Club Kitchens are Becoming the New Proving Grounds

By | November 30th, 2016

The more club chefs I meet, the more I find a common thread among you: you care deeply for your members, and you inspire one another to be better.

Remember when Thomas Keller’s Per Se got that scathing review in The New York Times and lost two of its four stars? Everyone everywhere was shocked, as Keller is easily one of the most important American chefs of our time.

But his immediate response—or lack thereof—spoke volumes about his character. He was not quick to anger. He didn’t get defensive. He didn’t rush to change or close the restaurant. He let the dust settle, then formally apologized and went about the hard work of making things better for every guest who has come since. He gathered his team, evaluated what they were doing, and came up with a plan to make improvements. He worked harder to become better.

And he did it all for his guests.

Keller’s reaction, and the way he cares more about his guests than his ego, reminds me of so many club chefs I’ve met, talked to and written about. That couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? I needed to know, so I started digging.

What I found out was that Keller’s first culinary job was in a yacht club in Palm Beach, Fla. (Palm Beach Yacht Club), soon followed by a stint at The Dunes Club, a country club in Narragansett, R.I.

At The Dunes, he met his mentor, Roland G. Henin, CMC.

In a recent article in Town & Country magazine about the Times review, Keller talked about his time at The Dunes Club, saying, “The chef there, Roland Henin, told me that food was about nurturing people. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a professional cook.”

Thomas Keller realized his passion because of a club chef.

The more club chefs I get to know, the more I find a common thread among you, regardless of age, region or culinary style. You all care deeply for your members, and you inspire one another to be better.

A few months ago, we started a blog specifically for club chefs. At first, I thought I’d have a hard time finding chefs who would be interested in writing for us. I was wrong. We have a strong stable of six club chefs who blog for us regularly. They share insightful thoughts, interesting stories, and challenges that are specific and unique to our industry.

Our 2017 Chef to Chef Conference piggybacks on the same idea, with content by club chefs for club chefs. (Check out the agenda, and register here.)

As we move into the last quarter of what has been a very busy year for many of us, keep your cadence and stay focused. Remember why you do what you do. And consider this: the next Thomas Keller might be in your kitchen. What legacy will you pass along?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *