How to find a Chef to help operationalize a menu

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by SM1, Feb 22, 2018.

  1. SM1

    SM1

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    Hi,

    I am in the process of building a proof of concept restaurant. I am looking for help on how to find a chef/cook who can help me operationalize a menu. The menu items have already been decided based on extensive research on what the market wants (NYC).

    I now need someone who can take the menu and create the recipes and devise the process and document/operationalize it so that any experienced cook can use it to cook the food.

    The food is Indian. I am not looking for anything too creative or novel as the dishes are fairly run of the mill but I want to ensure (1) consistency (2) speed and ease of cooking (3) works in a restaurant setting.

    If you were me, how would you start your search process? Where do you look? What do you pay? I've already spent weeks scouring the internet without much success. I would have thought that with all the culinary schools in NY there would be a dearth of cooks/chefs who would be available but either that is not the case or I am looking in all the wrong places.

    All help and guidance appreciated.
     
  2. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Short answer is headhunters, or "hospitality employment agency".

    But the long answer is more interesting...
    Most successful new restaurants are partnerships or long term relationships between the owner and chef. 99% of the time the two ( soon to be owner and chef) have worked together and know each other fairly well. In addition, the chef usually has the job long before the lease or any other documents are signed, as s/he is one of the key employees.

    Hope this helps
     
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  3. chefbillyb

    chefbillyb

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    This isn't going to be easy to accomplish. First of all Indian food is only cooked professionally by Indian cooks. I'm not sure there is any culture that uses more herbs, spices and seasonings than in Indian recipes and cooking. There's a lot more in setting up recipes for cooks to duplicate in foods from India. This isn't like setting up a menu like Applebees has and expecting to train 20 year old kids to cook the menu with limited training. NYC is a meca for quality food and the food in your concept has to be top notch. Look at a restaurants in NYC named https://www.sophiescuban.com They serve Cuban food and all the employees are either from Cuba or Puerto Rico or someplace in South America. I think for this concept to work you will need a Indian Chef to be on site running the kitchen.
     
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  4. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    If I were you knowing what I know about what it takes to make a restaurant work, especially a new restaurant, I would say what @chefbillyb said is absolutely necessary. Its more than that. Its gospel. In fact, I will go one step further and say you will need an Indian staff to go along with the Indian chef if you want to make this happen.

    If I were to look for such a chef, I would look in the Indian restaurants and through the Indian street food vendors there in NY. I have had street food from Constantinople to Tokyo and you can find some of the best food in the world served from carts and some of the best cooks making it. So, start there. New York is full of them.

    As far as how much to pay them, without knowing any further information, that's impossible to answer. But, if you are going to build your establishment around their talent, be prepared and able to pay for it. Its probably not going to be cheap.

    Looking for cooks in culinary schools to carry out your highly specific business plan is a straight no go. You need someone with years of practical experience, knowledge of how things work, can navigate the maize of the NY bureaucracy and knows how to put together a menu and run a kitchen. You don't want your leave the success of your restaurant to the whims of trial and error. You really have your work cut out for you with this one.

    Other than that, I really have nothing more to offer except a gentle reminder that you are looking to open a restaurant that offers highly specific and complicated food in the toughest market in the world in an industry where 80% of all new restaurants fail within 3 years. In NYC, that time frame is about 12-18 months.

    The best piece of advice I think anyone can offer you at this point is keep mulling over your plan. Its not a bad plan. Its just rough and needs some polish.

    I hope this helps. Good luck.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2018
  5. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Hi SM1,

    I absolutely agree with all of the above thoughts!

    Those comments were incredibly gentle because most people here really do want to help.

    Having said that.

    Are you really building a brand new proof of concept restaurant to serve "run of the mill" Indian food?

    Since you said you don't want "anything too creative" you will probably have to find a chef motivated by money, instead of the passion of cooking.

    You may need to consider what percentage ownership to give the Chef for the sheer volume of administrative work you expect.

    I wish you all the best of luck.
     
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  6. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Hi again SM1,

    I forgot that I actually had a similar situation.

    I was offered 50% ownership to open and "operationalize" a restaurant.

    I had worked previously with the money man, he was a good manager and an OK cook but, he wanted me to develop and implement a menu, all recipes and Standardized Operating Procedures (SOP) of training standards for all positions as well as ordering and receiving procedures, kitchen flow and equipment choices, Sanitation, staffing issues, etc. because he knew my passion, work ethic, and attention to detail.

    He knew the importance of the chef role in starting a new restaurant venture.

    After two years on-site, training department heads, I was free to leave and move back to Wisconsin as half owner.

    Money doesn't motivate me though, so I didn't take it.

    I keep reading your appeal for help in finding a chef and I have the impression that you think you have done the hard part and only need anyone calling themselves a chef, to include a recent culinary graduate, just fill in a "few" minor details.

    Your choice to open a restaurant and determine a menu without any input from a food service professional is "interesting".

    So again, I wish you all the best of luck.
     
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  7. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    Finding an Indian cook is difficult unless you've been on the inside or you are currently in the circle. It's like finding a Chinese cook. Impossible if you are not trustworthy.
     
  8. someday

    someday

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    You might try looking into chef consultants. You could probably outline the work you need done and sign a contract.
     
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  9. SM1

    SM1

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    Thank you all for you guidance, I’m still always amazed that there are so many people out there who are willing to help a stranger with their time and experience.

    @chefbillyb - Indian food may be more complicated than other cuisines but its also way more forgiving than other cuisines. There will be more ingredients and perhaps even setup required however with a good SOP and the right preparation I don’t see this being an issue. The reason all Indian food is cooked by Indian cooks is because (i) the belief that Indian food is complicated – it’s not! (ii) people gravitate to what they know (iii) the margins in indian food are not the best and therefore cheap labor is the only way to break-even or make a profit – you will not find any culinary school educated cooks/chefs in Indian restaurants (iv) Indian food is not sexy in the US and as such no one but Indians get into it. Of course there are exceptions (with an emphasis on exceptions!)

    Also NYC is a meca for quality food – however indian food in NYC (atleast in the non –Indian neighborhoods) is amongst the worst in the world (I’ve lived in and experienced Indian food in England, parts of continental Europe, India, the middle-east and East Asia) – NY is the worst by such a huge margin that I’m not surprised that Indian food has not broken through in the US as a mainstream food as it has in the UK and other parts if the world despite NY having a reasonably sized Indian population.

    I’m really not looking for a Chef to run the kitchen, manage staff, orders etc – I’m looking for a chef who can devise the methodology / SOP that a reasonable trained cook can execute on – quality control, staff management, inventory, orders etc will be provided through other means and people.
     
  10. SM1

    SM1

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    @sgsvirgil – thank you! I cant believe I didn’t think to look at existing Indian restaurants and food stands etc as an avenue to find a chef!! I’m so cooperate that I sometimes forget the basics (i.e. getting off my backside and my computer and hawking the streets! :)

    Also – what I really want from my chef/food consultant is someone who can take care of the food part – really don’t want them spending one second worrying about bureaucracy, staffing or running a kitchen. For my model and based on all the feedback I’ve had on this forum I put together a spec that more clearly outlines the requirements as I was not very clear in my first post:

    1. I WILL IDENTIFY THE DISHES FOR THE MENU – THIS IS BASED ON EXHUASTIVE MARKET RESEARCH

    2. I WILL PERFORM MARKET RESEARCH TO IDENTIFY THE BEST VERSION OF EACH DISH SO THAT YOU CAN USE IT TO BENCHMARK AGAINST YOUR VERSION OF THE DISH

    3. YOU WILL DESIGN THE DISH AND DEVISE A METHODOLOGY TO PREPARE THE DISH SO THAT:

    a. THE MAIN COMPONENTS OF THE DISH CAN BE PREPARED IN ADVANCE (5 DAYS*)

    b. THERE SHOULD BE MINIMAL DAILY UPFRONT PREP REQUIRED

    c. THE DISH CAN BE READY TO SERVE IN 10 MINS WHEN REQUIRED (USING THE PRE-PREPARD COMPONENTS OF THE DISH)

    d. THE DISH CAN BE CONSISTENTLY RECREATED SUCH THAT EACH BATCH CANNOT BE TOLD APART BY THE AVERAGE CONSUMER)

    4. YOU WILL CREATE A SOP* (STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE) THAT CLEARLY OUTLINES HOW THE PREPERATION MUST BE DONE AND HOW THE DISH CAN BE PREPARED IN 1O MINS WHEN REQUIRED (SEE POINT 3 ABOVE) BY ANY REASONABLY TRAINED COOK.

    *FLEXIBLE TO ENSURE FOOD SAFTY AND CONSISTENCY OF DISH


    And thank you for the words of encouragement!
     
  11. SM1

    SM1

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    @sgmchef: The “proof of concept” refers to business model rather than the food :) my bad and I can see that my language made this confusing. NY is not ready for anything other than run-of-the-mill Indian food – you’ll see that anything other than “run-of-the-mill” has failed again and again. People from Danny Myers to less well known but exceptional Indian chefs have tried and failed. There is however a market for run-of-the-mill. It’s not sexy or gorund-breaking but if done well should provide a revenue-stream. This is of course true for any business (food or otherwise).

    Your comment about finding a chef motivated by money is giving me food for thought (no pun intended) but I’m not quite sure where I will land on that… and thank you for wishing me luck – I’ll take as much of it as I can get!
     
  12. SM1

    SM1

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    @someday – I think I may go down this route now but only after I’ve hawked a few restaurants and street vendors to see if I can find someone through those avenues or perhaps any connections and leads that may provide.
     
