Criteria for deciding which chefs to invite is determined by what De Baets describes as a “culinary rating team comprised of people from all walks of life.” It tries to balance out choosing “classical chefs with the up and coming, rock ‘n roll independent chefs,” he says.
Why would chefs disrupt their restaurant and transport one or two staff members to New York to cook? De Baets says several factors motivate them, including: “They want to be part of an experience, part of a project, part of a trend to cook in the most influential city in the world. You get to cook for celebrities and relevant people,” he says. While staying in New York, the chefs often dine at the city’s most celebrated cafes, which inspire them as well.
When Didier Elena, the culinary director of Chefs Club, dined at Eventide Oyster Company in Portland, Maine, one summer, he suggested to owner and co-chef Mike Wiley that he participate in Chefs Club. After hearing several positives from a fellow chef, Wiley agreed and brought down a sous chef and chef du cuisine to New York in January 2017 to cook for two nights.
Wiley called the team at Chefs Club “very professional and organized.” Though he’s cooked several times in Boston, Wiley says that cooking in New York—“the big city”—is different. “It was a shot in the arm for my staff as well,” he says. “It was good to feel like we connected with New Yorkers.”
All of Wiley’s team’s hotel and parking costs were covered, as were his food costs. And the trio got to dine at a New York eatery, which was energizing as well.
Chefs Club reimburses chef’s travel and lodging expenses, which may include one or two associates. And when chefs provide their recipes for prepared meals, they are compensated by a minimum guarantee or percentage of sales, whichever is greater.
Some chefs also prepare meals in its private dining rooms. Some guests “wanted food from a particular chef,” he says.
Marketing wise, Chefs Club has done no formal advertising but has been relying on word-of-mouth to generate interest. “The chef community is well aware of Chefs Club experience,” he says. In fact, the low-keyed marketing fits the brand: “We don’t want to be ostentatious. We believe in quality over quantity,” De Baets says
American chefs and European chefs both cook at Chefs Club and offer recipes, underscoring how U.S.-based culinary skills are catching up to those overseas. “It’s a testament to the level of interest the consumer has currently in U.S. based chefs,” De Baets says.
Sometimes the unexpected happens at Chefs Club. When Jowett Yu, a rising star from Hong Kong’s Ho Lee Fook eatery, spent three nights cooking in New York, chef Alain Ducasse showed up to partake of his food. He had just dined at his place in Hong Kong and wanted to taste Yu’s food again.
But De Baets isn’t content to rest on his laurels. He envisions opening a Chefs Club in London, another in Asia (he had worked in Bangkok for 20 years), and another site or two in the U.S.
Soon there may be more Chefs Club proliferating around the world.