Institutional Stagnation

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Joined Mar 9, 2000
A call to all institutional chefs and food managers!!!!!!!!

Have you seen this problem? Let me explain. I recently took a position with the State of California in one of their upper end kitchens, it is a training facility and not a prison or hospital.

I came out of the hotel & restaurant business and thought creativity would be severly restricted, I found the oposite to be true. The food budget is quite large, can order just about anything in food and/or equipment with in reason. The audience is captive, they eat what is presented. There is more than enough help, about 1/8 the work load of private industry. This should be a breeding ground for creativity, instead it seems that it breeds lethargy. I am fighting hard to keep things creative and up beat, the kitchen is HUGE and the equipment is excellent. Not much is demanded of the workers, but instead of taking the extra time to be creative, many have become complacent.

Has anyone experienced this? Have you found a way to breath life into a beast of this nature? I'm having a ball but am disappointed that more don't take advantage of such a good situation to be creative, with such excellent pay and hours it would seem to ignite the creative juices.

Input anyone?
 
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Joined Mar 6, 2001
I don't understand what kind of place this is? Why are these people here....do they want to learn and be trained? Or are they passing time in a program?
 
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Joined Jul 31, 2000
Hi Chefjohnpaul,

Nice to see you around again!

I understand your plight..I am an Exec Chef in a private hotel/conference center owend by a major fortune 500 company. It is used by the owner and many other companys for training and retreats etc,Our restaurants and service are considered one of the best in the industry, ( acording to IACC)Internatinal assosation of conference centers.Food cost is really not an issue,great kitchen and benifites..but,I still have to keep on top of my staff. Most of them are great and self motivated and others are high mantainence..I find by putting the ball in there court and challenging them to use there brains I get results.I make sure they have the tools and resourses they need to succeed,It must be tangible and have a time frame attached to it.Example, I will give a line cook my daily faxes from my venders,Produce,meats,speciatly goods etc, and I will ask him/her to create on paper 5 new appitizers using this imformation, then we will sit together and discuss there work.We will make some adjustments if needed and then I will work one of these items into a menu and have that cook take care of the mis en place and such for that item. You will find a new level of interest and pride when someone sees there own creation on a menu and they know that they did the leg work and had the support to accomplish it.I always say hello to all my staff and make sure I comment on there work..I try to be as involved as possible. I will give two cases of asparagus to a dishwasher to peel ( not a great job)But if you spend 5 minutes with him/her and peel with them and just talk about the weather,family or cleaning the jets on the dish machine, they will be happy to help (well maybe not happy)but less likely to make a issue,just because you gave them some of there time,and be sure to thank them when they are done. Chefjohnpaul..this does not mean that we will not face the employee that needs more attention..I update job descriptions every year and have each employee read and sign it. If they understand there job and consistently fall short with counseling etc,then that is why there is disipline. I use the sandwich technique to disipline..I start by saying something positive and supportive (top piece of bread)then I get to the heart of the matter(the meat)and then I finish up on a positive note (the bottom piece of bread)I find this works pretty good when coaching someone..I hope some of this helps you a little.The challenges never end!!!

cc
 
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Joined Mar 9, 2000
Hey Cape Chef! Thanks for the input. To answer W.DeBord's question, this is not a training center for the cooks, it is a training center for peace officers, we have the privilege of feeding them.

I have seen a few changes since I have been there. I brought quite a bit of private industry mentality, as far as the creative end is concerned, and a few have kicked up their game because I think there was a spark of life coming into a State kitchen, and people's creative juices got flowing.(Not to blow my own horn but the mentality just seems to be different in a more demanding enviornment, i.e.four star hotel)

All the cooks for the most part do a nice job , but I think your points are well taken.
I got my foot in the door by taking a lead cooks position, but there is plenty of room for advancement in a managerial way. I beleive I have the respect of my co-workers and when the time comes where I can affect some real change as far as the structure of things,because of having the authority to do so I will try,for now I will have to make sure that I don't become complacent and lead by example.

I am blessed to have a Food Manager who is open minded and progressive, I've already been able to bring in things like roasted peppers from Spain, green peppercorns, dried ancho, saffron, do preserved lemons,make flavored vinegars, ect... hopefully it'll catch on more. Part of the problem is the clientele is not demanding, but I do a special 'bistro' on friday evenings and we've gone from feeding 7 or 8 to feeding 35+ on a regular basis. Word is getting out that there is new life in the kitchen and perhaps that will be a motivator for many, there is already a cook who has gone from just doing things from wrote to really blossoming in the sauce area, he asks lots of questions and is exited by new things he's making. Hopefully the fire spreads.
Thanks again for your input!
 
