NETWORK OF INFLUENCE AND STAY CONNECTED: Join professional organizations like the American Culinary Federation, Retail Bakers Association, National Restaurant Association, Chefs Collaborative, Slow Food, USA, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, etc. and make a list of those individuals and groups that would be beneficial to your career. Seek them out, introduce yourself and stay connected. Most importantly – find a mentor who is willing to take you under his or her wing and offer you honest and sincere advice along the way. All of these connections may be integral to your future.
20. INVEST IN BUILDING YOUR BRAND: How do you want people to view you? When individuals call your references how would you like those people to portray you? What words would accurately describe the type of person and cook you are? Spend the time and invest the effort in clearly defining and maintaining this image. It is your brand that will be important in the future. Remember it is hard work to build a positive brand, but only takes a single mistake to ruin it. Be aware of this, even with the little things like: the message on your voicemail, the posts of you on Facebook, what you say on Twitter, how you dress and groom yourself, the language that you use and so many other things that will set the tone for your brand. Do what you want, but be aware of how you may be perceived.
21. GIVE BACK: You are fortunate to have a degree or the experience to hold down a significant job. Others have helped you along the way. You are able to work at a job that gives you immense satisfaction. Your career, if you set the stage properly, will have very few limitations. Knowing this should occasionally give you pause. Take that minute to do something for others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, teach a class, help a farmer, donate to a worthy cause, work on a fund raising dinner, take the time to thank your teachers and give back to the college or school of hard knocks that brought you to this place. Food people are very generous – be one of them.

You have chosen a fantastic career. Foodservice will provide you with a great deal of satisfaction, some trials and tribulations, opportunities to grow and experience other parts of the country or world, meet interesting and passionate people, serve others and bring sunshine to their day and create beautiful food with your own hands. It is a truly special career track and you should feel fortunate to be part of it. Best of luck –make your success – it is in your hands.

I would recommend two essential books for your early library. Rush out (I am serious) today to purchase them. This is your first “post graduate” investment in your future.

Letters to a Young Chef by: Chef Daniel Boulud

Tasting Success by: Chef Charles Carroll

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Once you brush away all of the superficial things that we accumulate in life and begin to prioritize those that are important it is remarkable to see that everyone shares the same list. It all boils down to family, faith, health, companionship, meaningful work, how we treat others and how they treat us and those things that allow us to continue to survive: food, water, basic shelter and clothing. Unfortunately, people tend to get caught up in those things that feed our desires outside of the foundations of a good life. This article will focus on one common denominator that addresses nearly every one of those foundations and can even stretch to encompass a few desires outside of the basics in life. That common denominator is food.

There is little doubt that we all face demons every day. People can easily get caught up in our differences whether they be political, territorial, religious beliefs, relationship disagreements, or even work related friction and as we see by watching the news, these differences can become the center of our attention. If there is anything that we can agree on – it is a good plate of food. So, how important is food beyond the basic need for sustenance? Let’s take a look at the role that food can and does play in life.

A baby is born and the first thing that he or she does is cry. What does the baby cry for? Is it attention, affection, discomfort or fright? Those who have watched the miracle of birth will quickly note that it is hunger that draws the first sound from a new born. There is an association that a baby quickly develops: “I cry and I get fed.” Food becomes a comforting crutch in life that we carry with us forever. We may not cry for food as we get older, but we realize that food is a friend when it is sometimes hard to find one. When we are happy –we eat. When we are sad – we eat. When we are lonely – we eat. When we are stressed – we eat. Food is comforting, it is fulfilling, it is a reward when we need it and a memory of people and things that we have encountered through our lives. Food is important.

We now know, although not everyone practices it, that “we are what we eat.” Selecting the right foods and preparing them well is the most significant contributor to a healthy body. Many of the health issues that plague mankind are preventable if we would only follow some simple rules of selection and preparation. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity are, to a large extent, preventable if we understand how important food is.

