Chef Beverly Kim Clark was recently named the chef de cuisine for aria restaurant, aria bar and eno wine room at the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park, and considering her background it’s no surprise.
Clark has worked as a line cook for the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, and at Charlie Trotter’s.
After graduating from Kendall College in Chicago with an associate degree in culinary arts, Clark worked at three of the city’s restaurants: Red Light under the notable Chef Jackie Shen, Opera and Takashi.
It was what happened next that was surprising. Clark’s next step on the career ladder took her to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she worked as a kitchen supervisor at Whole Foods and a consultant at Lucky John Market.
Restaurant Management talks to Clark about the two food fields she’s worked in—fine dining and grocery stores—and how the two are different—and similar.
Why did you choose to move into grocery stores?
At Whole Foods I was a kitchen supervisor. I chose this change in career paths for a while because I was pregnant, so I realized I needed to make a move. I was always intrigued and wanted to work for a company that believed in whole foods and natural and organic foods and farming, and promoted local farmers.
For me, it wasn’t just to help me through having my child and in the first year of his life, but I also grew a lot in understanding that other aspect of the food world. A lot of people—myself included—rely heavily on prepared foods but I’m interested in the ones that are not heavily processed, don’t include a lot of hormones, etc.
I also worked with my husband’s family at Lucky John Market, a market with a small restaurant in the back. I wanted to learn how a small business ran and I wanted to make an impact on my neighborhood.
We were bringing back the neighborhood grocery store and I feel that people want this. It was such a joy and it shows influences on my menu today in choosing local, seasonal ingredients.
What experience did you get at the two stores?
I was there for about two years. Lucky John’s was a really great experience for me. We went to a farm and hand picked our vegetables. It really gave me the satisfaction and the understanding of where our food comes from. You could tell the difference in quality like night and day.
We got cheeses from our local cheese maker. We sourced a Kentucky soy sauce. It’s the only small batch soy sauce I know of in the country—they age it in bourbon barrels and I’m working on getting it into the Fairmont.
It was primarily a vegetarian menu because we wanted to promote using more vegetables and trying to influence what’s happening in the food world, where you have more of a healthy choice, and the impact of eating less meat has on the environment.
At Whole Foods I learned how to prepare and create menus for hot bars and displays, keeping healthy options of cooking in mind.
What did you learn from your time with the two stores?
I learned a lot in terms of picking the right produce and what I bring into the restaurant. We’ll be going to the farmers’ market [in Chicago] as soon as it opens, and sourcing many of our ingredients. That’s very similar to what we were doing at Lucky John.
It really brought me home to the farmers and knowing that people want to eat things that are fresher and are local and don’t have pesticides. Whole Foods has done a lot right and I believe Fairmont does a lot the same—to make our customers happy and to support eco friendly ways of doing business.
At Whole Foods I learned how a successful company should work—their core values are really great. It’s about taking care of your own employees’ happiness, your customer’s happiness, the environment, giving back to your community, educating ourselves about healthy eating, using natural ingredients. These are values that I will carry into Fairmont and they will be reflected in all aspects of aria.
Did working in grocery stores make you realize more about what the consumer wants?
Absolutely. You are face to face with the customers. I saw so many different kinds of diets out there, but mostly I saw a lot of vegan and vegetarian. You’ll see that coming up a lot on my menu because I’m very conscious and aware of that.
I want to have a lot of variety on my menu. There are a lot of people out there who have made the decision to be vegan or vegetarian and people who don’t eat gluten or transfats or who eat macrobiotic foods.
Consumers are definitely aware of where their food’s coming from.
I knew it was out there but I didn’t realize it had reached the masses. It made me realize we can’t underestimate our customers. We need to give them the best. Your food had better be what you say it is.
What’s the difference between feeding people in a grocery store and in a restaurant?
When you come to a restaurant you still want a bit of a show whereas at Whole Foods you still want a little of the comfort level. You want to be a bit of an artist in a restaurant and people want to see that. But they’re very interconnected.
I had a new perspective with customer needs while working in the grocery store because I was able to work closely with them.
On the other hand the discipline of the restaurant field has given me the speed and the multi tasking capabilities and the creativity.