As the newly appointed Executive Chef of Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, Colby Newman is learning about his new staff, their skills and capabilities, as well as his members and their likes and dislikes.
When I was young, it was easy to pack up the few things I owned and venture somewhere new. I was eager to work wherever I could when I finished culinary school. But over a decade later, there’s a lot more that goes into deciding the next move in my career. I have a lot of personal responsibilities now as well as a family to provide for. The days of moving from a one bedroom apartment with a few suitcases are over. We have a baby on the way, a house, cars, pets, and years of belongings to worry about now. Accepting the Executive Chef position at Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Yacht Club was actually the easiest part of this whole transition. But seeing my wife deal with everything it took to move our life to Michigan had me really hoping it was still the right decision.
Getting an offer on our house just hours after it went on the market made us relieved that maybe this transition wasn’t going to be as stressful as we thought. We were completely wrong. Every day for over a month there was a new issue we had to deal with it. Whether it was the bank, realtors, health insurance, or the moving company, it never stopped. I agreed to start at GPYC in the beginning of July. This meant that my wife and I would not be starting this new adventure together. She would be staying behind in Texas until we could officially get settled. Meanwhile, I stayed in a hotel for two weeks.
My original plan once I started at GPYC was to step back for a bit and observe everything going on. Even though I had spent a day working with my new team during the second part of my interview, I needed to get a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses. Well, that didn’t go as planned either. I started my new job—at a yacht club—during 4th of July weekend. Fun fact: that weekend is GPYC’s busiest weekend of the year. There was no stepping back and observing. I had to jump right in. And if I really wanted to see how my team worked, there was no better time to see how they performed under pressure than that weekend. We served over 1000 people on the 4
We served over 1,000 people on the 4th of July and I was amazed by how well my team worked together. There are still changes in the kitchen I want to make in terms of efficiency and the level of food we produce, but I realized that weekend that I have a solid foundation to build on. It was also reassuring to know that my two sous chefs were able to keep the kitchen going strongly while they were without an executive chef for quite some time. Not only was it the busiest holiday to start working, but summer is the busiest season in general. I’ve been going nonstop since I started—but I really love it here.
Out of respect for the members, the staff, and even the previous chef, I have no intentions of completely changing things right away. It needs to be a slow transition. Even though some members have expressed their excitement for change and fresh ideas, this operation is not something I should rip apart within the first couple months. I need to get a better feel for what a majority of the members are expecting from me. I need to learn their likes and dislikes. I will start my new a la carte menu once summer is over, but so far I have been able to create several specials every week. These specials have been my style of food and I’ve made sure to offer our members a wide range of things to choose from. So far, this has been a great way for me to learn about our members and what they really lean towards as well as help me generate ideas for my first menu.
A week after I started I had my first event for a future commodore in his beautiful, historic home. It was a house warming party and the majority of guests were members and past commodores. I was only doing hors d’oeuvres, but it was the perfect opportunity for me to showcase my style of food as well as make an impression of what kind of chef and person I am. My next big event here is the fleet review, which will be a six course dinner for up to 250 people. I’ve also been able to spend a lot of time menu planning with the Commodore and his wife. This has been a great way to start building relationships with members. It’s an important event, so I think this will be my first major opportunity to show everyone what I’m really capable of.
My wife and I hardly get any time off together, but I always know I’ll see her at home once my day is over. So starting a new job and coming back to an empty hotel room every night was hard. Besides finding and buying a house from 1300 miles away, our next biggest issue was figuring out how to get my wife up to Michigan. I didn’t want to look unprofessional by leaving not too long after I arrived. But I also didn’t want my pregnant wife to make the two day trip on her own with three pets to worry about. GPYC has been extremely accommodating while we’ve made this transition. So when I asked if flying back to Texas was alright they said, “Of course you can go back to get your pregnant wife.” Fortunately, we were able to plan it so that I only missed one full day of work.
The club the day after we returned, there was a meet and greet at the club. This event was not only a way to formally introduce myself and my wife to the members, but it was another opportunity for me to showcase my food. There was a great turnout of almost 200 members who ate just about all the hors d’oeuvres. Some members have even requested some of the hors d’oeuvres for their own upcoming events.
While I was in and out of the kitchen that night, my wife was left to mingle with the members. Her support has played a huge role in the advancement of my career, so everyone was so really excited to finally meet her. The members here have been gracious and welcoming and they immediately made us feel like family. I’m sure in some clubs there are members who feel that the staff is only there to serve them. But here, just like at Amarillo CC, they want to get to know us and make sure my wife and future son are involved with the club.
Nothing ever seems to line up perfectly during major milestones in our lives, so making it to Michigan was stressful. But we’re finally here and our moving truck eventually made it, so it’s starting to feel more like home. Now that we’re getting settled, I know that we’ve made the right decision. I’m looking forward to learning more about what our members are expecting from me as well as more about the workings of the club. But most importantly, I’m excited for all the opportunities that Grosse Pointe will provide for my family and for me as a chef.