Is flavor predictable?

Accomplishing the goal of great food is a long and complicated journey.

Most members believe it rests in the hands of their chef, but General Managers understand it is more complex than just one person.

Mr. Bill Marriott knew this, so he entered through the loading docks during his hotel visits. He famously stepped behind cook lines and into coolers while engaging with the culinary staff. His parents grew up in the restaurant business, which explained these actions.

Chef Paul Prudhomme taught us to see the flavor before tasting it. He described the ingredients’ colors, textures, and even the evaporation to improve the sauces’ viscosity.

His motto was to preserve the natural flavor of the ingredients. He was passionate about the ingredients, techniques, and the story behind each dish.

Even the famed American painter Jackson Pollock knew great art was more than God-given talent. He was fanatical about his brushes, paint, and canvas—no different from our culinary ingredients, tools, and techniques.

A chef must be meticulous in their pursuit of culinary details. Here are some habits that support Chef Prudhomme’s flavor-first mentality, defining the arduous journey to create the best results.

Staff: A disciplined staff is a great indicator that standards are known and energized. A team-centric feel defines team pride and joy in themselves and their actions. It predicts a culture where the ingredients are respected and the vision for each dish has been established.

A laser-focused team instills confidence that their expectations for their station are understood. Positive eye contact and an engaging nature indicate that the service mission is owned. While individualism is important, it should not replace a team-first philosophy. Culinary is the ultimate team sport, with countless hands touching every dish.

The kitchen is a professional space free of idle chatter. A strong chef should set a tone where business is conducted while socializing can be done in other employee-centric club spaces.

Communication: The atmosphere of defined kitchen conversations signals an understanding of an engaged leadership hierarchy. Today’s modern kitchen has moved away from the yelling of “yes chef” and is replaced by staff nods or verbal communication through electronic headpieces. Key Sous Chefs are placed at focal points for the final inspection. This ensures technical cooking application that all cooks deserve.

Through trust comes the transparency of uncovering defects in a blameless system. Examples of defect-free processes are found in the utilization of documented recipes. From Michelin Star to fast casual, no successful organization operates without a recipe bible. When it’s owned and energized in lineups, meetings, and digital communication, team unity and responsibility in taste occur.

Environments: Clean food flavors can’t be created in a dirty kitchen. Aside from the obvious need to eradicate bacteria, a clean kitchen supports systematic methodologies. Cooking involves detailed touches first learned in the cleaning responsibilities of the kitchen.

Many kitchens may appear visually clean yet lack organizational systems, highlighting product rotation challenges and predicting expired ingredients that could be found in finished dishes.

Quality lighting and air conditioning are often overlooked. Lighting changes are great motivators for cooks in their ability to view food presentations.

Organization: From purchasing to cooler to the line, there is a system for food. Follow the product to determine if respectful handling is done with integrity. A club can purchase top-class ingredients but lose its uniqueness without a structured system.

From day one, ingredients begin to deteriorate. A race against time requires sound systems to secure their peak characteristics for as long as possible. Expensive ingredients are the gentlest, requiring experienced culinary techniques from mentors. Proteins should never be fabricated by the inexperienced. Learning starts by observing, which turns into respect for the handling process.

Techniques: Universal flavor building has systems regardless of cuisine. Hot food hot and cold food cold is very basic. Refrigerated products, covers, flat pots, and pans are a simple start. Step onto any line, and you can immediately feel if systems of organization and care are in place.

Observe if the cooks respect the products, massaging the proteins when seasoning and moving the items with gentle finesse in a sauté pan. These are what people call “having a soft touch or feel.” A great cook knows each principle of cooking and visualizes how the ingredients will react in those techniques.

On the line, there must be a graceful dance of cooking preparations—a seamless organization movement with the staff in how they approach each task, minimizing unnecessary steps. Each process is thought out, predictable, and repeated with each dish.

Great food quality is built when all touchpoints come together. With Food and Beverage being one of the top value propositions in any club, every Executive Chef should want these challenges and enjoy the power of building great culinary flavors.

Club + Resort Chef – May 2024

Lawrence T. McFadden, CMC, ECM is a food and beverage training consultant and search executive with Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries.