Bruised apples make better pies. One of the cooks at my new resort had been working in the cold kitchen for years. During the handover with my predecessor, I was passed the information that although this cook was great guy and had a fantastic personality, he was on his last leg with the company as he just could not get the job done in a timely manner. By chance one morning, the omelette chef in the show kitchen called in sick and this cook volunteered, maybe even begged, for me to let him stand in, so I did. He nailed it! He was so great with the guests, I kept him there permanently and reviews skyrocketed. It’s important to know your team. Just because someone is not managing their role well does not mean they don’t have value. Take the time to train people and figure out their strength before immediately dismissing them; they could be a great asset to you if you just find them the right fit.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chloe St-Cyr. Chloe St-Cyr is the new executive chef of the luxury, private island resort, Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, BVI. As executive chef, St-Cyr is responsible for managing the kitchen staff in the procurement, production, preparation and presentation of all food service outlets and front of house operations. St-Cyr brings more than 10 years of hospitality experience from six different countries. Prior to joining Scrub Island Resort, St-Cyr was executive chef at Sandy Lane Yacht Club on Canouan in the St. Vincent & Grenadines island chain, where she directed the conception and opening of the island’s exclusive restaurants. St-Cyr’s other experience includes time as a culinary designer and executive chef at the luxury SO Sofitel in Singapore; executive chef at Sandals Negril in Jamaica; interim executive chef at Dhigali in the Maldives; chef de cuisine at Kandolhu in the Maldives; and chef de partie at Hilton Dubai Jumeirah. St-Cyr also held a position as chef at Hilton Worldwide in Dubai, where she apprenticed in seven different kitchens, taking on all roles from basic mise en place to managing the kitchen and service. St-Cyr has a degree in advanced culinary studies and management from École Hôtelière des Laurentides in Quebec, Canada. St-Cyr was the 2015 winner of “Taste New Zealand” in Dubai, the 2015 runner-up for “Young Chef of the Year” in Dubai, and a 2016 finalist at the “Clearwater Shellfish Challenge” in Dubai.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Chloe! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for inviting me to speak!
The simple answer is, I have always been obsessed with food! My road was paved a little differently than it is for most chefs, as I started late. I was at school studying business and stumbled into a part-time job as a waitress in a bistro. I fell in love with the rush of service on my first day, and the intricate world of hospitality, where you never know what’s going to happen next. It was the team in the kitchen that caught my attention straight away and I knew I wanted in. However, convincing a brigade of busy cooks to let me in was a challenge on its own, but eventually they caved and brought me in on my time off. I worked in many places as front of house and always managed to talk my way into trainings. I would clock out of my “real job,” rush to the kitchen and be given bags of potatoes to peel or lettuce to wash. All very mundane tasks, but I never took it for granted. I was just happy to be a small part of the end product; and that’s the big difference with cooking at home versus a professional kitchen; very rarely does someone make a dish from start to finish. The team work and camaraderie that goes into every plate and from there into the air of the kitchen is what had me — the teamwork. After three years of the back and forth, I decided an office job was not for me, and so I signed up for culinary school and worked my way up from there. Now, as executive chef at Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, BVI, I feel I’ve really come into my own!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading in the kitchen?
Honestly my day-to-day is always exciting with at least one new hurdle to clear. I don’t think I have ever had a day that was “boring.” I would say that in a leadership role the one moment that stands out in my mind would be how I got the opportunity to lead. I was working in the Maldives at the time and had been recruited as the “number 2” for a pre-opening resort. In a chain of strange events, the executive chef of the resort that had eight restaurants departed just two months prior to opening. I was left to lead with a blank canvas. I had two months to recruit staff, build menus, order equipment, finalize the layout of the multiple kitchens and every other task that fits in between. I was definitely thrown into the role and made some mistakes along the way, but it was a sink or swim moment in my career and I had no choice but to learn to tread water and make it work. I will always be thankful to the general manager who gave me that opportunity, along with the the rest of the team who taught me along the way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
ORDERING! This is a crucial thing for any chef to learn, but since I have spent most of my career working on remote islands where running to the store to pick up a cup of sugar was not an option, I knew from early on it was a key skill I had to pick up fast. In my first position as a supervisor, being eager to prove myself and to learn the system, I told the executive chef I would order while he was away, pretending I knew exactly what I was doing. For the most part I did okay in regard to quantities, but for one of the vegetable orders, I placed it in kiilograms instead of pounds. So as you can imagine, when we received more than double what I thought we would, I had to come up with a solution! I ran a special vegetarian tasting menu and changed the salad stations to become the centre pieces of the buffets, and it balanced out; so much so that when my chef came back from vacation, he decided that the tasting menu was to stay. I learned two distinct things from the “oops” moment: the first being never pretend you know what you’re doing; your seniors are your seniors for a reason and will help you when you don’t know. The second is, vegetarian food can actually be pretty good!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I am new to the Mainsail Loding & Development Group and have just come back from spending a few days in the Tampa region going through orientation. If there is one thing that stood out about the company as a whole, it is the working culture. Everyone is extremely friendly and engages with people in all positions, no matter the department or level. This is glaringly obvious from the top down, including corporate leadership at the head office down to the housekeepers at each hotel and resort. People are not only friendly, but courteous and casual with one another, and I do believe this is proof of strong leaders who trust and empower their employees.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Currently,I am working on bringing more local produce to the menus. The BVI was hit in September 2017 by Hurricane Irma , which unfortunately destroyed many of the farms down here. That being said, most are back up and thriving. Buying local ingredients will always help build the local economy, which is something I encourage everyone to do.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be present. This is important in so many ways, but unfortunately, many executive chefs choose to stay behind their desks crunching numbers and writing recipes. Those things are crucial, but it is important to be on the floor. Far too many times a problem has been presented to me while at my desk that seemed like an easy fix, however, the second I stepped into the kitchen and focused my attention on the issue at hand, I better understood the root of the problem and could come up with a long-term solution. This shows your team that you care and are involved. Another reason being present is key is that it is the only way to really teach, especially in a trade such as mine. Being present during prep and service lets you as a leader show your team that you have the skill and also have been where they currently are. It also shows that you are always available to not only train, but able and willing to help during the rush. Plus, every kitchen can use an extra pair of hands on their reach for perfection.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
