I chose New York because I have always wanted to learn about Manhattan’s cosmopolitan food and vibrant culture but have lacked the resources to visit beyond a weekend. Per Se was my first choice of properties because of Chef Thomas Keller... I am delighted with all the new information and experiences I have to share with my students, from the log of all the places I ate, my impressions of Manhattan in my month of living there and of course the incredibly educational and life-changing time in the Commis Kitchen.
My internship experience itself was extraordinarily educationally rich, steeped in collaboration, focus, attention to detail and esprit de corps. Every day was extremely challenging but the rewards were equally remarkable as I had the opportunity to work on a team of unparalleled professionals who were incredibly generous, knowledgeable, and hardworking, helping me to maintain the highest professional expectations of my life. I also grew to understand how the procedures and policies of Per Se create an atmosphere that demands the food, technique and the facility itself be treated with the utmost respect.
I came to understand the power of “three star expectations” and their impact on team performance as well as the supreme importance of demonstrating exactly what those expectations should look like. Under such a system, mentees are able to produce beyond their own understanding of their abilities at a speed they didn’t think possible. One of my fellow commis voiced a reaction that I had also experienced when he pointed to his pasta and said, “I didn’t know I could do that. Look how beautiful they are.” This is a feeling I very much hope to replicate in my class. My work in the commis kitchen also heightened my attention to detail and ability to maintain focus to an exponential degree... I want my students to take that same responsibility for their own work. From Chef Eli I saw the power of courtesy and respect and have integrated the rule that everyone should be personally greeted every day. My students enjoy our ‘fist bump moments’ after daily line up and I feel it is building a sense of community and mutual respect for us the same as it does at Per Se. I also learned from him to create procedures that support the values of the kitchen. For that to be successful, however, I also saw how Chef Eli’s constant and meticulous verification gave those procedures the traction they needed to be effective in building the culture supported by the procedures. Just as in the classroom, standards are meaningless if not enforced and one of the most striking successes of Chef’s kitchen is the personal responsibility for the procedures that each team member carries with them every day. I also learned from my experience that while TKRG is designed to serve guests at a world-class level, it also has the structure of an incredible training program that constantly sharpens its already extremely skilled and knowledgeable chefs. Using the old-fashioned power of the brigade along with a modern peer mentoring program and the latest three star expectations, the TKRG whet stone produces not only better chefs for the properties in the group but also for the world. One chef remarked, “I thought I knew how to quenelle, then I came here and now I know how to quenelle.” One day he will take those skills as well as the organizational procedures and a respect for food, colleagues and the workplace out into the greater marketplace and teach it to his staff, just as Escoffier’s chefs did a century ago. What sharpens a knife? Grinding against a stone that is harder than steel.
Photos from Lincoln's stage: