FSR's parent company Food News Media hosted three panels at the NRA Show, held May 17-20 at McCormick Place in Chicago. The topics covered involved James Beard Award-winning chefs, discussions about craft cocktails and beverages, talk of fine-dining chefs heading into the fast-casual waters, and more. Here's a run down:
FSR panel: Chefs Changing the World
This panel on Saturday, hosted by FSR editor Connie Gentry, discussed how to create a strong culture in the kitchen and the benefits of working with people from troubled backgrounds. It included panelists Mindy Segal, the owner of Chicago's HotChocolate concept and winner of the James Beard award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012; Zack Sklar, owner of catering company Cutting Edge Cuisine and Peas and Carrots Hospitality in Detroit; and Paul LeBeau, director of external relations for Chicago's Community Kitchens.
The focus of the panel was how chefs and restaurant owners can hire from underprivileged populations, such as people who have been incarcerated. LeBeau explained how Chicago's Community Kitchens has a 14-week program that rehabilitates previously troubled people by teaching them how to cook in kitchens. The program has been successful; Chef Segal has brought in several graduates of the CCK's program to work in her kitchen as interns, and a few have even been hired full-time.
Chef Sklar spoke about how important it is to create a culture of transparency in a restaurant. When interviewing prospective candidates, Chef Sklar encourages them to come clean about their histories and habits. "I ask, is there anything you want me to know now, that you don't want me to find out about later?" he said. Knowing ahead of time, he said, prepares him for the future and institutes a relationship built on honest communication between himself and his employees.
Both Chefs Sklar and Segal agreed that it is extremely important for chefs and restaurant owners to be kind and giving to their employees—to the point that Chef Segal will let her employees borrow her car if they need it. "How can you expect your employees to be hospitable to your guests, if you're not hospitable to them in the first place?" Chef Sklar said.
QSR Panel: From Fine To Fast: High-Profile Chefs Make Their Mark On Fast Casual
On Sunday, QSR editor Sam Oches hosted a panel about why fine-dining chefs are shifting into the fast-casual space and what impact it is having on the quick-service industry.
Panelists were Jeremy Barlow, a fine-dining chef who opened Tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar in Nashville in 2004 and in 2011 switched gears to open sandwich shop Sloco; Rick Bayless, the winner of Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" and chef/owner of three restaurants in Chicago: four-star Topolobampo, casual Frontera Grill, and fast-casual Xoco; and Alfredo Sandoval, a partner in Mercadito Hospitality Group, which operates full-service restaurants and will open its first fast-casual concept, Mercadito Counter, this year.
By bringing fine-dining mentalities to fast casual, Chef Bayless said, chefs are reminding restaurants that it is possible to cook good food in a short amount of time. "“Where quick-service went wrong is when the people involved in it decided to dumb it down," he said, adding that some quick-service staff doesn't get training beyond dipping potato strips into the fryer.
Chef Barlow spoke about how useful it is to have a lower price point for the quality of food he wants to create. “What those techniques have done in limited service is allowed me to use the food that I use at the price points I need," he said, speaking on how he learned to use all parts of an animal while working in fine-dining kitchens.
Food News Media Panel: How To Take Your Craft Program From Ordinary To Extraordinary Wine, Spirits And Beer
Food News Media group publisher Greg Sanders hosted a panel that examined the usage of "craft" beverages, their growth among operators and popularity among drinkers, and why craft is important for restaurateurs to wrap their heads around.
Panelists were Maeve Webster, the senior director of Datassential; Tad Carducci, co-founder of Tippling Bros. LLC Consulting and a Mercadito Hospitaliy partner; and Steve McDonagh, who makes up one half of The Hearty Boys catering company in Chicago and SpritzBurger restaurant.
Webster gave a 10-minute presentation about the growth of craft, highlighting how consumers believe the trend is a long-term one, but operators do not. While craft beer has penetrated the consciousness of drinkers by more than 50%, terms such as craft cocktails have yet to do so. On the horizon, Webster says, there may even be craft wine.
McDonagh spoke of how adding craft cocktails to his operations has encouraged consumers to order a course they typically would not. He said his guests will now often order a craft cocktail to start the meal, before even deciding on food, representing an extra $11 per ticket that was previously unexplored by the restaurant.