Glenmoor CC’s Executive Chef Penelope Wong wears a lot of hats and takes on an immense amount of pressure—but the small successes are what keep her coming back for more.
Too many conversations these days center around the lack of bodies to hire, the dwindling quality of today’s labor force, and the need for skilled and loyal line cooks. The situation has reached a point of extreme duress so much so that every industry publication I open touches on good hiring practices, how to draw laborers in, how to offer the perfect package to initiate interest, and, inevitably, how to manage them so you can maintain their tenure.
Everyone in this industry is looking for cooks, line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers. Chefs are running themselves ragged maintaining a certain level of standards in their operations, but with either fewer bodies or far less qualified individuals. Ultimately, we Chefs are the ones having to pick up the slack.
I’m typing this while simultaneously texting with both my Sous Chef and Demi Chef, who are discussing the pitfalls of service tonight. This thread has been going on for the last three hours now, on the close of a Sunday evening that I took off to spend with my daughter and airman son, who is in town for the week. I’m not bitching, by the way, just merely pointing out the normalcy of my life. Which leads to my point.
How about a good read on something other than finding good line cooks and ways to lure them in and keeping them satisfied or what you can offer to give them a sense of opportunity and investment when they accept a position with you. Instead, let’s talk about the shit Chefs endure in their roles and the little things that keep us satisfied and vested in our career choice.
This is my typical day:
7 am. – Alarm sounds. Snooze. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Roll out of bed. Check phone and PRAY hard for no text messages from opening staff calling in with an outrageous slew of messages pulled straight out of the book of “how to call in for work”. F***. Two text messages show up on my phone screen, time received: 5:45 a.m. Double F***. Sleepy-eyed, I try to pull a solution out of my ass to get the morning shift covered in a feeble attempt to buy myself some time to get my admin work done that was due last Friday.
8:32 a.m. – Weaving in and out of traffic as I race into work after spending a half-assed morning trying to fit in some quality time with my six-year old daughter, discussing her upcoming school day and urging her to finish breakfast before scrambling out the door to get her to school in four minutes before all the gates are locked up. As I hit every single red light on the way in, I go over my day in my head, multi-tasking the to-do list to get it done before lunch service starts and prioritizing how many items can be put onto the secondary to-do list to be done between 2-3 pm before having to get ready for dinner service.
8:54 a.m. – Pulling into the parking lot, I take an inventory of employee vehicles to determine what kind of opening service staff I must deal with to start my day. All the while, I take a mental note of how many guests’ vehicles are parked in the lot to determine how the morning tee sheet might look like and how many banquet events and meetings are taking place to give me a good idea of how busy lunch service will be.
9:30 a.m. – Finally, able to sit down at my desk, I comb through the day’s invoices of product received with my phone in hand. Immediately, I start texting my rep regarding the numerous out of stocks and mis–picks from today’s delivery. Computer comes on, outlook window pops up. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. The onslaught of new emails rings heavy in my ears almost mimicking the taunting of the POS printer from the night before. I start answering emails one by one, doling out menu pricing to the catering team for the seven bridge groups and two custom wedding menus coming up. Knock, knock, knock. Oh, look, there’s another delivery at the door, and since my office is right there by the back dock, I’m obligated to stop what I’m doing to show the third new driver of the week for the wine company we’ve worked with for the last eight years where to go with his shipment, check it in and sign for it. On my way back to my office, my morning lead intercepts me so that I can yay or nay the soup of the day. Now this is a big moment. The tasting of the day’s soup. It’s the one thing that will tell me how well my day is going to be. Is it seasoned properly? Is it appealing to the eye? Is the viscosity as it should be? Is it even hot? Slurps followed by a very quick yet detailed response of adding in one teaspoon salt and pepper mix and 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar to finish. Next, a quick walkthrough on the line for a routine quality check on mise.
