Five Takeaways from Chef Markus Glocker
Markus Glocker, the former chef of the acclaimed Bâtard, and now the chef and owner of the ACE Hotel’s Koloman, stopped by ICE to chat about how to make service run smoothly, the unexpected education that shaped his success and what he would do differently if given the chance.
If your Instagram algorithm is at all attuned to hot new restaurants in New York City, you’ve probably already seen dozens of photos of the salmon en croûte from Chef Markus Glocker’s hit restaurant, Koloman.
An Austria native, Chef Markus has been a darling of the New York City food scene since the West Village gem, Bâtard, became an overnight success almost a decade ago, garnering a Michelin star every year it was open, and winning the coveted ‘Best New Restaurant’ category at the 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards.
In the years since leaving the now-shuttered Bâtard, Chef Markus spent time consulting and cooking for popular New York restaurants largely within the hospitality space. (Read: restaurants within hotels.)
After spending his childhood and teen years working in his family’s hotel restaurant in Austria, Chef Markus made his way through top-tier hotel kitchens in Munich, Berlin, Vienna and London. Once he landed at Charlie Trotter’s eponymous restaurant in Chicago, he felt he had found his place in the less-rigid American dining scene. It wasn’t long before he was running the show at Gordon Ramsay at The London hotel in New York and on the precipice of opening Bâtard.
Chef Markus’s most recent endeavor, located in NoMad’s ACE Hotel (in the space once occupied by April Bloomfield’s The Breslin), has barely been open a year and is already one of the city’s hardest-to-snag reservations. A glowing three-star review from Pete Wells in The New York Times last fall certainly did nothing to dissuade diners from flocking to the Parisian-Viennese hot spot.
Chef Markus recently stopped by ICE’s New York City campus to chat with ICE’s Executive Director of Industry Relations, Rick Camac, and impart some hard-earned wisdom to the next generation of culinary and hospitality professionals. Here are five takeaways from his visit.
Be Clear and Consistent
Whether it’s in the food on the plate, or managing your team, the key to smooth service is everyone knowing who is responsible for what, and respecting the system you set in place. According to Chef Markus, it starts with being very careful in hiring.
“First, be present when hiring, and only hire people [that you would want] if you were never able to fire them — if you do that, you’re going to have a chance to get the right person at the right station,” he says.
From there, he suggests letting people do their jobs.
For Chef Markus, that means respecting the management system you put in place. His sous chef or chef de cuisine have their own checklists, just like line cooks have a prep list each morning. This also includes pre-checking all the mise en place for that evening’s service.
”If there's something wrong…I actually go to my sous chefs and say, 'Did you check this?' And that's the way to manage…If you manage correctly, and you follow the steps, there are a lot of mistakes you can avoid during service,” Chef Markus says.
Understand Your Financials
While a passion and talent for cooking are the more celebrated elements of being a professional chef, it’s the business acumen that truly makes or breaks a career. Chef Markus credits the accountants from his first executive chef position with sitting him down and helping him actually understand a profit and loss statement (P&L).
“I'm very thankful still to this day that they did it because otherwise, I would not be in this place right now,” he says. “[Keeping a restaurant financially sound] while still preserving the quality of food and quality of service. That's the game.”
This mentality is why Chef Markus continues to have monthly, weekly and daily calls with his team to review financials.
“When you know your menu and your revenues and your costs in general, you take those numbers and you put it in real-time,” he says. “What’s the actual weight of that beef tenderloin? The ‘real time’ is the prep cook downstairs, unsupervised, that’s actually cutting 50 grams more out of it than we allotted for.”
Want to learn how to read a P&L? Find out more about ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program
Know Your Brand
Once good food and solid financials are covered, you still have to answer the question “What is this restaurant about?”
According to Chef Markus, this is where branding comes in, especially for Koloman.
“To position a restaurant which is inspired by 1890 to 1923 can easily be stuffy," he says. "To make that cool, and fun and ‘now’ was the exercise. And I think we did a good job.”
For Koloman's success in this area, Chef Markus credits:
- A branding team that keeps a strict social media posting calendar
- A consistent online presence (including using the same person to style and shoot every Instagram photo, and another who writes every caption)
- Choosing the perfect music (House for dinner and French for lunch service)
- A dining room design that was “old school but rough around the edges” to give a more laid-back vibe
For Chef Markus, branding goes beyond aesthetics and is carried onto the menu itself.
“I have a French-Austrian restaurant and I have soy sauce on the menu, but I don't have soy sauce mentioned on the menu,” he explains. “You can do anything in the kitchen as long as you're going to package it correctly.”
He elaborates that while soy sauce may not be a traditional ingredient for European cooking, the techniques and dishes are all based on Parisian-Viennese classics, and at the end of the day, that’s the brand consistency that matters.
Utilize your Business Partner
A common conception is that many chefs have a love-hate relationship with their business partners. That's not the case for Chef Markus. He has a great appreciation for the knowledge his partners have and believes their guidance has helped him navigate the famously tumultuous waters of opening restaurants in New York City.
Chef Markus harkened back to his first business partner, renowned restaurateur Drew Nierporent, insisting they include schnitzel on Bâtard’s dinner menu.
“I thought, ‘Do I really want to be known for the best schnitzel in America? No.’ I didn’t want to do the dish but Drew said ‘We’re doing the dish,’ and on the first night, 50% of the main courses ordered were schnitzel,” he says.
Beyond knowing the general New York dining audience, the important role food writers and critics play cannot be overstated when it comes to getting the town to talk about your restaurant.
Chef Markus ascribes to the old adage: “The first review sets the tone, and if that review is bad people just piggyback [off] that.”
Knowing how to impress those setting that tone is something Chef Markus takes seriously, using everything at his disposal to succeed, and relying on his partners and colleagues. He cites his current Beverage Director, Katja Scharnagl (formerly of Le Bernardin) as being hugely helpful in identifying writers in the dining room, while he keeps an eye out from the open-format kitchen.
Whether it’s knowing it’s time for you to take a break, or following that feeling that it's time to move to the next level professionally, Chef Markus took a clear stance on the importance of trusting yourself. He reflects on his time running the kitchens at Gordon Ramsay at The London as his moment of clarity.
“I was running a two-Michelin-starred dining room, a casual restaurant, 670 rooms worth of room service plus banquets…it was the 2008 financial crisis and I was worried about my visa being revoked, having to go back home, all these things come in your head and you burn out,” he says. “Just say Stop. Done. Take a break. Re-focus. That’s it. There’s nothing else you can do. If you just keep going, it’s going to get worse and worse.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is trusting yourself when you know it’s time to take things to the next level.
When asked if there was anything in his career he would do differently, Chef Markus didn’t hesitate in his answer.
“I would pull the trigger earlier on opening a restaurant," he says. "I do think it’s honorable to say you’re never ready, and you always have more to learn…But there comes a point where you have to ask yourself ‘Is this still benefiting me? Or should I do my own thing?”
Chef Markus knew he was putting his heart and soul into the restaurants he worked in as if they were his own, which is what ultimately led him to open his own place.
“I had a sense of ownership without actually having ownership. If you’re working the fish station at Gordon Ramsay and there’s a bad review, I take it as personally as Gordon would have…So ownership was always a very important thing for me, and owning in New York City,” Chef Markus says.
Because in Chef’s words: “Don’t we all want to open a restaurant in New York? Isn’t that the goal?... New York is New York. That’s it.”
Image of Markus Glocker by Nick Johnson.