My Job Sizzles! Hot Niches For Professional Cooks
By Erika Prafder for Hcareers.com
Looking to spice up your cooking career? Just follow today’s market trends.
Opportunities abound for chefs experienced in the art of healthful cooking—at wellness retreat-centers, destination spas and resorts, and as personal chefs. Those skilled in international fare are sought by high-end hotels and restaurants with specific ethnic menus. Aging citizens continue to seek out quality dining options at assisted living complexes and luxury retirement communities, which opens up even more doors for culinary talent.
If you were born to cook, read on and get inspired by others who have carved out such specialized job paths.
Ron Leese, Dining Services Director
Brightview Senior Living
A career change at age 30 prompted Leese to study at Baltimore International Culinary College. He built up his name at area restaurants and ultimately caught wind of the ‘secret’ retirement community market—currently estimated at $250 billion, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (nic.org).
Today, Leese savors his job pleasing the palates of residents at Brightview, Westminster Ridge, of Westminster, Maryland. The parent company operates 30 communities on the East Coast. He’s invested much of his culinary career here, both for the creative freedom it offers, and his ability to give back.
“In this venue you have the flexibility to put out great food and you’re taking care of the elderly too—it’s a big payoff,” says Leese.
Serving a community of 80-140 occupants, Leese oversees 50 workers in the restaurant-style dining environment, buys and takes inventory for food, designs the nutritionist-supervised menus and ensures his guests’ meals are appetizing and healthful.
“Low-sodium, low-fat entrees, including hand-patted burgers, poached salmon, vegetarian dishes, and fresh fish are the norm, as well as no-sugar added deserts,” says Leese.
With the number of residents in memory-care units growing, “These folks need finger foods and familiar fare,” adds Leese.
The key to success.
To succeed at his role, team-building is key. “It takes all of us to accomplish what we do day-to-day. If we work together, we all triumph. If we fail, we all fail. I teach, develop, train, and constantly talk ‘team.’ When you keep fortifying that spirit, it starts to rise,” says Leese.
Signature events are another aspect of Leese’s job. “We have an antique car show, fiesta, Octoberfest, Casino Night, and fundraisers. Families and the community are invited to enjoy carving, omelet and crepe-to-order stations,” he says.
Listening to Brightview’s customers is critical.
“We work in our residents’ homes. How they’re used to eating their food, their style and particular requests is important. They live here 24/7. Our job affects their lives,” says Leese.
Tips for the trade:
• Creative culinary freedom and working for a ‘social good’ can go hand-in-hand and prove fulfilling.
• Team cooperation and solidarity are core ingredients for leadership success.
• Pay attention to your customers’ wants and needs and adapt to ensure their satisfaction.
• Those hungry for success can earn $49,000 - $70,000. (glassdoor.com)
Laurent Poulain, Executive Chef
The Fairmont Copley Plaza
For French-born and culinary schooled Poulain, running the kitchen at a luxury hotel is a tall order—and a job he traveled the world over to prepare for.
Reared on the excellent cooking of his mom and grandmom, in Normandy, France, Poulain developed an early appreciation for amazing food and the ambition to put his own gastronomic talents to use.
He worked at resorts in Morocco, dishing up staples like lemon chicken with olives and couscous. In Guadeloupe, he discovered new spices and techniques for cooking fish, rice, and beans.
In Boston, he rose through the ranks of fancy hotel restaurants and worked under famed chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. At Ritz Carlton, Poulain honed his management chops and ultimately joined Fairmont in 1996.
Today, Poulain primarily focuses on the hotel’s banquet space, which generates significant revenue. He controls the menus, the hiring, training, scheduling, and buying.
The secret to staying sharp.
To stay sharp, Poulain, ‘Keeps a keen eye on competition and thinks of new things all the time,” he says.
Recently Poulain started the 140 Supper Club, a secret society supper club that meets regularly in a private room for a 5-course dinner with wine pairings.
With tiring 10-12 hour days, “You have to balance your work and home life. I make sure we take two days off weekly to recharge,” says Poulain.
Staying positive is another must.
“Smile, joke with your guys. Whatever happens in my life, I need to forget about it and motivate my team,” says Poulain.
To up-and-comers, “Always over-deliver. Surprise with efficiency and take care of things right away,” Poulain adds.
Above all, loving your job is essential.
“My job is to make people smile. When people compliment and enjoy my food, it’s the biggest reward,” says Poulain.
Tips from the trade:
• Travel and work abroad to gain an edge as a multi-cuisine chef.
• Due your diligence on competitors and think out-of-the-box for fresh revenue and brand-enhancing ideas.
• To shine on the job, anticipate needs and put out fires before they arise.
• Those hungry for success can earn $60,000 - $121,000. (payscale.com)
Justin Macy, Executive Chef
Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa
Food dreams for calorie-counters come true—with Chef Macy at the cooking helm here, in the picturesque desert landscape of Tuscon, Arizona.
Renowned for its high-profile guests and delectable spa cuisine, Macy says the healthy food movement is increasing in popularity.
“Eating real food—so fresh and organic, is a big thing. People are starting to talk about what they’re putting in to their bodies,” says Macy.
At Miraval, 90 percent of all lettuces, watermelon, apples, squashes, and cage-free eggs are harvested locally.
Groomed by his mother and grandmother, both prior chefs at Miraval, Macy received his culinary training here, and in 1999 started as a café cook at age 17.
With a staff of 15 under him in the Miraval kitchen, he oversees breakfast through dinner at the resort’s Cactus Flower Restaurant and personally trains each cook to be self-reliant.
There are no prep cooks, butchers, or Sauciers. Each individual chef is in charge of his/her own meal.
On the forefront of catering to those with food allergies and dietary restrictions, Macy prides himself on accomplishing healthy, mouthwatering edibles, like gluten-free banana bread.
“People go crazy for it,” says Macy.
With so many allergic conditions, “It’s challenging. In a normal restaurant setting, the more cream and rue used—the better. It takes more time to make a dairy or casein-free dish that tastes perfect,” Macy adds.
The creation of inspiring recipes.
Recipe inspiration comes from food magazine photos.
“I flip through and rip out meals to recreate for guests—like one at Le Cirque, but for 2000 calories less,” says Macy. An example of a low-fat condiment triumph is Macy’s Carrot Peanut Butter. “It’s insanely good. Everyone wants to figure out how to make it,” he says.
Macy also gives cooking lessons on-site, including, “Let’s Get Saucy” and “Cocktails in the Kitchen.”
“By taking out the syrups, we make fresh cocktails healthier,” he says.
Being the “class clown” in grade school has helped Macy to grow his team. “I do well at directing orders and then joking or having a drink after work. I’ve earned my respect. We spend 12 hours in a small kitchen together—we’re a family,” he says.
Achieving guest contentment is Macy’s greatest professional pleasure.
“Seeing people enjoy food who don’t normally get to—due to a diagnosis or allergy—is the reward of being here as a chef,” he says.
Tips of the trade:
• If ‘healthy’ is your specialty, try to utilize locally-sourced seasonal, ingredients.
• Challenge yourself each day in the kitchen to cook up dishes that delight the waistline-conscious and allergy-sensitive.
• When running a tight ship, gain and maintain admiration with a focused, yet encouraging and friendly leadership style.
• Those hungry for success can earn $81,000 base. (glassdoor.com)
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