  13. panini

    panini

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    Just my own personal response.
    The term 'Proof of Concept' is being thrown around in this thread to casually. A Proof of Concept is not the same as a business model. The research being done - or not done- is part of the business model.
    If I have plans to invest into a Business Model, I will request a Proof of Concept. That's proof that this Business model has gone through an installation and execution and has demonstrated profitability.
    To the OP. You are searching for a cook. I personally feel your search needs to be diverted to a person who has management experience in cooking. I'm seeing failure if you're expecting a cook to develop SOP's, job descriptions, etc.
    I have enjoyed some great Indian food in NYC, but I'll believe you if you say everything offered now, is 'run of the mill'. I haven't been there for a while. Sophisticated Indian palettes tend to assimilate into various communities based on career. This can make it difficult to sustain a brick and mortar location. Personally, I think the concept would fit into the mobile concept. Commissary out of one location and choose whatever venue best suites your needs. Truck, carts, small 'grab and go' locations, etc.
    Best of luck to you.
    PS. if your are here because you're very serious about this venture, success will come sooner, the MORE you jump out of the corporate mentality. :>)
     
  14. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Hi again SM1!


    The chef in me didn’t want to acknowledge that your model is to start TVIF (Thank Vishnu Its Friday). I don’t willingly eat at places like Applebees, Chilis, Domino's pizza, Olive Garden, or any of the fast food chains because I always seek out food I can't get anywhere else. I am not your target audience, I’m a chef.

    I absolutely see a niche for that style of cookie cutter Indian food for the masses! For your goals I don’t see an absolute need for an Indian chef. I think you need a corporate level chef, knowledgeable in sit down franchises. (Unless you are starting an Indian version of McDonald’s) In your reply to sgsvirgil, You have #1 and #2 covered and the chef has #3 and #4. Nothing there about Indian food, that is all Systems and SOP’s. You already stated that you will conduct market research for the final flavor profiles anyway.

    Are you planning to use actual names of the Indian dishes, or will you market a vegetarian samosa as a veggie pocket? Are you going to make Hindu Voodoo Vindaloo? Okay, I'll stop… Back to something more helpful...

    Looks like you want to minimize trained labor costs so anything, like Samosas, that are out of the freezer and into the fryer means coordinating your final flavor profile with a manufacturer. Same principal for any sauces and spice blends for each dish. Your model doesn’t seem to encompass trusting a variety of folks to season things on their own. Is that in your lane or the chefs?

    When you say minimal daily upfront prep, In your model, will you purchase pre-trimmed and sized fresh vegetables? (Food cost issue) Or is the model to only use frozen vegetables? (Quality issue) Otherwise fresh vegetables necessitate labor. I see laminated, one to one scale, never bigger than this, preparation guides. Okay, scratch that…

    The part of Indian cuisine that I really appreciate is the roasting and grinding of the fresh spices. This is not part of your model unless your future corporate chef can idiot-proof this. Like pre-portioned spice envelopes/bags that you dump into a tabletop roaster-grinder and add that to the bag of sauce for each batch.

    This project is getting more fun by the minute!

    All this to go back to foodpump’s suggestion about using a headhunter. Provide the type of information you listed in numbers three and four to a head hunter and let them provide you with a variety of candidates to interview.


    Good luck to you!
     
  15. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Hi SM1,

    In most industries, approaching other businesses for the purpose of recruiting staff is referred to as "poaching". Yes, I know a cooking term... Most businesses do not appreciate this and may retaliate, but in any case it won't do much to help your reputation once word gets out that you poach.

    IF you had relationships with similiar businesses, you could come to some kind of a "loaner" agreement for key staff. But this agreement needs trust from both parties, and the trust is usually built on previous experience--usually both worked for a 3rd party at one time, or several places.

    From my 35-odd years in this industry, I can tell you two things:

    Firstly, a "cook" is judged by what they put on a plate.

    A "Chef" is judged by how well they manage their resources--money, staff, ingredients, eqpt., etc.

    Business has a harsh logic to it, and that logic dictates that a poor Chef doesn't stick around very long. In plain English, if the chef looses money, out the door s/he goes.

    Do you want a cook, or a chef? You need a Chef to run the kitchen. Everyone on this site will tell that many great cooks make terrible chefs, and many great chefs are only tolerable cooks.

    The best run businesses are partnerships: The chef is in charge of his food cost, labour cost and all that it includes. The great Escoffier noted that "the owner who refuses to let his Chef order what they need looses his right to complain".
    The other partner is in charge of the f.o.h. which includes the bar-- something that usually makes much more money than food-provided it is well run.

    The person who thinks they can run both areas-- all the ordering, the staff scheduling and training, the cleaning and organizing in the kitchen--on top of their regular duties running the f.oh. ( front of house) is in for a nasty surprise. It never works out

    My best advice to you is this:
    Go work for an Indian restaurant. While earning you will learn management skills, get to work with cooks and chefs, and learn how a kitchen operates.

    Hope this helps
     
  16. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Hi SM1,

    Any updates on your search?
     
  17. don rich

    don rich

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    Try LinkedIn. It has extremely qualified Indian Chefs
     
  18. Beltway Chef

    Beltway Chef

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    You can also talk to the culinary schools I'm sure and I know they all run job boards for former alum. You might be able to find the chef you're looking for that way. I wouldn't necessarily try to poach a student or very recent grad. You're going to want someone with the experience you need. You're running a restaurant in a very competitive and expensive city going up against some already well established Indian restaurants.
     
  19. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Hi SM1,

    How did it go? Are you still searching or did you find the person you sought?