The once cherished “family table” was a time to sit down as a symbol of reverence for tradition and a time to share in each other’s day. The family table was a time to celebrate the small things and to comfort each other when our day takes a negative turn. The meal was a time to pass down the values of the family and to teach each other how to live, respect and cherish each other. The common denominator was a plate of food that was prepared with love, care and a sense of obligation to those things that keep a family strong. We have strayed from this over the years with the advent of a microwave oven society and the ease with which fast food and convenience items take over the traditions of old.

We do (thanks from everyone in the restaurant business) lean on restaurants now for much of that attention to tradition. Restaurants are a place where we can celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, promotions, first dates, breakups, business deals and even the lives of those who pass away. In all cases, it is good food that serves as that common denominator. We break bread to remember and even to forget. Food is a powerful catalyst that ties two ends together no matter how far apart they seem initially.

When it comes to appreciating great food there is no language barrier. The experience surrounding dining can and does go way beyond that typical biological family. State dinners sponsored by governments are used to create a common ground for discussion, compromise, support and understanding. No matter how deep the differences are between two people or even entire countries, we can always appreciate a great meal. This simple foundational need and pleasure can become the basis by which differences are put aside, maybe long enough for there to surface a spark of understanding and agreement. Food is important.

There are so many examples of the power of food as a communication tool – examples that each of us knows and holds close to our hearts. Here are a few:

One of the most difficult jobs on earth is farming. I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit farmers in the wine regions of France, California, Oregon and Washington State. During harvest, workers are pressed with the need to pick the grapes when they reach the correct sugar content and do so during a very short window of time. It is backbreaking work requiring those involved to bend at the waist, snipping bunches of grapes from the vine from row to row for many hours at a time. With the sun beating on their backs, hands that are rough and cut from the vine knife used and grapes weighing down on their frame it becomes work that would surely be considered intolerable by many. At the end of the day in most vineyards, something magical happens. The crew will sit down together to a meal prepared by the vineyard, break bread, clink glasses filled with the vineyards wine, laugh and truly enjoy telling stories about how many aches and pains they have. The next morning the process starts all over again. Food is a powerful and magical substance.

Restaurant work is, simply put, hard. Ten or twelve hours on your feet, the pressure of the clock, lifting, chopping and dicing, heat that is intense enough to cook a person, burns, cuts and aching muscles – this is the life of a cook. Service staff must attend to every detail in the dining room: polishing glasses and flatware, making sure that their station is impeccably clean, memorizing the art of the kitchen and the complement of wine and focusing on a state of mind that exudes service excellence and in some cases tolerance of unruly guests. At 4:30 in most restaurants all of this stops for 20 minutes or so while both sides of the swinging door get together for staff meal. When done correctly, this stress reliever goes way beyond nourishment. It is a time to talk, to share, to set aside tension, take a breath, laugh and set your mind at ease for the onslaught of business just around the corner. For the moment, everyone is equal around the plate. Food is incredibly important.

Each professional cook that I know has experienced that epiphany in life – that moment when a certain food, or food event has allowed them to pause and say: “wow, this is something that I want to dedicate my career and a good portion of my life to.” It is that first oyster with warm salty ocean brine that says “it doesn’t get any fresher than this;” it may be that hand picked heirloom tomato that is still warm from the July sun and eaten as one would an apple or sliced and simply drizzled with good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt that turns an average person into an explorer of food experiences; or it might be the first time that they enjoy a meal prepared by a serious chef who knows how to delicately handle those foods and take them to a new level of significance. In all cases, the power of food can move a person from a desire to find a career to defining a “calling in life.” Food is important.

Food allows us to maintain traditions and celebrate them with others, it allows us to pass down a gift of a treasured family recipe that becomes part of the family’s heritage, it is the one thing that we can freely give to others with a smile and a sense of understanding and appreciation.