It’s the same advice I would give to someone managing a team of any size: be yourself. It sounds easy, but it’s not. As a female in the industry, you often feel pressured to act a certain way, especially in a kitchen where the vibe is more masculine. However, many people will see past the front you put up. Especially your team, who will respect you more if you are authentic and genuine. If you’re spending time pretending to be something you are not, it’s wasted where you could be focusing on developing yourself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had the chance to work with some amazing role models (too many to name in one story), all of whom have had a hand in shaping me as a chef. However, there was one chef who taught me how not to act! I worked under him for eight months and it was not the ideal situation. This individual was always behind his desk, pretending to be someone he was not and felt as if he was above the staff. He took all the glory for the success of the kitchen team as his own, never recognizing the people who played key roles in the overall success of the executive chef, which are the line staff. From this experience and individual, I learned what kind of leader I did not want to be.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to bring goodness to the world every day! By working with people from all types of backgrounds, most often men, I have had the chance to open minds, change opinions and break standards on what a woman is, as opposed to what is expected. As people, we are all so unique yet similar; gender does not define us. I have met men along the way who have told me they had preconceived notions about females in the kitchens but who now look to recruit equally. I have also met women who have told me they feel more free to be themselves, thanks to having worked with me. It might be a small good that I have done in the world, but it is one that I am proud of.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- People do as you do and not as you say. While in my first executive position, I came to work with my hair down one day (a big “no” in terms of hygiene rules) since it was an office day and I would not be cooking. However, the following day I had to discipline someone for a hygiene violation. The cook himself was respectful and accepted the write-up, but when I brought it to my general manager, he politely pointed out that I had had my hair down the previous day. From that point on I learned that if I was going to enforce rules, I would have to lead by example.
- Information is power, so communication is key. Working in the culinary department of a hotel is very different from working in a standalone restaurant. We not only have to prep for meals, but are tasked with being liaison to many other departments. It’s important for your team to know what is going on in all facets of the hotel to make sure operations run smoothly, so it is your job as a leader to make sure that information is properly communicated.
- Bruised apples make better pies. One of the cooks at my new resort had been working in the cold kitchen for years. During the handover with my predecessor, I was passed the information that although this cook was great guy and had a fantastic personality, he was on his last leg with the company as he just could not get the job done in a timely manner. By chance one morning, the omelette chef in the show kitchen called in sick and this cook volunteered, maybe even begged, for me to let him stand in, so I did. He nailed it! He was so great with the guests, I kept him there permanently and reviews skyrocketed. It’s important to know your team. Just because someone is not managing their role well does not mean they don’t have value. Take the time to train people and figure out their strength before immediately dismissing them; they could be a great asset to you if you just find them the right fit.
- You cannot do it alone. As I mentioned earlier, I fell in love with the kitchen because of the teamwork. As leaders we often take on tasks and forget to delegate. You have a support system built into your team, so use it. The more you delegate, and guide them through the tasks at hand, the more your team will learn and thank you for it.
- Have fun! When I first started leading a small team, I took it far too seriously. I was miserable and lost a lot of my “bubbly personality,” which affected my team in a negative manner. One night during a banqueting function, my number two looked at me and said, “Chef, we have the best job in the world, where’s your smile?” I realized then that he was right. I love what I do and being negative was not helping anyone. If you enjoy what you do, your team will enjoy it and the results will show.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Train. I guess it’s a simple concept, but build people and don’t be afraid to take on as many people who are willing to learn as you can. In turn, expect them to train others as well. I work in a field where books will help, but nothing compares to someone taking the time to show you how to do something and explain why they are doing it. If as leaders we all spent more time explaining what we were doing and why we were doing it, I trust that this would lead to the junior team members of our staff wanting to one day build someone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” This applies to the kitchen in the sense that you never truly master the art. The second you think you have mastered the best way to do something, someone comes along and does it better, which leads to the realization that you can always improve. There is also always someone that might know less than you do about everything, but who knows more than you do about one thing, so listen to your team and respect their ideas. They all have something to teach you.
On a personal note, I have had the chance to work in eight different countries throughout my career and I have come to accept that no matter how much I think I may know about a culture or an area, there is always more for me to learn.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Gaggan Anand! I am passionate about Indian food, but by no means a connoisseur, and that’s probably why. The fact that Gaggan was able to put his own twist on this complicated cuisine, win two Michelin Stars and make it super funky, amazes me. It’s not only the fact he was able to achieve this, but also that he was able to do it against so many odds with a management style that goes against the “angry chef” classic way of running a kitchen. He comes across goofy, fun-loving and passionate. Gaggan, if you are reading this, I would be honoured to have any meal with you!