What It Means to Be a Club Chef Mentor

By | September 13th, 2017

Colby Newman, Executive Chef of Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Yacht Club, strives to provide his employees with the skills, knowledge and support they need to become the best possible cooks so that if they choose to move on they are more than prepared.

When I was working my way up in the kitchen, it was important for me to work for an Executive Chef I respected, looked up to, and who could help guide me as a young culinarian. And even though I’m considered a younger executive club chef, I want to be a mentor for all the members of my kitchen and provide them with the skills they need to work their way up the ranks.

Working in a kitchen is a difficult job and it’s not for everyone, but there are people who are meant to be in a kitchen, even with the challenges that come with it.

Two weeks into my new position here at Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Yacht Club I was faced with a situation no one in my position wants to hear. My sous chef had accepted another job and was putting in his two weeks notice. The timing of his decision made it seem like he wanted to leave because of me coming in, but really it was because of the dilemma many of us face. He didn’t want to leave GPYC, but he wanted to spend more time with his family. I was at this same crossroad not too long ago. He was willing to accept a job that wasn’t equivalent to his current position so that he could work days and have weekends off.

I couldn’t argue with him on the family aspect, but he is way too talented to settle and take such a big step backward. I also knew he wasn’t going to be happy as time went on and he would eventually regret his decision. I understood where he was coming from, but I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage him to stay. I didn’t want him to stay because it would make my job easier. I wanted him to stay because I care about the future of my employees. We have the resources here to easily find another sous chef, so that wasn’t the issue. I didn’t want to see such a hard working and talented person just walk away before we tried to fix the problem.

He and I sat down and discussed my plans for the club and the way I wanted to change the direction of the food, which excited him. And even though it means I might have work longer hours every now and then, we came up with a plan to allow him some extra time to be with his family every week. Unfortunately, as you continue to rise through the ranks, more sacrifices have to be made. But there is no need for me to overwork my employees to the point where they want to move on to something they are less passionate about.

When you’re in the Executive position, I think there are two ways a chef can treat his or her employees.

You can either be selfish and put your own needs ahead of everyone else. You have your employees carry most of the workload. You take all the credit, and you never encourage them to move on to bigger things.

Or you can provide an environment that allows your employees to grow and encourage them to take the next big opportunity, even if that means losing them. I like to think I’m this type of chef. No, not everyone can handle the responsibilities that come with being an executive chef, but it’s my job, especially for my sous chefs, to do everything I can to prepare them for that position if that’s their goal.

I am certain my sous chef will become an executive chef one day, and I will encourage him to do so. In the meantime, I need to pass on everything I’ve learned so that he’s prepared when the time comes. When I first became an executive club chef it was overwhelming. Working in a restaurant didn’t prepare me for all the extra responsibilities that come with working in a club. It’s more than just managing, menu planning, cooking, ordering, etc. There are meetings, budgets, events, interacting with members, and pleasing the board. Even though I can’t involve my chefs in everything I do throughout the day, I always support their input. I want them to come to me with new ideas or express any concerns they have. Shutting them out and taking complete control over everything isn’t going to do them any good except for teaching them how to follow directions. It’s definitely not preparing them for a larger role in the kitchen.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my mentors who encouraged and pushed me to move on to better opportunities. I want to provide that same support for my employees. But I also don’t want to encourage an employee to move on if I don’t think it’s the right move. I’ve seen a lot of employees come in and out of kitchens. Some who have moved on to continue their success and others who have unfortunately taken some steps back. I can’t decide the next path someone chooses for their career, but I want to know that I was able to provide my employees with the skills and support they need if they ever choose to go for that next big opportunity. What kind of mentor would I be if I didn’t want what’s best for my employees? My career took a different path than what I ever imagined, but I’m proud of my success. I think any of my hardworking and passionate employees deserve to not settle and find that kind of success too, whether that means staying in my kitchen or starting a new adventure somewhere else.

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