I remember many years ago visiting with a woman restaurateur in Saranac Lake, New York who owned a business called the Blue Gentian. It was a neighborhood restaurant of great renown. People would line up around the block to wait for a table and enjoy her “blue plate specials,” as they were called. Nothing elaborate: roast chicken, meat loaf, and even a few casserole dishes. I asked her one-day what her secret ingredient was. She pointed to an empty jar in her kitchen and said that that was it. When I looked puzzled she said that the ingredient was love of people, love of life, and appreciation of others. This was what tasted so good at her tables. Food is important.

Over the past few Sunday’s I have watched the new Anthony Bourdain series on CNN called: Parts Unknown. No matter what you think about Tony, the series is brilliant because it shows the human bonds that are formed around food. It is a personal show that opens your eyes to other cultures and traditions and the honest purity of the human spirit once you focus on the foundations of life. He demonstrates both directly and indirectly that food is important.

Chefs, and cooks (both domestic and professional) have extremely important jobs. If we could just peel away the superficial stuff that gets in the way of life and just learn to “break bread” and appreciate our differences, we might be able to enjoy the human condition a bit more.

Photo by: Kristin Parker – Kristin Parker Photography

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching

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The foundations of our country stem from the concept of democracy or as clearly stated by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address: “a government of the people, by the people and for the people…” a bold, and noble statement that most Americans take to heart, appreciate and support. We have the right and the obligation to vote for representatives who, at least in theory, have our best interests at heart and who stand tall to lobby on our behalf. In truth, we have seen this work at some level, but realize that a true democracy, where everyone has a say in decision-making is far from realistic. Yes, the compromise is to vote in representatives and if they disappoint us, vote for their replacement. We have also seen how representing multiple thoughts, ideas and beliefs can drag on for extensive periods of time without, in many cases, any resolution. This is the price that we pay for the freedom to speak our minds and have independent opinions. Democracy is not always perfect, yet it is still the best system around.

This freedom does not fit every situation, thus the focus of this article. I am a firm believer in participative environments where individuals have an opportunity to be expressive, but from experience still support the need for kitchens to run very similar to the military. This may seem like a contradiction – I don’t believe it is. There is a time for debate and a time for action. Kitchens are environments where a need for action is the one constant. I read once where there is a need for chefs to make decisions multiple times in any given minute. It is his or her experience leading to holding that title that allow for calculated decisions that keep the machine in full motion. Furthermore, just like in any company, it is the vision of the leader that keeps the ship on a constant course, provides stability, sets the environment for positive movement and provides a level of predictable trust in the minds of consumers. But what about the need for change?

We should not feel that democracy be constantly present for positive change to occur. I have been an advocate for change for decades and have promoted a need to look at things differently in restaurants and in culinary education; however, I also realize two key realities:

1. As much as anyone might promote the need for change, very few people are actually comfortable with the concept
2. All successful change stems from an effective leader who creates an environment of trust, helps to educate an audience along the way, and is not afraid to make decisions even if they go against public opinion

Apple Computer (still my favorite company) lives by a mantra that many of us are quite familiar with:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
― Apple Inc.

The interesting thing is that the company, during its most incredible surge from near bankruptcy to becoming one of the largest, most profitable and still most admired brands in the world was run by a person who hired the best and brightest, yet ran the company like a crazed dictator. He had the vision and no intention of allowing anyone to waiver from that vision while at the same time giving them incredible autonomy to ideate and create. Is this a contradiction? Maybe so, but it really is how the concept of democracy has any chance of being successful in business.

In kitchens, it is always important to hire, nurture and encourage young cooks who have creative minds and fresh ideas. At the same time, if these same individuals are unable or unwilling to follow the lead of a chef who has the responsibility to make the right decision in any given moment and who must ensure that a consistent, quality product is present to the guest, time in and time out, then that young cook will not find an avenue for their ideas. There is a time and a place for expression and a time and a place for following the lead. This is something that far too many young cooks do not realize or are willing to accept. The result in a kitchen can be chaos. It is the “yes, chef” model that must prevail when the kitchen is in battle mode, when the dining room is full and guests are anticipating a dish that they have high expectations of.

