ER: I used to be a very authoritative chef — a young, borderline violent dictator. Very intolerant, insulting my cooks, screaming in the kitchen, breaking china. But I wasn’t happy and my team wasn’t happy. In 2000, I started to contemplate what had gone on in my career. I was losing a lot of employees and was confused. So I decided to change the way we manage people. I realized that you couldn’t be happy if you had anger. It’s a very simple thought. But it helped me decide to not be abusive any longer. We decided to change.
But how did you manage to transmit that to your staff?
ER: It took me a long time to pass that to my cooks — there was a lot of resilience. I couldn’t yell at someone for yelling, so I had to be very patient and explain that yelling is not good. First of all, you’re not happy. Second, the cook you just yelled at is scared. Third, the team isn’t happy. And it creates an ambiance in the kitchen which is not productive. I want a peaceful environment. It took us a while, but today we have arrived at a certain level of management where the team is happy to be together and work together, and it stays that way even at our busiest times. The chefs don’t yell and scream, and there is no drama.
Sometimes we have lapses. It’s not like every day is joyful. But when we have a bad day, we recognize it and try to compensate for the mistake and move on. Sometimes a guy will flip.
Do you ever flip?
ER: The other day I said something mean to a sous chef. I didn’t really scream, but I knew I got him. I regretted it, apologized, and that was that.
But I notice the success in the turnover. People will stay, even line cooks, for three years. They feel that they are part of the experiment, and they realize that you can do good food, under pressure, without being an asshole.
Go figure that.