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Joined Mar 9, 2000
P.S. Cape Chef

Hey, the supervisor that helped me get my foot in the door I beleive will have a big part as he advances, as he is an ex-restaurant individual. Hopefully we can get more private industry people in as others retire. Thanks again.
 
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Joined Mar 9, 2000
Yeah, it is pretty nice. I think the problem with motivation is that many of the staff have only done institutional cooking, and the officers and cadets will pretty much eat what is given them.

On the other hand, the response of Academy staff has been resolutely positive to having a taste of improved cuisine, so this is a big plus. We serve about 300 a meal, but on Friday evening we serve only about 35 people and I pretty much have all day to prep for it. I post a sign on Friday that says, "Tonight We Dine."

Really am having a blast, I try to keep things flowing because I miss certain aspects of fine dining, but hey, with excellent pay and fantasic 'normal' hours not only is my family happy, but I actually have a life now!
 
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Joined Jul 31, 2000
Hey CJP,

My pleasure.
I know from interacting with you before that you are a tremendously talented chef and very much aware of the industry.I really hope you get the oppurtunity to some day run that kitchen and I am particualry happy that your supervisor has a open and creative mind.That can be half the battle some times.
Good luck and keep us posted
cc
 
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Joined Oct 15, 2000
Holy Cow CJP!! That sounds like heaven. Carte Blanche in both budget and cooking??? I suppose this Eden-like kitchen is also sound proof so you can listen to tunes. Plenty of space...good equipment...Man, If a guy can't get motivated in a place like that, he needs find a different line of work.
 

nicko

Founder of Cheftalk.com
Staff member
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Joined Oct 5, 2001
Hey ChefJohnPaul, glad to see you back in the Cafe. :D
 
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Joined Aug 4, 2000
Welcome to the government work ethic. It's not confined to institutional cooking. It also applies to the technical field as well. Headhunters in the computer field warned me that if I remained at a government job for more than 5 years, they would not be able to place me in the civilian market. 'Dunno if this applies to the field of cooking. Beware, for your energy may make your coworkers look lazy. :eek:
 

nicko

Founder of Cheftalk.com
Staff member
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Joined Oct 5, 2001
Hey CJP, I completely forgot to comment on your plight. Funny becuase it reminds me of when I returned from France and took a job at the Art Institute of Chicago. Really simliar siutation in that we had no food cost restrictions. Big operation, with five restaurants and a lot of banquet work.

Being back from France I was really fired up, but I ran into a problem like you. Most of the cooks I was working with had been at the AIC for anywhere from 5 to 10 years, and for them it was all routine. Only one or two guys actually got really excited about trying some new things. It was a very trying experince for me, and it taught me a lot about management. The one good thing was the Executive chef was a very creative guy, and we got a long very well, and learned a lot from each other.

One thing I found in that experience was the more I tried to make people get excited about food the less the did. However the more I got excited about food on my own the more creative I saw the cooks become. It was like people saw new ideas and they wanted to try those things themselves, amd see if they could do it better. I also used to ask the cooks to come up with their own specials etc, and this was an excellent motivator.

Hope that helps.
 
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Joined Mar 9, 2000
Thanks for the info all.

I find that if I just do my best and be kind toward all my coworkers that it has a positive impact. But you are correct, the State job is definately a different animal.
 

nicko

Founder of Cheftalk.com
Staff member
4,343
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Joined Oct 5, 2001
Kokopuffs you are totally right! When I was at the Art Institute of Chicago I was gun ho and man did I really tick off my co-workers. I remeber the first few weeks were a real eye opener. After 5:00 p.m. all the restaurants were closed and it was banquets only. Once the banquet was served everyone just went into the cafeteria and ate dinner and drank coffee. Everyone just waited till the banquet was over. I was shocked and was trying to find work for everyone to do. That did not go over well at all.
 
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Joined Mar 9, 2000
Yes, I've found that even the supervisors and food manager(eqiv of F&B) have a struggle with asserting authority because people have gotten away with so much for so long and some in management tend to be the biggest offenders.

Where I have leeway I try to assert creativity and productivity in my own work. This not only has drawn a major response from clientele but also caused others to step up to the plate without saying a word to them.

I feel bad that with so much freedom and access to ingredients that roast beef or chicken end up with the same old gravy everytime. I've tried to mix it up quite a bit and do things like cassoulet, or crusted salmon w/ different aiolis and coulis' on 'chef's choice' night. This has had a positive response on co-worker's preparations also. But I am amazed on how many breaks are taken, and the complaints that still come from what is really a no pressure situation. Sometimes I remind them of how tense things can get in the 'real world'.

Really, perhaps this is the pace we should be working at, at least take advantage of the extra time to really grow and learn, the enviornment is so conducive to it if one has a bit of self motivation.
 

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