The ideation opportunities for young cooks must still exist, but it needs to happen when the time is right. Chefs must create those opportunities for interaction and idea sharing or tomorrows kitchen stars will eventually become discouraged and look for better opportunities elsewhere. Failure to ever provide those times when ideation and change occur will inevitably result in missed opportunities for growth and competitiveness in a very intense marketplace.

At the same time, it is the chef who must separate a fresh short-term trend from something with staying power that might eventually shift the course of the ship; this is also something that experience can control.

“Fashion changes, but style endures.”
― Coco Chanel

It is the chef’s job to ensure that the “style” of the restaurant and of cooking in general is never lost in the fever of keeping up with “fashion”. A kitchen “of the people, by the people and for the people”, may not provide the answer for long-term success, but it will, to a degree, keep things interesting. The challenge is always maintaining a balance of democracy and reasonable dictatorship.
I would be willing to bet that the most influential chefs and restaurateurs of the day are masters at this balance. I would almost guarantee that Thomas Keller, Gary Danko, Danny Meyer, Daniel Boulud, Grant Achatz and numerous others know when to provide those opportunities for creativity and when to reel it in when situations dictate the need for a “yes chef” response.

A word to young cooks working their way through the kitchen brigade: “learn to respect the chefs experience, vision and need to control. In the early days of your career, one of your primary jobs is to do what is necessary to make the chef and the restaurant look good. If you do this, I would almost guarantee that the opportunities to express your ideas and opinions would find a home. I would also guarantee that when you find yourself in that eventual position of leadership – balance in democracy is what you will choose as well.”

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



Many people reflect back on the 1950’s as a unique time in American history when the concept of the role of youth was being seriously questioned. James Dean personified the challenges of a younger generation in the cult classic 1955 movie: “Rebel Without a Cause” as he portrayed a troubled young man who upon moving to a new town builds a cadre of friends and enemies while he tries to find his place in the world. Dean became an iconic figure who was at times introverted and in the right environment morphed into an extrovert with energy and magnetism.

The line cook for decades and probably even more apparent today (due to the incredible media attention that cooks receive) has been that stand out individual, like Dean, who is looking to find his or her place and who, in the right environment (the kitchen) quickly moves from either a troubled or introverted past to a high energy, efficient, passionate, supportive extrovert – a person of significance in that moment who is able to “make things happen” and create something that is, in many ways – art.

Line cooks, from my experience are more often than not, individuals who carry their own demons whether they be intra-personal or inter-personal. They oftentimes (not always) lack a level of confidence outside of the kitchen but find the opportunity to use their hands, hearts and minds in the kitchen environment so invigorating that they literally change into a different person. It is the kitchen that becomes the foundation of their character.

These “rebels”, like James Dean, carry the scars of their transition. These scars become a badge of honor, their signal to others that they are part of something special, something different, and something that only those in the “biz” can really understand. The kitchen is a club, a gang without the violence, a legion of hard-nosed and seasoned warriors who every day “prepare for battle” with every intent of winning. During their time in the kitchen they will cut themselves with sharp knives, burn their hands and arms with the touch of a super hot sauté pan, the splatter of oil from the deep fryer, or the steam emanating from a bain marie. Cooks will grab serving plates so hot that they would cause pain to a mortal human being but are handled by line cooks with a smile. Heat over a flat top is so intense that it actually causes heat burn on their face to rival the most intense July sunburn on the beach. Line cooks will pick up 50-pound bags of onions, 100-pound pots full of stock and strap pans with two full rib roasts without blinking an eye. Every day a line cook might be on his or her feet for 10-12 hours straight without sitting down, moving with speed and precision in 120 degree heat and humidity at 100%. By the end of a shift they have been put through the ringer and look like they were beat up and left to suffer – yet, they remain energized, oftentimes with a smile on their face based on the accomplishment of finishing another service successfully. They are, after all – adrenaline junkies and the kitchen provides them with a most intense adrenaline rush.

After consuming many consecutive cups of espresso or energy drinks to keep them on their toes and multiple glasses of water or Gatorade for hydration, the end of the shift is not the end of the night. You simply cannot turn off that adrenaline when the work is done. A few drinks after work with the crew, a late night dinner at home with a Netflix movie and maybe, just maybe they can fall asleep by 2 or 3 a.m. In a few hours they will start the process all over again. A sluggish, sometimes despondent line cook will get that boost of energy and purpose once again when they walk through that kitchen door.

Like James Dean, this kitchen energy only fuels their occasional confusion over purpose, their role in life. They find their real comfort in the dynamic of the kitchen. Their co-workers (once they have been accepted by the team) are family, some of the most important people in their lives. These rebels are incredibly loyal, supportive and defensive about others who they work with and even those who work in other restaurants. If you belong to the club, then you will understand.

Sometimes, line cooks may seem a little rough around the edges and sometimes people outside of the kitchen might not understand them. More often than not, those who know them outside of work might find their kitchen persona to be dramatically different than the one they know. These are the kitchen warriors, the strength in a restaurant that can create something beautiful, delicious and unique because they are for that period of time in a kitchen – rebels with a cause. It is the rush that energizes them, but it is the food that unites them and gives them a unique purpose.

Cooks are some of the most interesting, complex, honest, hard working, confusing, tough and sensitive, artistic, crusty and wonderful people that I know. It is this “characteristic package” that makes a line cook a great line cook – the heart and soul of a professional kitchen.

Yes, I know that some will say that this is changing because hundreds of culinary schools are now churning out a different breed of proud professionals. My answer is “great”, I wish them well but they should understand that the superhuman skills necessary to be truly effective as a line cook come from the complexity of the person within. There is little difference between the creative qualities of artists or musicians who are able to find their voice through the complexities of their own personalities, the challenges of their lives, and the obstacles that they face and conquer and those of line cooks.

Line cooks may be rebels seeking a cause, but once they find the kitchen that provides them with the fuel they need, these rebels come into their own and rise to the occasion.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting and Training



For those seeking to define their place in the world-whether it be professionally or personally, the one piece to the puzzle that allows this to truly happen is the mentor relationships that a person takes part in. The mentor is a person who has the attributes that most closely align with defined success, has the experience of years that allows him or her to speak and act with authority, the passion and drive that keeps him or her in the forefront, the honesty to tell it like it is and the compassion to keep a mentee’s best interest at heart.

Webster’s simply defines “mentor” as:

MENTOR: “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person”

Although this may be the literal definition it fails to focus on the scope of the relationship that exists between mentor and mentee and unfortunately assumes that the person receiving mentoring would be younger than the person providing the guidance. Mentor relationships can and do exist without age barriers and typically go way beyond – “giving help or advice”.

I have found that connecting with the right mentor is the single most important step in the progression of a person’s career and in many cases: life. On the other side, being a mentor for another person is by far one of the most important and rewarding pursuits in a person’s life.

True mentors share some common traits:

1. They have always worked hard at whatever they chose to pursue.
2. They never feel like they know it all. To them, every day is another opportunity to learn.
3. They are very humble about their success.
4. They are true to their beliefs and never waiver from those things that they consider their “stakes in the ground”.
5. They have high expectations of themselves and of others.
6. They are not afraid to take calculated risks.
7. They are honest beyond reproach.
8. They never criticize, but they are always willing to critique. Critique infers that once they point out something that is done incorrectly they take the time to demonstrate how to do it properly.
9. They are, as a result of #8, natural teachers.
10. They always see the good and the potential in others and focus on that.
11. They are willing to openly share what they know providing others take what is offered to heart.
12. They will always push others to reach their potential and rise up from mistakes and what others would consider failure.
13. They take more satisfaction in the success of others than they do in their own.
14. They are their own worst critics.
15. They realize that their ability to help others depends on their commitment to the aforementioned 14 points.

