As we round out the year, I know many of you are exhaling a collective sigh of relief that 2009 is nearing its end while simultaneously sucking in your breath in anticipation of 2010. With that being said, I want to close out my 2009 monthly morsels by writing about the Executive Chef at The Hard Rock Café in Orlando.
I have a client who did a buy out of The Hard Rock in Orlando, which is one of the largest Hard Rocks — it has a concert hall connected to the café that, in its entirety, holds over 2,500 people. In 2008, I went to Orlando to do two menu tastings. One at a fine dining restaurant and the second (the next day) at Hard Rock. I was very excited to do the fine-dining tasting and expected to just go through the motions at Hard Rock. What actually happened was the exact opposite.
The fine-dining restaurant tasting turned out to be not so fine. The chef was lazy and pompous about his food, the manager was so ego-driven that he wasn’t minding the store, and a waiter felt the need to interrupt me every five seconds with some knucklehead story. I left there very frustrated and $350 lighter in the wallet, to boot.
The next day I went into Hard Rock, still very annoyed about the previous night and not expecting much from this tasting either. It isn’t that Hard Rock’s food isn’t good, it is just hard to take its all-American food and give my clients a different culinary experience while staying in the context of Hard Rock’s style. Executive Chef Russell Booth has been at Hard Rock for 14 years. Many chefs I meet under these circumstances are very “set” in their ways because they’re at a flagship unit and, culinary-wise, it is what it is. So, I wasn’t expecting anything other than a chef who didn’t feel the need to push himself because he was behind a big brand name at a cool location in Orlando that sells itself.
Chef Russell turned out to be a pleasant surprise. He is very dedicated to treating each customer for who they are an individual. He wasn’t resting on his laurels. What impressed me the most was he was very “up” on food trends and constantly in search of better vendors with new and different food offerings. We started the tasting with some of the general Hard Rock items, but ended it with him running back and forth into the kitchen trying new items that he and I were brainstorming. Enthusiasm being contagious, this turned out to be a productive tasting as we both learned from each other. What impressed me the most, looking back, was his passion and continued energy to do the right thing by Hard Rock, the customer and, most important, himself.
The reason why I tell this story, knowing how challenging this year has been to all meeting planners is that I hope we all can move forward with as much enthusiasm and caring as Chef Russell. Being lazy or comfortable is like delivering the low quality of service and food I received at the fine-dining restaurant. This is not OK or acceptable. Instead, I encourage everyone to find a source of inspiration like I found in Chef Russell — someone who welcomes each day for what it is: a new day and a new opportunity to excel in our business and day to day life. Don’t rest on yesterday’s glories, because it doesn’t mean anything in today’s economy.
As the calendar is closing rapidly on us, I want to thank all of you that have read my column. It means a lot to me. This is my last story for 2009 — and I will be sticking to it.
Have a safe holiday season!