9:42 a.m. — Back at my desk. Send group text to my management team regarding the lack of dated items and lack of rotation that didn’t happen from the previous day’s set up wondering where the accountability is. Update daily revenue tracking in preparation for my next meeting. Done. Produce capital request list for next fiscal year’s budget. Done. Answer questions from catering team knocking on my door because they’re too impatient to wait for the emailed response. Done. Update employee menu and policy for the upcoming season with revised times and ordering parameters for both satellite kitchens. Done. Listen to and answer questions from my pantry cook about dinner service the night before and why items weren’t replenished and left undone. Done. Check my online portal in hopes of seeing new applicants/resumes in my inbox. Done. Follow up on the second interview that didn’t show up that week forwarding their resume onto the local unemployment office to make them aware of the no-show, just in case… Done. Knock-knock. Have some friendly casual conversation with the coffee guy about life in general and listen to him talk about his weekend out with his wife and friends while secretly wishing I could just sign off on the invoice and get back to work already. Done. Answer a question from my lead line on what family meal could be today. Go through a list of items in the walk-in that are available. Done. Revise the new menu for one of the satellite locations, for the fourth time, because too many eyes have been on it and one person doesn’t care for the bold lettering and another doesn’t care for the border box at the top of the menu. Done.
10:37 a.m. – Shit. Lunch specials need to be typed up. Take a stroll through the walk-ins, take a mental inventory of all items to be transformed and/or re-purposed into lunch and dinner specials for the day. Specials out. Quick run through with line staff over specials, presentations, test plate for staff tasting. Done. Quick overview with sous and banquet chefs to discuss the day’s events, the days to do list in preparation for tomorrow’s events, line coverage and expo duties. Done. Apron on, knives out, prep station set up. Prep like mo-fos until extra bodies are needed on the line to get through the lunch rush. See two more visitors who pop in unannounced to discuss new china options and follow up with maintenance on the cooler that went down last night.
2:00 pm – Scarf down a handful of chips since all I’ve had is coffee up until this point. Get back to my to-do list at my desk. All the while, in the back of my mind, I’m having a conversation with myself about the line cook that just wasted seven minutes of my day bitching about items that weren’t wrapped up from the night before. I find myself thinking, “if only that was my gripe of the day and nothing else…” At some point before dinner service, I work in a quick five-minute lecture to my management team reminding them of the little things that have a big impact on food and labor costs. A little daily coaching, if you will.
This could go on and on and on… prep dinner, answer about twenty-five more questions from banquet staff regarding set up, questions from accounting regarding balances that don’t add up on coded invoices, questions from my new GM regarding new menus and cost cards, questions from HR regarding workman’s comp claims, questions from my golf pro regarding menus for the ladies golf events, questions from my FOH guy about which wines I’ve chosen for the dinner specials and fielding questions throughout the remainder of the day from my staff regarding anything from the status of the eighteen top reservation to why we don’t have any more burrata made since they 86’d it last night while trying to fit in a wonton prep party with my sous chef because we are dangerously low on our crack-like wontons just 10 minutes before service starts. Then I get into dinner service while checking quick messages from home with sweet pictures of my six-year old doing something quirky yet adorable and indicative of a carefree childhood.
My point is, as Chefs, we wear a lot of hats and we take on an immense amount of pressure. That reality is one that often gets tossed by the wayside by many other club managers, HR departments and consulting teams who like to write about how to find and keep good, quality cooks in my kitchens.
Yes, this is absolutely what we have signed up for as Chefs. Yet it is a sense of accomplishment producing the rush that comes with every single gorgeous composition that comes up at the pass at the height of service. It is at every single brilliant problem-solving point. And it is those moments in which the pride is beaming off the face of my line cooks that keeps us vested and lures us back for more.
The question is, how do I put all of that into a pretty package and market it to my next potential new hire? Here’s a shout out to all my fellow Chefs out there who wear all the hats plus the toque, plus the smile on your face as you keep coming back for more. #fistpunch #knuckles