2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Business Seminar Day One
Founder and chairman of the wildly successful Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Richard Melman
began this Monday morning panel with a wish for his audience of business persons, industry newbies, and chefs. “I want all of you to walk away having learned something about how to work in this business.” The “very low-tech” prolific restaurateur generously allowed his brain to be picked—and picked audience brains in turn. Questions ranged from how to allocate private ownership—someone needs majority control, if only by 1%—to how to guide concepts between a restaurateur and chef. “In the 1970s and 80s, it was a lot easier to have great food carry the whole program,” says Melman, and while today’s market is too saturated for cuisine as concept, that doesn’t mean the food isn’t paramount. “For me, the single most important thing is the food. That gives me the whole map of everything we do.” Beyond discussing the impact of the recession, the fiscal viability of sustainability, and the importance of taking care of partners and purveyors, Melman shared some major take-home lessons from his 40 years in the business: Train young people to carry on your business, don’t be deterred by failure (“when you’re an entrepreneur you have to be positive,” he says); and never forget that “you can’t make a bad deal with a good person, and you can’t make a good deal with a bad person.”
"Pop-ups: Boot-strapping in a Tough Economy"
In the panel discussion “Pop-ups: Boot-strapping in a Tough Economy”, Ashley Primis
from Starr Restaurant Group, Joshua Skenes
, and Noriyukie Sugie
, creator of the IRONNORI brand, enlightened the audience on the logistics of running a successful pop-up restaurant on the go. Primis was particularly eloquent when discussing the benefit of a pop-up for the restaurateur. Using pop-ups allowed Starr Restaurants to introduce clients to impossible-to-reserve restaurants and make connections with chefs of note, like Marcus Samuelsson. Chef Sugie added that it’s also an excellent boon to public relations, and discussed the variety of techniques that he and his guest chefs use at Hachi
, resulting in a daring micro-gastronomy menu. Joshua Skenes gave insight on how a pop-up can lead to a permanent restaurant concept. His restaurant Saison
began as a pop-up in an event space and is now a go-to in California. They discussed budgets, health inspections, liquor licenses, and conceptual freedom with an originality and flair one could only expect from these energy-driven, fly-by-night restaurateurs.
2010 New York Rising Stars
The 2010 New York Rising Stars assembled Monday morning for their “How to Make it Panel.” Led by Antoinette Bruno
, the panel discussion gives the Rising Stars the opportunity to elaborate upon their diverse and divergent paths to success. The discussion began with questions about culinary school (to go or not to go?) and the importance of on-the-job experience, leading into rougher patches like how long a chef or pastry chef should stay in a particular position—to restaurant ownership and work-life balance. The chefs had varying opinions based on a colorful variety of backgrounds. “My love of science and art has become united in pastry,” says Pastry Chef Angela Pinkerton
. For some chefs, travel made all the difference. “It expands your palate,” said Chef Brandon Kida
. As for differences in training, Chef Markus Glocker
notices that European-trained chefs start much earlier. “You have a feel for the kitchen by the time you’re 13.” Work-life balance was unsurprisingly a struggle for most of the chefs. “At a certain point,” said Chef James Tracey
, “my wife said I had to give up work when I got home.” And that isn’t easy—for any of the chefs. But despite all the struggles—from opening in a recession for Marc Forgione
(“I stuck to my gut”) to balancing a heavy workload in a hotel setting to handling serious financials in the context of a creative team—the Rising Star chefs all agreed it’s well worth it.
by Jessica Dukes and Emily Bell