When I was working in Brussels for Chef Eddie Van Maele, he once taught me a very valuable lesson. It was a small kitchen, just a staff of about four, and sometimes he would walk in and catch me without my toque on.
One day, he took me to a two-star Michelin restaurant in town and led me into the kitchen to meet the chef. There, Eddie pointed around the room: everyone was wearing their toques. I realized at that moment that if I was going to take this seriously, I had to dress the part. I also understood that seeing this firsthand was an extremely powerful motivator. It’s important to surround yourself with valuable experiences.
The RW Restaurant Group prides itself on providing opportunities for employees to travel and experience—a valuable education about the food and wine industry. I want my team to see, to touch, to taste, to have that firsthand practicality about why that ingredient with which they are working or that bottle they are serving is so important: to be flown to New York to eat at Le Bernardin, to the West Coast to dine at the French Laundry, or to Brussels to understand the type of cuisine I serve. Knowing who the great chefs are and their specialties, visiting vineyards and talking to winemakers, because this is a networked industry, and nothing beats getting out there and meeting people face-to-face. I want to arm my staff with the confidence to tell a customer in a smart and educated way: “I was just there, touching the soil, picking the grapes, sipping from a barrel in the cellar.” It’s the difference between knowing something and understanding the full picture—and it adds a very different seasoning to the meal: credibility.