"Flight attendants please prepare for departure." Another week in the books. This time of year is especially exhausting as hundreds of higher education campuses welcome back students. For me, we're closing out a three-week travel schedule consisting of 14 cities training several thousand culinary & hospitality employees. This year marks my twentieth year in the industry; you’d think it would be second-nature by now. The truth is, every year is different and this year is by far the most exciting. This year I'm leading the culinary team of a brand new organization.
I've spent a fair amount of time lately considering what's going on in our food landscape. This introduction to the National Geographic series of Investigating the Future of Food
We are amidst an incredible culinary renaissance where we are radically redefining our cultural relationship with food. We haven't seen as a dynamic shift in the food landscape since the mid to late 1950's industrialization of our food system. Ironically, we are fundamentally unraveling these industrialized developments and once more fully engaging clean, wholesome, fresh ingredients.
Throughout my time in the hospitality industry, food as an ingredient is not the only transformation. We have fundamentally seen a change in the role of chef. The Executive Chef is the rock star of today, not just a cook proficient in technique and flavor development, but an educator, environmental steward, wellness advocate, leader, scientist, and innovator. I am passionate to be a part of leading our culinary revolution. As a Chef, I am focused on three key fundamentals: ingredient transparency, artisan small-batch preparation, and continuous menu innovation.
I can’t think of a better time to be a chef!
...but as as exciting as it is working in the “industry” today, we also bear some significant responsibilities. Why? What’s the future of food?
How to do you lead in the food industry today?
My experience? There are two camps. The first: the group that doesn’t consider themselves leaders. They’ve never stopped to ponder it. These people just know food. They don’t know anything about the food industry, the food system or food service. The second: the group that knows everything about it (or think they do.) Usually, this group drones on about insights, consumers, and innovation. They know all about what today’s consumer wants. Sadly they couldn’t cook to save their lives and they're clueless about the fact that consumers buy toaster ovens and mattresses. Guests dine at restaurants.
It is this divide that used to separate the restaurant kitchen from the institutional kitchen. The reality today is that line is becoming blurred. One cannot exist without the other.
What we need now is a third group. A blend of both. A group of CHEFS that are proficient practitioners of the craft of culinary arts educated in the larger impact of food on our planet. This elite but growing group includes chefs like José Andrés, Dan Barber of any of the other 11 Chefs Changing the Food System.
I said earlier we really are in a culinary revolution. Food is NOT a product. It shouldn’t come in a foil bag or a plastic bottle. Food is an experience. In growing, preparing, cooking, serving and enjoying. Food without experience is just fuel. The world's expectations about food is changing. The food service industry is dying. We’ve left the old model of the cafeteria “scoop and plop” in the rear view and embraced a new era of hospitality. That's a tall order. For me, one of my responsibilities is to take the lunch-lady of yesterday and transform her into the restauranteur of tomorrow.
The best way I know how to tell that story of hospitality evolution is through the words of an eleven-year-old:
Ladies and gentlemen at the time of this recording Birke was eleven years old. Recorded in 2010, that makes Birke around 18. Let me introduce you to the next member of our freshmen class. THIS is our customer. Studies show that 69% of his peer group -Generation Z, cares about the same things Birke does.
I've always defined hospitality as anticipating the needs of our Guests and exceeding their expectations. Our Guest is changing. Their expectations are changing. It's time for leaders. Leaders who deliver culinary experiences. Leaders who understand food and the impact it has on the world. Leaders with the ability, energy and drive to elevate our cultural relationship with food to new heights; transforming food to better our bodies through health and wellness and improve our impact on our environment by becoming better stewards to the planet.
At our schools, when we serve our Guests, we are stewards of our client's brand -a challenge we take incredibly seriously and requires discipline and leadership. We are passionate about serving you and exceeding your expectations.