For Penelope Wong, Glenmoor Country Club’s Executive Chef, cooking is the most important and best part of her job and she is often surprised when other chefs aren’t as hands on.
I am a cook. I will always be a cook. You can strip away the title from my coat. You can strip away the three certification letters behind my name. I’ll still be a cook—and that fact doesn’t bother me one bit.
I’m one of those cooks who likes to Instagram pictures of beautiful creations…A LOT. When I see other chefs, two questions I am asked often are: “Are you really making all of those pictures you post?” and “Are you really in the kitchen that much?” It always surprises me when other chefs ask me these questions. And it makes me wonder why these are even questions in the first place.
When I tell them that I am the one making all the dishes I post, I’m typically met with surprise, followed by a barrage of questions including but not limited to:
- What is your daily schedule?
- How big is your staff?
- How many sous chefs do you have along with procurement staff?
- What is the extent of your responsibilities as they pertain to paperwork and budgeting?
It seems as an Executive Chef of a major country club operation, I spend far more time in the kitchen than most. So in response to these questions, I ask: Isn’t this why we got into this business in the first place?
I can only speak for myself, but I sure as hell didn’t get into this business to babysit my staff. And I sure as hell didn’t get into this business to count how many buns I have on a shelf or to sit around writing budgets for how many buns I’m supposed to have on said shelf.
I have a staff of about twenty, including two sous chefs, one demi chef, one banquet chef, and five utility staff. I do my own ordering twice a week. I handle all invoice billing and AP issues for my department. I write the weekly schedule. I handle the fiscal year budget for the F&B department (not just my food cost and sales). I implement all new menus in both member dining as well as banquets and member events. I personally train my staff on each new menu item, whether it’s one of my sous chefs, my demi chef or my line cooks. I handle any necessary PR for my staff and our operations with the membership. I attend monthly finance committee and board meetings. But my most favorite role of them is all is that I cook on the line with my line cooks.
On any given busy Friday night service, you’ll find me working lead sauté with one of my sous chefs to help plate and back expo. Many times, you’ll see my live feed on Instagram of our Friday night sauté adventures and shenanigans.
So now it’s my turn to ask you a question: “Isn’t this what we’re supposed to be doing as club chefs?”
Recently, in speaking with a good friend while trying to set up a CMC guest chef dinner here at Glenmoor CC, the chef said to me, “Oh damn, I better step up!” I asked why. He responded, “You cook ten times more than I do!”
In a separate conversation with a different Chef, we were talking about posting on Instagram and he asked, “You’re not really cooking all these dishes, are you? Or are you taking these pictures from the pass?”
A lot of the chefs I talk to always end up telling me the same thing: they’re jealous because I “get to” cook so much more than they do.
This is simply something I don’t understand.
But, as with anything, there has to be a flip side. I look at what these other chefs are doing and accomplishing with their lives and I think, “Wow, how great it is that they’re training for another competition!” Or “Wow, how great it is that they’re so involved with that organization!” Or “Wow, how great it is that he’s committing so much time in preparing for the CMC exam!”
Then I think to myself, “How do they find the time to commit to these other projects?”
I suppose with anything you do in life, it’s all about finding balance. Ultimately and more importantly, what matters the most is doing what you want to do. I love cooking. I love cooking at work. And I make it a point to do what I love doing at work. At the end of the day, if I were big into competitions, I’m sure I would focus my efforts on becoming a competition chef. Or if mentorship was my focus, I would become more involved with organizations outside of my operations here at the club.
Instead, I busy myself with being extremely hands-on as a cook and I recognize the value in my fellow chefs who busy themselves with these other outlets to foster their passion and creativity while running their own operations.
There is a downside to my choice, though. Being so hands-on can make it hard to let go. Rather than leaving work on a slower night at a decent hour, I find myself constantly racing home by 8:30 to put my daughter to bed.
A few weeks ago, as I was hustling to get home, I stopped by a neighboring club to drop off a piece of equipment we borrowed. It was 7:45 pm on a Thursday evening. When I walked into the kitchen, I asked if the chef was around. His sous chef chuckled and said, “Hell no! It’s almost 8:00! Chef doesn’t stick around this late!” I found myself envious of his schedule as I left to race across town to be home before my daughter’s bedtime.
Although I call myself a cook more so than a Chef, some may say this characteristic is the Chef in me—my inability to let go at the end of the day and voluntarily stick around through dinner service, just in case.
So what kind of Chef are you? Or are you a cook at heart, too?