When cooks and chefs of any age are attempting to map out their future it behooves them to identify the type of person they would like to emulate. Seek out that mentor who exhibits those traits mentioned and has the ability to help individuals build a similar profile. Chances are, those same mentors have a reputation that precedes them and thus the ability to open doors for those individuals who are willing to dedicate themselves to being the type of person others would look up to.

Having found and followed a mentor, individuals are most always able to reach a level of success in work and in life. When success, however you define it, happens-it is time to change your role from mentee to mentor and offer the same opportunities to others. This is the cycle of success that is a path that many have chosen to follow.

The picture in this article is of Master Chef Anton Flory who was my mentor for more than 25 years. When he passed away a few years ago he left a legacy of helping other cooks and chefs reach their potential and in turn has built a cadre of mentors who are willing and able to pass on his traits that so many others admired.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



“The chef really needs to motivate me today”. How often have you heard this type of interplay in the kitchen? People have a tendency to relegate their performance, attitude, and outlook on their job to someone else. A restaurant employee is off of their game, riddled with doom and gloom, prone to make dumb mistakes, or simply miserable to be around and thus looks to those “in charge” for a reason to change.

No person can motivate another. This is the reality that so many choose not to understand. Managers, chefs and coworkers cannot dictate that an employee or peer approach their job and their coworkers with a positive attitude, only the individual suffering from this downward approach can choose to self-motivate. All that management, the chef or that person’s peers can do is to set the stage for self-motivation.

Now, this being said there is much that the chef or manager can do to create an environment for self-motivation. If you subscribe to the age-old theory of Abraham Maslow then you understand that the first three steps associated with his Hierarchy of Needs relates to tangible areas that management and the chef can control to some degree.’s%20hierarchy%20of%20needs

Survival needs relate directly and indirectly to a livable wage. The challenge with a livable wage is that it means something different to every individual. Survival goes beyond the basics of food, shelter and clothing – it relates to the level of food, shelter and clothing that the person has become accustomed to and most importantly relates to the skill level required to perform certain tasks. What chefs and managers can certainly do is provide an environment where individuals can improve their skills and prepare for the next level position that does offer increases in compensation. Training, mentoring and coaching all play well into this formula. The second step in the Hierarchy of Needs focuses on Security. The chef has an obligation to the business to operate in a manner that enhances the opportunity for financial success. This same fiduciary responsibility will create a business climate that protects the jobs of those who actively participate in this process. If the business succeeds the employee can feel more comfortable about their job security and if these same employees contribute as expected then they can rest easy when it comes to longevity. The third level deals with a Sense of Belongingness. Building comprehensive orientation programs, using the in-house buddy system for initial job acclimation, offering on-going training and assessment and developing opportunities for staff members to interact on and off the job will help individuals feel at home with their position and allow the other members of a kitchen team to feel at ease and part of the acclimation process.

The final two steps in Maslow’s Theory are Self-Esteem and Self Actualization: both can certainly be impacted by the chef in a property, but they rely heavily on the individual’s desire to excel, work ethic and willingness to take full advantage of the positive environment that has been created by management. Self Esteem- how a person feels about themselves, their work, the product or service they provide, the perception of others and the value of their existence is one of the deepest topics associated with human psychology. Self-Actualization is in essence the ability to “be all that you can be”. The interesting point about this is that we can never really be all that we can be, so if the environment for this opportunity exists then individuals will be constantly looking at how to improve, reaching eternally for that carrot – the Japanese refer to it as Kaizen, a core principle that they live by as a culture. Not all people are equal in terms of their desire to perform, their willingness to take on challenges or to even seeing the opportunities before them. Self-motivation is exactly what it sounds like. defines self-motivation as follows:

“Self-motivation. Initiative to undertake or continue a task or activity without another’s prodding or supervision. They learn a sense of self-confidence and self-motivation, and it stays with them into their adult lives.”

