Lessons 71-96: Life Imitating School

Hello, August!

August means that we have passed the halfway mark of the Culinary Management Program. The funny part about this program is that I think it mirrors my life a little too closely. When I started my current job, I was challenged to find local purveyors for most of my products. When it comes to chocolate, this was a real challenge. Then John Schaffenberger came to speak to the class about his experiences in the food industry and his most famous business venture — Scharffen Berger chocolates. He brought up a very interesting point — when it comes to chocolate, you really want something that tastes good. For example, when it comes to Fair Trade, even if something claims to be fair, you don’t know what the realities really are unless you visit the farms. Also, Fair Trade is an idea and he said that you can’t eat an idea and expect it to taste good. When you’re in the food industry, there is a very fine balance between following idea trends, but also maintaining the integrity of taste.

Then I had to calculate food costs for all of my baked goods at Smith Canteen at the same time that we were being tested on purchasing and calculating food costs in class. While I discovered my food costs were mainly in the teens (when your main ingredients are flour, sugar, and eggs, it’s not surprising that it’s so low), I began to question how bakeries aren’t more profitable! The more I thought about it, even with a food cost that’s 19% — if it only costs you $0.19 to make a chocolate chip cookie that you will sell at $1 — you will have to bake and sell at least 25 cookies just to make $20. This $20 is going to be used for several other costs like labor, rent, and insurance. You’re going to have to sell lots of cookies! We also talked about culinary management styles and leadership. This led to a conversation about hiring. A few weeks ago, I had put out my first ad looking for help. It took me days to figure out how to word what I wanted to say as concisely as possible and to determine what type of person I was looking for. After posting, resumes started trickling in.

Then I sifted through all the resumes, figured out who I would like to meet and started calling people in to interview. Simon has a lot of experience in this area from his former career as a legal recruiter, so we used our two different styles to draw out different elements from our interviewees. I just wish that we had gone over interviewing 101 and practiced our test interviews before I actually had to do it in real life! In class, we talked about training and ongoing management. Julia showed us an interesting video (also available in live animation version) by Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation and the importance of autonomy. I sent the video out to several other people, including my brother with whom I have held several conversations about our own dissatisfaction at our previous jobs and feeling like we were at a job, and not on a career path where we had autonomy and growth opportunities. Daniel Pink vocalized our opinions and it helped me think about what will motivate myself and those around me to be better at what we do.

Over the past few weeks, we covered a lot of other ground — with field trips and testing out new things in class. We went to Daniel and met with Staci Chen in the events department and the General Manager, Pierre Siue. We saw the gigantic kitchen, which spans 3 floors, and talked about what diners experience when they go to Daniel. We also had a guest speaker presentation by Charlie from OpenTable. She offered an extremely comprehensive presentation about the movements that led to OpenTable’s creation, and the future of restaurants and the internet. She also talked about all of the features of her company and while I have been a user for over five years, I had no idea what happened on the other end once I made my reservation. OpenTable is much more comprehensive than I had ever imagined. So, we are starting to meet with Chef Ted to learn more about yield and food costs as he uses his butchering skills to demonstrate where we can make money and where we are throwing out money. There are more butchering lessons to come and while it’s not for the squeamish, he’s teaching us a very valuable lesson.

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