Chefs at Work

An Interview with Scott Craig, CEC

An Interview with Scott Craig, CEC

Myers Park County Club, Charlotte, NC

by David Meyers

Scott Craig imageScott – You seem to be very comfortable with the use of new technologies in the kitchen.

A – The time I spent as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech was extremely formative. Blacksburg, Virginia was known as the “Most Wired City in the World” in the 90’s and while I was in school there we were at the epicenter of the information revolution. I began cooking on campus while I was a psychology major and even our dining program was very progressive for its time. I remember Cuisine Solutions presenting a sous vide demonstration to us in 1996, well before the technique was widely adopted throughout the industry.

Q – How do you now incorporate technology to make your culinary operation at Myers Park Country Club more efficient?

A – One of the biggest changes we’ve recently made was moving to a digital inventory and purchasing system. A system called ClearSky tracks our inventory as it moves throughout our kitchens and dining outlets, keeping a perpetual inventory and alerting us of pricing fluctuations. Pre-set par levels generate suggested nightly orders and soon we will have real-time food costs for all outlets. We’ve seen positive changes in both our labor and food costs as a result of making the transition. We have also gone digital with our monthly physical inventory, replacing pencils and paper with hand-held scanners. The same inventory that previously took a full day now takes about two hours. Another great tool we’ve embraced is the use of smart phones and tablets, which allow us to exchange recipes, function sheets, plating photos, schedules, menus and Clearsky reports without paper.

Q – In the past couple years your culinary department has embraced contemporary forms of media. What was the impetus to embrace this form of communication and what has been the result?

A – I realized the potential when, in our kitchen’s Chef’s Table one evening, one of our tech-savvy diners was photographing the courses with a DSLR camera, which were being wirelessly sent to his tablet, which he was then tweeting to his friends. Anyone following his Twitter feed was receiving professional quality images of the courses in real time as they were being served. The concept of instantly sharing food as it was being prepared knocked me over. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and until then didn’t realize how small the world had become!

After that dinner I invested in a professional camera, lighting, image processing software and spent days off with several professional photographers. Now whenever someone has a Chef’s Table in the kitchen I photograph each course and email the images to our members the following day. It not only creates an added service and a reminder of a great evening they had at the club, but it provides us with a growing email list of members that enjoy premium dining. That list can be used to market special events, available Chef’s Table dates and cooking classes. The no-cost high quality images are also great to use for the clubs website, monthly newsletter and banquet package. I’ve also enjoyed having the images on a tablet when planning dinners with members…it’s amazing what a difference it makes when a member can see a high resolution image of a dish versus a description typed on a banquet package.

Q – Many of these images have found their way onto your cookery blog, ifyoucanstandtheheat.com What can you tell us about your site?

A – ifyoucanstandtheheat.com is an ad-free, non-profit cookery blog that delves into cooking techniques and concepts, some food history, and also highlights the phenomenal local farms that provides many of our ingredients. Another benefit is that it has provided a platform for me to assist with causes that I care about like childhood leukemia and the World Food Programme. I am continuously surprised by the reach of the website and the amount of feedback it has generated; in the year and a half that it has existed, it has reached over 21,000 hits in over 82 countries and many of the dishes have been featured on various popular websites. Many of our younger members have enjoyed the seeing dishes they savored during a Chef’s Table being described in greater detail. Some members have also used the blog’s archive to plan their Chef’s Table experience.

Q – What does the future hold for your site?

A – I’m very excited for this Fall when I will compete at the 2012 International Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany and document the week-long event on my website. ifyoucanstandtheheat.com will offer real-time updates, results and high-resolution photos during the entire week. I think it will be a valuable resource not only for chefs interested in the event as it happens, but also for chefs and students interested in cold food competition that might need inspiration and a point of reference in what can be a very daunting field to break into. Ultimately, my hope for the blog is that it is a useful resource for both members of our industry and the members of our club.

Q – How do you see technological advances further influencing both culinary and overall food and beverage operations? How do you perceive chefs incorporating those advances to change their operation within the next few years?

A – At the end of the day, these advances are all about sharing information. I can only imagine that information will travel more quickly and efficiently, both between departments in clubs and from the club to its membership. For clubs it should mean a more efficient operation. For our patrons it should add value to their membership.

For chefs in particular I think it will lead to new ways of sharing ideas, recipes and images, pushing the evolution of cuisine faster than any point in history. For instance, now you can download Grant Achatz’ latest set of recipes from Next, his newest restaurant in Chicago, right onto your tablet through iTunes the day it becomes available. You can stream his lecture at Harvard at no cost on iTunes University. This information that previously was only privy to the select few that could work at his restaurant is now available to everyone, even in the smallest town in Alaska.

Previously the world would have to wait years for a Next cookbook that might be cost prohibitive to many, now you can get it a chapter at a time as it is written for $4.99. Information is traveling faster and reaching more people than ever and that can only mean great things for the culinary arts, private clubs and the industry at large.

Editor’s Comments – Revealing and timely! The wave of change influencing culinary operations in private clubs is dazzling. Change continues particularly with consumer expectations that are paralleled only by the requirement of a tenacious spirit and youthful leadership approach to keep pace with the evolution in cuisine, personnel and process.

Stay tuned.

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