When self-motivation kicks in there is very little that can get in the way of a person’s progress and eventual success. It is this important trait that separates those who know they can and do from those who think they can’t and don’t. No one has control over this except the individual. Those who try to place the blame on others for their inability to self-motivate will likely never find success.

Sorry, the chef cannot motivate you is something that should be realized by the individual seeking an outside push and must be realized by the chef or the manager as well. Create the environment, hire those who will view this environment as an opportunity and recognize the efforts of those who choose to take the bull by the horns.

As a footnote it should be acknowledged that if the chef or manager fails to create the environment for this to work then the result would be stifling to those who have potential. When the environment for self-motivation does not exist then individuals with potential will seek opportunities elsewhere. To this point, Maslow fails to address some additional components of the self-motivation process. Those properties that provide the physical plant that allows cooks (in this example) to execute their craft effectively and feel pride in the product that they produce will help to set the stage for great things to happen. Additionally, those operations that have a philosophy of operation that aligns with those in their staff who have the raw materials for self-motivation – will have an added bonus of building not just successful employees but loyal ambassadors as well.

Motivation is not a simple concept, certainly not one that can be addressed in a short article, however there is typically agreement on the part of the hundreds of authors who have studied and preached their beliefs on the topic that more weight needs to be placed on the individual than the organization or its management.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



This is the most important question for operators or would be operators of restaurants. This is the defining question that separates those who will be successful vs. those who are destined to fail. Unfortunately, far too many in the restaurant business never ask this question, nor do they respond to the signs of failure until it is too late.

I have wrestled with this question for years and in my current role as a consultant am faced with delivering the answer(s) to properties who are waking up to a realization that it is very difficult to realize a profit even in the busiest operations. When I step back and look for cause and effect it appears to me that the answer to this question lies in the mindset of the restaurateur and chef. Does the operator have a mindset of a solid business manager or is he or she totally focused on being a part of the creative venture that a restaurant can become. There is a middle ground, but without business acumen, the restaurant will struggle. The following examples point to the yin and yang of building the right mindset balance:

*Are you content with creating a restaurant based on positive cash flow or are you working to build a long-term, sound business?

Many restaurants fall into the trap of believing that they are successful when cash is coming in faster than it is going out. This works well until there is a dip in business or unexpected expenses come knocking on your door. The illusion that success is simply based on a steady flow of customers has clouded the vision of many restaurateurs. Yes, you are busy, but are you really profitable?

*The opposite can also be true. The restaurant has incorporated excellent cost controls including portioning, inventory controls, focused buying, and time management, but fails to recognize that the top line DOES drive the bottom line.

Restaurant seats that are empty are way too costly. The combination of cash flow and cost control is necessary for the “business” to succeed.

*Menu, menu, menu. Is your menu a reflection of the egocentric need to offer the most expensive ingredients? Kobe beef hamburgers – really? Shaved truffles on your hand cut ravioli filled with fresh mozzarella imported from a small village in Northern Italy where the animals are hand fed a mixture of grass and grains from meadows that are above 2,000 feet and have exposure to the sun for 11 hours a day. You have seen the hype that is associated with building an image of restaurant importance. The questions are twofold: is this really a reflection of talent and is this in any way profitable?

*Does great food require the most expensive ingredients? Incredible cooks, and ones that can assist the business in making a profit are able to coax extraordinary flavors from less expensive ingredients. The prices they charge reflect the quality of the experience and the desired profitability of the menu item. Hold onto the truffles for the rare price fixe wine dinner and start looking at ways to build flavors from those chicken thighs. Try making some exceptional mozzarella in-house and market that as a calling card. There is greater talent in making your own vs. simply ordering ingredients on-line.

*Do you take ingredient shelf life seriously?

