Friday, February 8, 2008

A Panel of Chefs

By The Foodist

One of the benefits to going to the Culinary Institute of America is the fact that the school has so many Alumni and so much respect in the industry that its often the case that numerous demo's, lectures, and panels are given at the school to enhance and inform the educational experience.

Normally I miss out on these events due to my schedule. Most are scheduled at around 2 PM or 9 PM, and being a PM student in restaurant row I'm in class during those hours. But much to my pleasant surprise our Chef treated us to a day free of lecture and had us meet at the lecture theater at the library for a Entrepreneurship lecture.

The panel included Chef/restaurateurs David Burke, Peter X. Kelly, Nick Livanos, and John Piliouras. Some of the most successful and -in David Burkes' case most well known- Chef entrepreneurs.

The panel started with discussion of the changing times and how each got their start. Each member of the panel shared interesting tidbits of info such as "It is best to start in the suburbs with a small restaurant. Reviewers will be kinder."

After the members spoke for a few, the floor was opened up for questions from the students. I had already had 6 or so questions written out and spat out the most pressing one on my mind.

"With the changing economy and shrinking middle class how has that effected privately owned restaurants versus the larger chains? Have you seen, or do you expect a drastic change away from or to your establishments as a result?"

The answer I got kind of surprised me.

Peter Kelly replied "Its something that we as chefs and owners need to pay close attention to, and I think its really the chain restaurants that suffer the hardest during a recession."

David Burke chimed in with "Peter is right in that sense, Most of the clientèle at places like ours aren't going to really be effected by a recession as much as a middle class would. As a result, we will probably see less people going out to say Chilis and more people eating a 8$ Aramark hamburger at work than the pricey meals at chain restaurants."

It was also added that "When you start a restaurant you want to try to be the best, that way you can get that upper class clientèle that will help get through times like this."

Really good advice in all. There were some key parts in the panel that I really picked up on before having to leave to get going in the kitchen.

  • Start Small. Don't try to do a 500 seat restaurant for your first one, its harder to do and takes a lot more capital.
  • Be attentive to detail. Something that's repeated so often, but really on this subject you need to be. One bad day, one bad review if your new can hurt you for months.
  • Take chances. I think it was Nick Livanos who said "Don't be afraid to take a chance. Taking a risk is what this industry is about, but don't do it uninformed."

All in it was a good seminar on what awaits those who still dream of being Chef/Owner of a place. Since I know deep down in side that's my ultimate goal, having the chance to hear these men speak really helped enforce what could be.

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1 comment:

ntsc said...

I've eaten at two of Kelly's resturants. Xaivier's is a 25th aniversary sort of place and I've been there three times now. It is certainly the best food in Rockland county.

We've reservations at Resturant X for a week from Saturday. 27th aniversary, and we probably get there once a year.

We are firmly middle class, unless I lose my job the recession won't change much for us, but what has affected us, and probably many people in Rockland County NY are both the increases in gasoline in the last few years and the drastice increases in property taxes. We used to dine out monthly, perhaps a bit more often, and unless you consider Kelly's resturants as a chain, or Danny Meyer's, we don't eat in chain resturants, avoid fast food and do all of our own cooking. We are looking for good service, good food and don't give me a plastic menu that doesn't change. We've stopped going to one resturant because, while we like his food, it never changes and his servers mostly don't have enough English to get the specials across.