All the hype is about the chef–creative tyrants who singlehandedly dream up and then harass a hot kitchen-full of helpers into assisting them whip up amazing dishes before your very eyes with such charismatic flair that they become full-blown Hollywood stars with personality cults and cookbooks all their own.
French legend and the Food Channel has made it so.
But of course it’s a big lie.
The chef is the chief, yes, but a restaurant kitchen is totally an ensemble effort.
A really great chef gathers a team of talented people, encourages their individual creativity, earns their respect and loyalty and depends on their reliability and judgment to produce excellent food night after night. After night.
This can take years to reach its potential pinnacle of excellence.
But Chef Gavin Baker’s Mist: Salt Lake project requires him to build such a team in a matter of weeks and months.
How is he doing it? Jump with me and see:
Having looked through the portfolio of Tricia Layton, a student in her final semester at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City, Chef Gavin was impressed with the level of cookery being taught at the school. Once Tricia heard about the project, she started spreading the word among the top students and before long Gavin had selected several young chefs from the top ranks of the Art Institute of Salt Lake City’s culinary school.
To find a pastry chef, he placed an irresistible ad on craigslist–“ looking for an extremely talented pastry chef willing to work for very little pay to make the most amazing pastries Salt Lake City has ever seen.”
A crazy bold move, right?
He was flooded with applicants.
In the end, choosing passion over skill as the most essential requirement, here’s the team he ended up with:
Katie Weinner – head development chef
Tricia Layton – entremetier
Jennifer Krysten – garde manger
Mike Burtis - saucier
Ryan Murray – poissonier, rotisseur
Colin McSherry - sous chef
Rebecca Millican – head pastry chef/chocolate expert
Andy Manchester – pastry sous chef/sugar expert
Of course, these are all people with day jobs, so chef training and menu development at Mist: Salt Lake is as unconventional as the rest of the project.
Especially considering that the guerrilla restaurant doesn’t physically exist yet–the test kitchen and resource library ( his collection of cookbooks) is in Gavin’s house.
The chefs volunteer as much free time as they possibly can and work with Chef Gavin in the evenings and on weekends. Mist:SaltLake’s saucier, Mike Burtis, spends 8 to10 hours a day each Saturday and Sunday training with Chef Gavin in the test kitchen. Others work from home and connect via Chef Gavin’s “Chef’s Forum” on Facebook (this is a private group that was created as a venue for Mist’s team to connect through, share information and images).
Each weekend the Mist:SaltLake chefs gather at the test kitchen to test recipes, do tastings and train together. From those tastings, adjustments are made and the chefs then return to the test kitchen to continue the process.
Each dish takes approximately 6-8 tastings and weeks of refinement before being “signed off” on by Chef Gavin. Then its prep must be practiced to ensure consistency.
Multiply this process times 15–the number of courses to be served at Mist:Salt Lake–and you get an idea of the mountain behind the mist.