Waste can kill a restaurant business. Are you monitoring your inventory, ensuring that temperatures are ideal for specific ingredients, rotation of product is taking place, and order amounts are monitored closely to maximize usage? Is your menu flexible enough to accommodate the ingredient shelf-life cycle? How large are your garbage or compost cans? Does someone on your staff monitor production to minimize ingredient miss-use?

Stocks may require specific proportions of ingredients to develop consistent flavors, but broths are much more adaptable. Don’t throw out those carrot or onion peels; work them into a broth as a basis for featured soups or braising liquids. Those lobster shells make a great fumet or lobster butter.

*Measure, measure, measure. Use a scale! This is a business of pennies and your proteins, in particular, must be scaled out to protect the small amount of profit that you might realize from every menu item.

Watch what comes back on plates from the dining room. Consistent unfinished meals either means guest dissatisfaction or portions that are too large. It is always better for the experience and the business to have multiple complementary flavors on a plate than to simply overwhelm a guest with portion size. No one needs that 16- ounce steak. Portion control is a foundation of profitability.

*Know what it costs to make a cup of coffee. Coffee is a perfect example of how we can let costs get away from us. On the surface it may be a few pennies to make even the best cup of coffee, but are you factoring in what your staff consumes, waste, refills, etc. Business people know what their products cost to deliver, including all of the variables. Yield management is your job. Is that rib roast really $4.25 per pound? What about trim, cooler shrinkage, roasting shrinkage and slicing waste? You might discover that the roast plate cost is actually 30-35% higher than the cost at purchase.

*There is no such thing as a free lunch. Allow me to repeat again – this is a business of pennies. Do not give anything away for free. Your friends who expect a deal in your restaurant are not really your friends. Account for everything. If your restaurant makes donations then monitor them and categorize them as advertising and public relations. Make sure that you then promote your generosity so that it may have an impact on future business. If you provide a meal for your employees make sure that you track it and categorize this as an employee benefit. At the end of the month or year, print the cost of this and show your employees what that means to them in real dollars of value. Get credit for what you do – this is good business.

*Finally, charge what you need to charge. Restaurant prices cannot be negotiable. Once a price is set for a ‘la carte or banquet menus, do not waiver. You cannot afford to lower your prices. Offer your guests plenty of choice but do not sacrifice profitability. If there is too much resistance to an items price then change the menu item.

Making the decision to have a business mindset without sacrificing your commitment to quality is the only combination that works. A restaurant that is not profitable serves no one. Make a decision this year to be in the business of profitability. This one decision will serve your employees, your customers, your investors and you for the long run.



Well, 2013 is nearly over. Time certainly does fly by both professionally and personally. I hope that this year has worked out well for your restaurant, resort, culinary school or hotel and that you are looking forward to an even better 2014.

In preparation for the year to come it is customary for each of us to jot down our New Year Resolutions. This is always fairly easy: the challenge is staying on track and bringing those resolutions to fruition. The following list represents those goals that most restaurants, resorts or culinary programs need to address to drive business success in 2014.

• Increase brand awareness for our restaurant, product or culinary program
• Better inform the public about the unique qualities of our business
• Increase restaurant traffic or program enrollment
• Build consistent quality into the presentation of products and services
• Design a product that meets and exceeds the needs of our target audience
• Build check averages
• Become more effective at hiring the right people
• Build team awareness and esprit de corps among employees
• Determine ways to maximize sales
• Become more effective at controlling costs to ensure financial success
• Train staff to improve customer service
• Improve internal and external communication

This list truly represents the primary tasks of management, ownership, chefs, program directors, kitchen and dining room managers, food and beverage directors and budding entrepreneurs and could fit into any 2014 list. If you understand the need to focus on a list of this type but simply need guidance or assistance with implementation, it may be time to contact us as you prepare for a very successful year.

Harvest America Ventures is a consulting and training company focused on the restaurant business and collegiate programs offering culinary arts majors. Contact us to day to begin a dialogue on how we might work together to bring those goals to fruition.


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