For Chad Myers, Executive Chef of Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club, the annual Chef to Chef Conference has helped him to build a strong network of club chefs he can call on for help.
I recently registered for this year’s Chef to Chef Conference in Seattle and I’m really excited. For a while, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it. But the ideas, information and insights I gathered from the last two Chef to Chef Conferences in Atlanta and San Diego were so incredibly valuable that I knew I had to attend this year’s event. As a chef who is still relatively new to the club business, Chef to Chef has helped me understand my role and overcome the many challenges of club cheffing.
There is so much information to gather at Chef to Chef that it can be hard to implement all the ideas, but this Conference—more so than any other I’ve attended—has helped me better define my goals for the coming year.
Before I attended my first Chef to Chef in San Diego, I felt like I was on an island at my club. All my chef connections worked in restaurants so I felt like my operation, my challenges and my definition of success were unique and isolating. After Chef to Chef, I realized that I’m not alone, that my challenges are not totally unique and that other club chefs have come up with smart ways to overcome these challenges and even flip them into opportunities for growth. C2C helped me embrace what it means to be a club chef and both myself and my operation are better as a result.
From a culinary perspective, there is much to be learned. Whether it was Richard Rosendale’s creative plating techniques, Jason McClain’s fresh take on salads, Andi Van Willigan’s chorizo stuffed lobster tail, or Simon Lewis’ idea to use tin foil cups for banquet portioning—all of the ideas have found their way into what I do here at Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club.
That is the value is in continuing education and specifically with the Chef to Chef Conference. So if you’re on the fence about whether or not you should attend, I’m here to tell you that you absolutely must. Here’s another reason why.
The part of the conference that is easily the most rewarding and important is the networking. Chef to Chef has been instrumental in facilitating relationships between club chefs. There is nothing more encouraging than when you exchange business cards with another club chef who says, “Hey, if you need anything, just ask.” In other scenarios, at other conferences, this type of exchange can feel disingenuous. But at Chef to Chef, it’s the real deal.
Here’s an example: My first C2C was in San Diego. I was giddy the whole trip. I was in California and I was about to learn how to make some cool food. The first few education sessions were awesome and I had dozens of notes. Then we broke into smaller groups for Chef to Chef live where attendees get to share/talk/ask about what goes down in their clubs and how they handle it. I don’t normally like to speak in situations like this. I’m pretty reserved and shy around new people, but I found the nerve to speak about a challenge I was having in my club. From across the room, another chef reacted to what I was saying. I knew I knew this chef from somewhere, but I couldn’t place her. Then as I was speaking it was like a bolt of lightning: it was Andi Van Willigan from Hell’s Kitchen. I immediately felt intimidated, but I was thrilled to be able to strategize with a chef of her caliber.
After Chef to Chef live, I rushed back to my room to tell my wife about it. I was super excited about the networking reception that was next in hopes of chatting more with Andi. I am not a diehard Hell’s Kitchen fan, but I remember being in culinary school, watching the show with my roommates and thinking I’d love to work with the chefs on the show. Gordon Ramsay may have been the star, but I paid more attention to what Andi and Scott did in those early episodes. As sous chefs, they were badasses and if I were on the show, they would probably make me cry, but I know I’d be a better chef afterward.
Andi and I did connect at the dine-around that night to talk more about our clubs and our jobs. She also met my wife, which I am sure has helped retain the friendship. (Everyone likes my wife.)
It could have ended there, but that’s the beauty of this industry. It didn’t! After the San Diego Conference I reached out to Andi for help on food costing. She went above and beyond to help me get it under control.
In Atlanta the following year, we went to dinner at Gunshow and hung out most of the event. I even was able to talk her into doing the Resources Unite Chef’s Unite Dinner this year.
In addition to Andi and I, there were two James Beard nominees, Jim Christiansen of Heyday in Minneapolis, and Jonny Hunter of Forequarter. Recent Ment’ or Young Chef competition winner, Paris Driebelbis, Pastry Chef Annelise Linton of Ardent in Milwaukee and Kevin Scharpf, Chef of Brazen, were also there.
This year’s dinner was a resounding success and it was humbling to work with such fine culinarians. While I was working alongside her, I told Andi about how I used to watch Hell’s Kitchen and imagine myself working alongside her. It was surreal.
So, if you’re thinking about going to the Chef to Chef Conference, GO! There is so much information to gain and apply. There is so much personal opportunity to meet people you may have never thought you would meet. And when you go, if you want to meet someone, just say hi. I’ve learned that there is a lot of camaraderie in this industry in particular. And because of that we’re collectively raising the bar for club food and beverage and for ourselves.