Forget the past, plan for the future , live for the day
Your true legacy that you leave in this life is not money, possessions or titles, it is the small part of you that you leave with each person you have touched along life’s journey
Sweat the details, the secret of success is in the daily minutia of life, if its important to you, it will be important to them
Aspart of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mike Turner, Walk-On’s Vice President of Culinary & Supply Chain.
Chef Mike Turner began his career with super restaurant chain The Cheesecake Factory. During his 18-year tenure, he held positions in regional and corporate operations and helped expand the concept globally to Kuwait, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. From there, Mike joined Copeland’s of New Orleans, a distinctive Louisiana and Cajun specialty restaurant, as Director of Culinary. In 2014, he became a key member of the Walk-On’s team and shifted the brand’s focus to serving great Louisiana cuisine and traditional American food.
Under Mike’s guidance and leadership, Walk-On’s RE formulated it’s kitchens and created valuable partnerships with large-scale, devoted vendors. Mike emphasized the importance of a highly talented heart of house crew that would prepare nearly everything within the restaurant’s own kitchen. Mike has incorporated authentic Louisiana flavor across the menu and drove changed that have increased overall food quality and fashioned Walk’On’s restaurant into a truly “from scratch” kitchen.
Today, Mike directs all culinary operations, research and development, menu development, purchasing, cost controls and culinary training. It is Mike’s revolutionary approach that continues to keep Walk’On’s food on the cutting edge, unique and, above all else, delicious.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
Iwas working during a break in college at a ranch in Montana. Every morning, I would go down and work with the chef. I loved the “ instant gratification” of preparing food and the immediate responses we would get. That ignited a passion in me to pursue a career the restaurant industry.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Our bistreaux has a variety of flavors. We focus on a little something for everyone with a Louisiana flare. Items vary from burgers and seafood to tacos and dessert.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I think for me it was working overseas. I was asked to move to Kuwait to open restaurants in the Middle East. It was a life changing experience that was both humbling and gratifying. I actually took away several lessons but the most important was the true value of people. I worked with several hard working, dedicated and grateful staff members that embraced the true vision and spirit of who we were and the values the company represented. Kindness transcends any language or ethnical boundaries.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
The struggles I faced early on in the restaurant industry were leadership and discipline. Being a young manager is never easy and many, including myself struggled with holding older and more seasoned Chef’s accountable. Hard lessons, long hours and strong mentorship helped me to overcome those obstacles.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
It needs to be craveable. Creating a flavor that lives in a memory is crucial. Having a great experience in the restaurant and bringing people together only helps with that.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
I have had the humbling experience to eat and travel the world. I have dined at some amazing restaurants loaded with flavors and alive with atmosphere and ambiance. The question was “ what is the perfect meal”, for me it would be to travel back to my grandmother’s kitchen for one last meal.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I have the fortune to work with a food driven Founder. He has been a huge inspiration to me and will continue to be. I do however watch the younger Chefs in Austin, LA, Nashville, Savannah and Miami and draw off of their creatively infused dishes.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
We’re working on our 2021 new menu rollout across the system that includes exciting new menu items like Pastalaya and Mahi Mango and some delicious new signature drinks.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
To truly obtain mastery in any chosen endeavor you must “ love what you do and do what you love”. Having a true, balanced passion will help you to achieve mastery, however it is not a journey that you want to take alone.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Forget the past, plan for the future , live for the day
- Your true legacy that you leave in this life is not money, possessions or titles, it is the small part of you that you leave with each person you have touched along life’s journey
- Sweat the details, the secret of success is in the daily minutia of life, if its important to you, it will be important to them
- Balance, judge yourself with both personal and professional success,
- Be humble, stay hungry and always be the hardest worker in the room
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
Our Voodoo Shrimp and Grits. Chargrilled shrimp, cream cheese, pickled jalapeños, wrapped in bacon, corn grits, and a sweet chili glaze.
You are a person of enormous 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.
During the pandemic, our non-profit wing, Walk-On’s Game On Foundation, activated a Furlough Kitchen where we provided of 30,000 meals across 5 states. Recently, in the wake of Hurricane Laura, we activated a Relief Kitchen where we distributed over 10,000 meals to those affected. Feeding people is what we do.
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Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!