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Chris Ward

How I Became a Professional Cook in France

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Thanks for putting all this up. It's been a good read.

Cheers.

 

 

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I know it's stew. What KIND of stew?

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Thanks very much for sharing this with us; I've enjoyed an in-depth view of a world foreign to me in more ways than one.

 

When you teach your classes on restaurant management, and talk to your students about the restaurant world, how honest are you about the challenges of making a living at it?  Do you share the pitfalls and challenges with the starry-eyed would-be chefs, or decide simply to let them follow their dreams and find out for themselves? 


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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1 hour ago, Smithy said:

Thanks very much for sharing this with us; I've enjoyed an in-depth view of a world foreign to me in more ways than one.

 

When you teach your classes on restaurant management, and talk to your students about the restaurant world, how honest are you about the challenges of making a living at it?  Do you share the pitfalls and challenges with the starry-eyed would-be chefs, or decide simply to let them follow their dreams and find out for themselves? 

I'm brutally honest, but they remain starry-eyed. I show them extracts from a documentary about Georges Blanc whose Maison Blanc at Vonas in the Ain in NE France has a turnover of €2 million a year and a profit of 2% in a good year. I show how he makes all his money from the souvenir shop, hotel, spa, boulangerie, brasserie and so on - and all they hear is 'So he makes a €2 million profit by owning the whole village". They all think they'll become millionaires.

Actually most of them want to become hotel managers and they ultimately realise that most hotel restaurants are a necessary evil - you have to have one to attract customers, and you're happy if they break even.

I do an interesting class where they have to create and cost a menu and calculate the number of staff they'll need to cook and serve it in the type of restaurant they want. They ALL employ between a half and a quarter of the staff they really need and make a huge profit on day one, and don't believe me when I say there'll be no day 2 if you're paying someone the wages of a Second and expecting them to do a chef's job, or someone in the dining room the wages of a Chef de rang and expecting them to act as maitre d'hotel.

They're money people, which ultimately is the breed which controls restaurants and hotels now.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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So catching the golden ring isn't just a pilot fantasy, but applies in the food world as well.  That sounds like an interesting exercise you do.  Probably, given the nature of students, some of them will value the lesson later and realize what you were trying to say.

 

This is a new concept to me: 

23 minutes ago, Chris Ward said:

...most hotel restaurants are a necessary evil - you have to have one to attract customers, and you're happy if they break even.

 

Do you think that's peculiar to France, or to most developed countries?  I think I'll start a topic in the broader forums to ask.

 

Edit: and so I have. *click*


Edited by Smithy Added link to new topic (log)
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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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2 hours ago, Chris Ward said:

They ALL employ between a half and a quarter of the staff they really need and make a huge profit on day one, and don't believe me when I say there'll be no day 2 if you're paying someone the wages of a Second and expecting them to do a chef's job, or someone in the dining room the wages of a Chef de rang and expecting them to act as maitre d'hotel.

 

 

That was the problem at the last place I worked for someone else as their chef de cuisine. The owners were amateurs, who -- to give them due credit -- had an excellent, well-thought out concept and a sound business plan. Their issue was that they expected the kitchen staff -- at 50 cents over minimum wage -- to work as if they had an ownership stake in the place. Even worse, failure to live up to this unrealistic expectation brought an almost-immediate storm of criticism and bitchiness, with the predictable result that cooks left very quickly. That's not a good thing at the best of times, but especially so in a small town where word spreads in a hurry. We were always short at least one body, and usually more.

 

I told them when they hired me that I wasn't a new broom kind of guy, but more about incremental improvement. It'd take about three months, I told them, to get a solid feel for their operation and for the strengths and weaknesses of the kitchen staff (and them, though I didn't say that) and start to build some rapport. Promptly at the three-month mark, just when I was starting to get some buy-in from the cooks and turn things around, they canned me for not changing things fast enough. Also, they felt I should have fired the "losers" in the kitchen and hired better people. After all, that's why they were paying the big bucks (me: HA!) for an experienced chef. 

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“What is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Same here, they say they're willing to give the 'This will take time' method a try and then want to know why it hasn't worked after a week. I understand that restaurant owners have often invested all and more of their personal fortune in their restaurant, but jeez. 


Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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That attitude and level of expectation is not limited to the food service industry. Graduating engineers on their first employment expect to be responsible for major design input rather than learning their profession. Certainly not all but a significant cohort.

 

 

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I know it's stew. What KIND of stew?

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7 hours ago, Chris Ward said:

Same here, they say they're willing to give the 'This will take time' method a try and then want to know why it hasn't worked after a week. I understand that restaurant owners have often invested all and more of their personal fortune in their restaurant, but jeez. 

 

Part of the problem is that these kind of owners aren't experienced "professional" owners. Expectations are higher than their ability.  They need mentoring themselves.

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On 19/10/2016 at 9:01 AM, gfweb said:

 

Part of the problem is that these kind of owners aren't experienced "professional" owners. Expectations are higher than their ability.  They need mentoring themselves.

 

Yup. For me, this portion of the discussion could just as easily go in the "Never Again Will I..." thread. 

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“What is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Have you worked with a first time owner who spends their time in the kitchen with you?


“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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17 hours ago, adey73 said:

Have you worked with a first time owner who spends their time in the kitchen with you?

Yup, did that in a startup restaurant in Uzes. She filled the menu - overfilled! - with all her favourite dishes, we had 45 items on the menu with 2 in the kitchen, me and the owner's niece who'd never cooked in her life. The kitchen was a bar space with a gigantic pizza oven that we couldn't use because she wanted to do 'pierre chaud' - giant blocks of granite heated up to grill meat on in front of the customers. There were veal chops on the menu which took +- 30 minutes to cook and nowhere to cook them. The fridges were under the dining room, access via a trapdoor which couldn't be opened during the service. The owner was supposed to do FoH but she loved cooking (her words) and kept coming back to the space where there was room for 1.5 people to cook special orders for her friends.

I lasted 3.5 weeks and then ran away.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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