Corporate Chefs Scale Back to Renew and Refresh

It’s uncommonly quiet in the CVI kitchen, even though there are a dozen or so chefs hard at work ─ heads down, toques up. They are concentrating as they each prepare a dish and a dessert to impress the chef who has mentored them over the past two days ─ Chef Jérôme Lacressonnière.

Chef Jérôme is Executive Chef Director of DUCASSE Conseil, the consulting arm of DUCASSE Paris. “I want them to dream,” Chef Jérôme said. “To make them dream and to see how far we can go.”

His pupils are corporate chefs representing Elior North America, a contract food service management and catering company with businesses throughout the country. The daily grind of the corporate cooking environment can wear on a chef’s love for the craft, so Elior’s two-day Team Building event was meant to help reignite passion for their culinary art.

“They’re going from twelve hundred people, to cook for only three people today,” Chef Jérôme said. “Nobody called them to say tomorrow we have a party of two hundred people. So we just focus on our messages and the food. It’s a retreat here.”

Inspiration All Around

Chef Jérôme said touring the fields and greenhouses at The Chef’s Garden provided plenty to dream about.

“When I first arrived, oh my god!” he said. “I was so impressed. I was really inspired.” He was so inspired, in fact, that he changed some of the recipes he had planned for the week based on vegetables he saw growing in the hot Ohio sunshine. The team collaborated on other recipes as well.

“Wherever you are in the world, you look at what you have in the field,” Chef Jérôme said. “You need to get inspired about what you have around you, by the nature. So this is the right place to be, because we can get inspired by the produce. And farm to table is really our purpose of cooking for any guest.”

Elior Chef Paul Basciano said Chef Jérôme’s excitement about being on the farm and at the CVI quickly spread to the group. “You should have seen Chef Jérôme,” he said. “We got to go out there and see him so inspired. They say passion is contagious, right? To see someone like that who’s got so much experience in the restaurants he runs all over the world to get so inspired, so happy about what he was doing, and being here ─ it’s contagious.”

Guy Kellner, Elior Senior Vice President of Culinary, was particularly enamored with the CVI’s front gardens. “You can go out, cut some lettuces and make them for lunch,” he said, rolling balls of falafel between his hands. “Even when you go to farmer’s markets, it’s 24, 48 hours. Here it’s 24 minutes.”

Having immediate access to superior, farm fresh ingredients is something many people will never experience, he said.

“People go to the supermarket and they see a great looking apple, and they think that’s a great apple,” Guy said. “So we need to establish what great is. Supermarkets have done just the opposite. Supermarkets have educated on what looks great, not on what great is. So that is fundamentally something very special here.”

The chef said that learning from Farmer Lee Jones about the downsides of genetically modified produce was a wakeup call.

“That is something that most Americans don’t understand,” Guy said. “We now understand it better because he explained it to us. The concept of not genetically modifying anything, and therefore raising our kids with better nutrition, that is fundamentally what I think has happened here this week. We all understand it’s not good, but I don’t think I really understood why. The story of genetically modified produce, and the story of why farmers have done it and why we shouldn’t do it, that really resonated with me.”

Back to Basics

For much of their stay, the chefs were applying what they’d learned from Chef Jérôme philosophically, as well as practically.

“Chef Jérôme graciously came for the stay, for us to come in and train with him reviewing different kinds of techniques ─ foundational cooking techniques,” said Chef Paul. “We’re revisiting some things that some of us haven’t done in quite some time.”

Establishing consistency within the businesses under the Elior umbrella was another goal of the training, according to Guy. He said the retreat was a good opportunity to touch base on the basics.

“It’s to create a similar platform of basic knowledge,” Guy said. “So when we say we’re going to roast something, we all mean the same thing. When we say sous vide, we are all going to mean the same thing. And it doesn’t mean that everybody does it the same, but in culinary it’s very important that the basics are done correctly.”

Constructive Criticism and Connections

Presenting the chefs with a challenge was a way to put those techniques to the test, according to Chef Jérôme.

“Based on the techniques that I’ve shown them, they have to cook by themselves based on all that we did the past two days. What’s the message they want to give me?” he said. “It’s for them to improve their cooking and have some improvement, and to be criticized, but in a good way. We never get the chance to be challenged. So it’s good for them to go back to the roots.”

“We have shared knowledges, recipes and techniques,” he continued. “We saw peaches. We saw tomatoes. We saw zucchini. You know, seasonal vegetables. And cherries, very nice. I want to see presentation and techniques, taste, seasoning. I think it’s the best way to see what they learned.”

 “I hope they apply some of the techniques ─ take your time, be aware of the details, check the seasoning, make sure it’s hot, make sure it’s cold ─ small details, but details make a difference.”

More than anything, Chef Jérôme said he hopes the chefs experience joy in the kitchen.

“They have to enjoy it,” he said. “They have to show the emotion. If they enjoy it themselves, they will give pleasure to the customers. This is my point. I’m not here to tell them you should do that, you should do that, you should do that. I just want them to get inspired by the place here at the Culinary Vegetable Institute.” 

For Chef Paul Basciano, camaraderie and connections were a welcome side benefit of the CVI experience.

“We take inspiration from each other, and we don’t often get to hang around together and cook,” Chef Paul said. “When we are together it’s usually business functions. It’s usually a very large catering function, or its business oriented and the focus is not on us just getting together and cooking. So it’s been really good for us to connect on a personal level, get to know each other a little bit better, and kind of hang around and become work friends. So, we decided that we wanted to bring everybody together for a few days.”

Choosing the CVI for their team retreat was a no-brainer, according to Chef Paul.

“It’s the best decision we could have made,” he said. “This was always on a bucket list for me. Thankfully I had a pretty large say in where we were going, so we made a couple of enquiries. And the team here was so great. They were so quick to respond and so accommodating that they made it very, very easy for us to decide to come here. It’s been amazing.”

(Click here to learn more about DUCASSE Conseil.)