Tanya Baker wears many hats as executive chef at The Boarding House in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. One of the toughest hats to wear — and one that has been on her mind a lot lately — is how to run her kitchen to her standards while still giving her line cooks room to grow.
“I internalize that a lot,” she says. As the leader of the back-of-house team, she’s in charge of establishing standards for her cooks and crafting dishes that fit the restaurant’s new American, fine-dining concept. It also means she’s partly responsible for making sure that her line cooks develop their skills while they’re in her kitchen.
Today’s executive chef is faced with a challenge that looks something like this: create a vision and a menu that expresses that vision, build a team that can execute it to your liking, and help the members of that team grow professionally.
Chefs play an integral role in the development of line cooks, and the next generation of executive chefs will refine their own culinary voices while working in another chef’s kitchen. Nurturing a line cook’s development while still holding them accountable for executing your vision can be a tightrope walk, but it’s crucial to the success of a restaurant. In the face of staffing challenges that are gripping the entire industry, knowing how to achieve both is becoming more and more important when creating a back-of-house team. Here’s what we learned from Tanya’s approach.