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Truman Nabors

How To Delegate

5 posts in this topic

Chef-

It seems to me that successful chefs manage to train people to execute their vision when they aren't present at the stoves. How do you find cooks who can allow you a day off now and then and how do you train them to prepare the food to your exacting standards?

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Well, Truman, the question you pose is indeed my supreme challenge. Now that I have opened my first restaurant, which happens to be in the East village and does not have a flashy address, half-million dollar kitchen, or a celebrity chef, I know just how hard it is to find qualified cooks. Even when I was at Craft, which had the flashy address, the million dollar kitchen, and a celebrity chef, I had a hard time finding talented, devoted cooks. Now, it is ten times more difficult. (I have to confess that when I first came to New York as a young cook looking for work, I took a job at Gramercy Tavern because of its large, shiny, new kitchen and chef Tom Colicchio's reputation.)

Nevertheless, in terms of opening Hearth, I have been very fortunate with regards to the kitchen staff. Each of the cooks is someone with whom I previously worked, and I have a lot of respect for their work ethic and talents. I first met Dan Sauer, my chef de cuisine, on the Vineyard when he was fresh out of culinary school. He worked at La Cucina in garde-manger and then came to New York as a line cook and helped me open Craft. I feel very fortunate to have him as my right-hand man and hope to have him with me for many years to come. Lauren Dawson also came over from Craft to work as Hearth's pastry chef and is invaluable to me.

I think I have been able to attract such a great staff because I really try to lead by example. I want them to respect and take food as seriously as I do. Over the years, I have learned that you have to treat your staff well if you want them to stay. To that end, I offer a competitive salary and try to create a working environment that is enjoyable to be in. The bottom line, however, is that good line cooks rarely stay longer than a year at any given restaurant because once they have learned the chef's style, they are ready to move on and learn from new experiences. I also think that the pool of great cooks out there is very small, so it is always a challenge to find cooks who can allow you a day off.

In terms of training people to meet my standards, my staff knows that if I am dissatisified with a dish, I will ask them to make it again even if the customer has to wait a little longer for his food. If this is your MO, your staff quickly learns to maintain high standards.

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Perhaps this is a related question:

One late afternoon, I was walking past your restaurant with a friend and noticed a meeting taking place, which looked more like a lecture to all the staff, from my viewpoint looking in through the plateglass window for a brief period of time (I didn't want to make anyone self-conscious by staying there long). Are there meetings of the whole staff every day before dinner service? What kinds of things get discussed in such meetings, and how long do they usually last? Do you and the other members of the staff consider these meetings important? Did you frequently take part in similar meetings in the other restaurants where you used to work? And how are your meetings at Hearth different from those you've experienced elsewhere?

OK, that's umpteen questions, but answer whatever you like. :laugh:

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Every night we have a half-hour family meal before service starts. During that time, my partner Paul and the floor managers get up and speak to the entire front-of-the-house staff. I also come out and talk about any specials we are running as well as any food related issues that need to be addressed. For example, a couple of nights ago, a customer ordered a black and blue steak and then sent it back to the kitchen because he wanted it cooked more. Tonight, I'll mention this situation to the entire staff and explain to them exactly what our understanding of "black and blue" is so that they can then clearly communicate that information to other customers and prevent situations like the one that I just mentioned from happening in the future.

During our nightly staff meetings, my partner Paul takes a huge initiative in educating the front-of-the-house crew about wine and points of service. Every night, either he or Hailey Rose, the Beverage Director, pick a wine for everyone to taste and they talk about where it is from, how it was produced, and what its characteristics are. Elena Silva, the service director, also speaks about service issues such as maintaining water levels in the guests' water glasses, polishing silver, and making sure that the staff's uniform shirts are clean and pressed.

So, yes, these meetings are considered very important by all those involved. My personal feeling is that to be a good server or back-waiter, you need to know as much as possible about all of a restaurant's food and beverage offerings. Many people also need to be constantly reminded about the points of good service; otherwise, they get sloppy and things slip.

All the restaurants that I have worked at have similar meetings where the same types of issues are discussed. The only exception I can think of was the seasonal restaurant that I ran for six summers on Martha's Vineyard. There, we as a staff met less frequently--usually just a few times a month. The difference was that the Vineyard restaurant had a much smaller staff with very little turnover, so it was easier to communicate what we wanted on an individual basis rather than sitting everyone down for a lengthy meeting as we were rushing to open for dinner.

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