Earlier today, Mike Gebert asked - How much do celebrity chefs really matter to their restaurants? His example was Fabio Viviani who gained fame in multiple appearances on ‘Top Chef” but never won the big prize. You can see Fabio on the ‘Chew’ these days or dine on his food at Siena Tavern in River North.
Mike writes that the celeb chef is obviously a big part of the restaurant opening - concept design and coordination of the daily logistics. Yet, once the heat hits the pan and the printer starts spewing at the start of any service – all the planning goes out the window. He quoted generals, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
I would agree to an extent but to say that service begins a round of chaos is false. The expediter may be calling out orders like a commodity trader in free fall during the “push,” but the chef is the ringmaster to pull it together and ensure the first plate looks as good as the last – sometimes hours later.
Ceaser had Antony and Octavian had Agrippa. Generals need their field marshals to control the battlefield and adjust. If the garde manager chef is going down in flames, the chef sees it and coordinates with his sous or even chef de cuisine to ensure quality and control never, ever falter. Whether that chef has been on TV or not doesn’t matter - shouldn’t matter, the leadership of the chef matters. Service can be a shit show but the only one it reflects poorly on is the person filling the white coat, celeb or not.
I learned long ago to be a good leader is to accept the saying – We Win and I lose. All the chefs I ever worked with embodied that. I wasn’t only failing myself but also the team and reflecting directly on them with a bad plate to the customer.
It doesn’t matter if Fabio may be in Chicago every blue moon or work here daily, it matters that he surrounds himself with good people who get it. If his restaurant executes bad food, he will fail whether he is in the kitchen or not because he never found the right people to execute his vision. All chef’s face that challenge whether it’s a day off or the 15th place in an empire.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org