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The Power of Empowerment

I recently interviewed a candidate for a Chef de Cuisine position for one of our restaurants. Whenever I interview a candidate that will potentially be running one of my kitchens, I always make it a point to describe my leadership style and paint a picture of what to expect from me. Now, I admit, my style of leading a Culinary team is what many would consider a bit unconventional which certainly explains why most experienced candidates seem surprised when I describe it to them. I will explain further, but the overall philosophy is to not micro manage, but instead empower your team to take ownership and challenge the process. Now I am the Executive Chef of a large, multi-venue operation but this perspective can totally be used by an F&B Manager or General Manager in a smaller operation with only one supervising Chef.

Give Ownership

Most Chefs who have run a restaurant kitchen, especially in a larger operation under an Executive Chef share a similar experience when it's time to start a new menu. Usually the Executive Chef hands the Restaurant Chef a menu and tells them the date of the menu change. If they're lucky, they also got a detailed description from the Chef of how the dishes should be prepared. New menu day arrives and just as you get the last of the show plates in the window for staff training, in walks the Executive Chef who proceeds to, not so tactfully explain how you have grossly misinterpreted most of the items that are presented. I know I have been on the receiving end of this and I think I speak for us all when I say, I never really cared for it. Mostly, I never understood it and it never helped me to be better. So, one of my things is that I don't write the menus for the restaurants at our operation. The Chefs that I hired to run those kitchens are tasked with that and I never take the credit for it. All I ask is that they send me the draft of the menu before it goes to print so I can check for teachable opportunities that will benefit them. 99% of the time, I let them roll with it. Is it always reflective of the menu writing decisions that I would make? No. But what we do is called the Culinary "Arts" for a reason. I'll help them avoid fundamental mistakes if I feel they could negatively impact the guest experience, but if I know deep down that the people in the dining room are going to enjoy it, I don't get in the way. Are they really running the kitchen when they are expected to interpret the artistic visions of another person? Are you using them or developing them? Give them ownership and they will grow. Give them ownership and they will stay with you. As an Executive Chef, if you're secure in your past accomplishments and your strengths, it's really not necessary to always prove to your staff how much you know. Let them think for themselves and if they fall, help them get back up.

Encourage Them to Challenge the Process

I think one of the things that make my leadership style most unique as a Chef is that I have no use for "Yes" people. If I ask you what you think, I expect that you will tell me exactly that. If I ask you to do something a certain way and you don't agree with the method, I expect you to let me know and explain why. Once you reach the level of Executive Chef, the amount of people around you that will help you avoid making mistakes is decreased exponentially and for the Chefs that demand compliance, well, they are all alone. My Executive Sous Chef has been with me on and off for 13 years at different properties. I value him for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason is that he's not afraid to tell me when he thinks I'm making a bad decision. Sometimes I don't agree and choose to sway him back to my side, but I am not afraid to admit, he has helped me avoid many mistakes over the years and I'm grateful. Give your team a voice and respect it. We need to stop the whole "I am the Chef" or "this is my kitchen" mentality and make room for a more collaborative effort. This is how we grow together. This is how we begin to be better.

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