Thursday, September 3, 2009

Standing On Their Shoulders

"Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."
I like this famous little quote and think about it often. Who are the giants in your world? For me, it is my parents and grandparents. They have worked hard to provide a good life for me, so that I can advance and go further. I hope to do that for my children as well. My professors and chefs are like giants, too. Most of them want to share all the knowledge they have, and are constantly pushing us to push ourselves, to learn more and go beyond what they themselves have achieved.

Our school hosted a panel of entrepreneurs on Monday and I absolutely enjoyed hearing them all. They seemed genuinely interested in inspiring us and giving us all the advice they possibly could in that short amount of time. I came away from the discussion with four pages of notes, feeling energized and hopeful about my future. Anyone can be an entrepreneur with enough hope, energy, vision and hard work (preferably all, haha).

The panel consisted of these individuals:
  • Alison Awerbach of Abigail Kirsch (a HUGE catering company here in NY); she does the food and beverage oversight and has worked with the company for 25 years.
  • John Doherty, worked for the Waldorf-Astoria for 30 years and was their Executive Chef for 23 of those years. He recently resigned to start his own restaurant development company and has four concepts in the pipeline.
  • Barry Coleman, former owner of More Than a Mouthful catering company and Nice Buns bakery in Palm Springs, CA.
  • Russell Menkes, worked as a chef at the Russian Tea Room and St. Regis in NYC. Presently is the General Manager at the Conrad Hotel in Chicago, IL.

All of the questions asked really showed off the panelists' experiences and personalities. They all seemed like they would be great people to work under, and I highly appreciated the fact that the school included a woman and two caterers - what a great perspective!

Here are some of the points I found important:
  • Education - it is so important now in our field. The chef has to wear many hats; they no longer are limited to making food. They have to be able to keep things cost effective and be flexible enough to work with management. The job involves management, finance, accounting, marketing, and nutritional aspects. Having a degree will show employers that I am serious and have discipline. Check!
  • On opening a business - Mr. Coleman was a character. He lives in Hollywood and looks like it, but seemed so down to earth. He stressed that when you own your own business, you are in command of your paycheck. You have a self-responsibility to the business to make sure that everything and everyone gets paid before you do. Your business should fill a void. If you have partners, they should be people you trust completely and you should all be on the same wavelength. Start off small and only borrow as much as you can pay back.
  • Career Advice: Values to Carry With You - from Mr. Doherty: 1. Work hard; find a way to make yourself valuable. 2. Get along with people; be friendly to everyone, this isn't a job you can always do alone. 3. Take initiative; never wait to be told what to do.
  • Work in the Back of the House (BOH) so you can move to the Front of the House (FOH) - Mr. Menkes never thought he would be a General Manager, and honestly, I'd never thought of it as an option for myself either. He said that doing time in the kitchen in the past has helped him immensely in his present job. He respects the chef because he understands the job and is able to be a better GM because of that.
  • Special Challenges of Catering - After hearing Ms. Awerbach talk about the catering business, I was like, "Sign me up!!!" It sounds AWESOME! Restaurants can get stale. The menu can get old. The number of people coming in is unpredictable. In catering, each event is a new challenge. Logistics have to be figured out, new menus are designed, and it needs to be cutting-edge. Also, catering is more lucrative and cost effective than a restaurant because you know exactly how many people are going to be there. Of course this is seasonality and off-peak times to deal with, but it sounds like a pretty amazing business to be in if you can do it well.
  • The Food Network: Help or Hurt? - someone from the audience posed this question to the panel. They all agreed that it does both. It helps our industry because it has brought food to the conscious attention of the general public. They are becoming somewhat more knowledgeable than in the past and are more participative and daring. The Food Network inspires the younger generation, encouraging more talent, and hey, there's no such thing as bad press. However, The Food Network hurts our industry because it presents an entertaining but unrealistic picture. It creates sensationalism at the expense of young chefs' careers. Very few people actually get on TV, and the picture is an illusion. I can tell you that no one would want to make a show of me sweating it out to the oldies in front of a fry-o-later for an hour, hurrying to make the plantain garnishes for a dessert. UGH! The "behind the scenes" of our industry is sooo not glamourous. I think about it all the time actually, when I am doing unpleasant jobs. But it's part of my job. The process is fun for me, but the end product is all the diners care about.
  • Always work for someone else first - Make your mistakes and learn your lessons on someone else's dime before you brand out on your own. I thought this was solid advice and right in line with my plans for the future. I want to get a well-rounded understanding of this business, and even if it takes some volunteer time on my part, I'll be willing to do it just to get that experience. Mr. Doherty also mentioned that it's a good idea to work for a large company. They have time-tested policies and procedures that are consistent and work. Use them and adapt them to your business.
  • How can I choose a career path? - Mr. Coleman responded to the questioner by saying, "Imagine you were filthy rich and didn't have to work. What would you do with your time? That's what your job should be." Obviously, it should be something that makes you happy. The first thought in my head about what I would do was not baking, surprisingly, but I'll save that for another time. Then my second thought was baking, which I just absolutely love to do. Another panelist recommended making a list of all the things you enjoy. Write down the skill sets you have and what you want to learn to do. Volunteer and do research. Check, check, check!
  • How do you balance your personal life with your professional life? - Have a professional life that you love. Love what you do. Delegate tasks when you can and be able to trust those you work with to get the job done. As much as I would want to do everything, I know I can't, so the area of delegation will be something I'll have to work on when I get to that point. Lastly, make your free time quality time. Choose to do quality things even if you only have one day off a week or one evening. I liked this advice and hope to apply it to my life when I get that busy.


Patti MacLeith said...

Sucking up the knowledge--I like it!

Bob Sanchez said...

Yo, I like the sound of this "catering" and your enthusiasm about it. Looks good!

Aubs said...

Yep, seems like a lot of work, but maybe I should check it out anyways... sounds excitin'!

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