Executive Chef – River Oaks Country Club, Houston, TX
Chef Charles Carroll is a CIA graduate who has traveled the world speaking on championship thinking and personal greatness. He has produced two tours of Operation HOT Vegas-style shows (Honoring Our Troops) in Afghanistan and Kuwait. He has found time to win spots on eight different Culinary Olympic teams and pen two award-winning books (Leadership Lessons from a Chef, 2007, and Tasting Success: Your Guide to Becoming a Chef, 2010). Chef Carroll recently completed a two-year stint as president of the World Association of Chefs Society, which encompasses 105 countries and 10 million chefs. He is most proud of his latest book, THE RECIPE, that he coauthored with John David Mann and will hit the bookshelves on October 17, 2017.
But first and foremost, Charles is a Club Chef who oversees a $10M plus food operation in one of the busiest and most prestigious clubs in the country. Charles was executive chef at the New Hampshire historic Balsams Grand Resort Hotel and Oak Hills Country Club in Rochester, New York, just prior to his current position as Executive Chef of River Oaks Country Club in Houston. In addition, Charles has the unique honor to be recognized as an HGT (Honorable Golden Toque). The Honorable Order of the Golden Toque is an exclusive organization with only 100 chefs that have been sponsored and voted in.
- Charles, how the heck do you do it? River Oaks Country Club is a high-food volume club with a demanding membership. What has been your secret to balance your time and accomplish what you already have in your career?
A: It’s funny … I get that question all the time. The toughest part really is family, because I lose time with them. I try and include my wife on as many special events as possible. As far as accomplishing goals – first I would encourage all readers to not be afraid to dream. I truly believe everyone has something inside them that they are supposed to accomplish, something special. We all need to find that “thing” that makes us jump out of bed in the morning! So don’t be afraid to dream, dream big and dream bigger than you … then go get it! How do you do this? Biggest advice for the day – Get Started! Get Started NOW. I knew nothing about being president of Wordchefs; nothing about writing books, and absolutely nothing on how to put on shows in Afghanistan, but the secret was I never gave up until it was done.
- Tell us about your operation at River Oaks Country Club. Why have you remained in clubs throughout most of your career?
A: I’ve been at ROCC 17 years! I am proud to say I have only had three jobs during my entire career; unique, I believe, for this industry. I like to think it’s because I’ve always worked my butt off, and we keep the standards high and consistent. As you know, Bill, ROCC is a special place. I love it here, and it is awesome because our members demand the best.
- Do you have any advice for other club chefs or chefs considering a position in a club?
A: You have to be a good listener, be humble and do everything you can to ensure that your staff is successful. Be sure to stay current. Eat out a lot, take pictures, and tour kitchens as much as possible. There is no such thing as, “my food, my style,”… get over yourself. If you’re successful, “your style” is what the members want – just do it with pride and do it better than anybody else in your area. Never get stagnant, constantly be thinking of how you and your team can make it better. Listen to your members; you will make them much happier if you listen to them. Constantly mentor your team, find out what their goals are and help them to achieve them.
- Being president of the World Association of Chefs Society is a very high honor. Please tell us about this appointment and the WACS (World Association of Chefs Society).
A: LOL … ok here it goes! The music stopped and I was sitting in the wrong chair. I did not run for office. I was asked to be the Chairman of the Congress Committee which I eventually did for the South Korea and Norway congresses. Then the Vice President had to step down because his wife was ill and he could no longer travel. Somehow I was encouraged to step in, knowing I was current with the Board activities. Then the President had to step down and VOILA! – President Charles. I have to be honest, that was the longest two years of my life – one hundred emails per day from all over the world and skype calls daily. But I persevered and am very proud of what we were able to accomplish. I am proud to now have friends in 105 countries and that is the biggest gift a guy could have.It’s pretty amazing to be a part of a world organization. The WACS is involved in many initiatives that include world certification, sustainability, culinary competitions, World Chefs Without Borders Relief, education and much more! I encourage you to review their website at www.worldchefs.org and learn more about this great organization.
- Charles, in preparation for this interview I peeked at your personal website, at chefcharlescarroll.com … very impressive! One of your presentations that caught my attention is, “How to “Google” Your Property.” Here you relate what Google has done to create a working atmosphere where the highest standards of excellence, professionalism, leadership, respect, and pride are instilled in their team. Staffing is a hot topic for most chefs. Can you share a few things you have done at River Oaks to instill this exciting environment in which young culinarians desire to be associated?
A: Thank you. We are totally redoing the website now and will be completed October 1st. Back when I wrote that program, Google was selected the #1 property in the country to work for. I was intrigued so I went to tour the facility. Bottom line – the “secret” is … drum roll… Take Care of Your People! Care about them, teach them, invest in them, and help them achieve their goals. Then take a personal audit of your work environment within your kitchens. What can you do to improve the environment? I could go on for hours on this topic. The subject is covered very well in my first book, “Leadership Lessons from a Chef – Finding Time to Be Great.” In fact this book was written in a club environment, and both books “Tasting Success – Your Guide to Becoming a Chef” and “Leadership Lessons” are being used in 40 schools around the country. I highly recommend these books for Chefs and General Managers.You have enjoyed a very stellar career. What have been some of the highs and lows during your outstanding career? Is there anything you wish you would have done that you regret today?A: Maybe one regret – go work for a “kick ass hands-on” amazing chef. I never really had a hands-on chef mentor. I worked hard, studied hard and have some amazing mentors, but I would have enjoyed one over the top high-end experience before becoming a chef. I became Executive Chef of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel at age 25. That is too young. I think I did a great job and we had an amazing program, but I would not recommend this for young people. The highs were Afghanistan and the Culinary Olympics … and of course what is about to come. ☺
- The tag-line of your latest book, THE RECIPE, is as you describe, “a story of loss, love, and the ingredients of greatness.” Please tell us more about your inspiration to author this book and what results you hope to achieve.
A: This is an AMAZING book and I am so proud of it. I have partnered with seven-time national bestselling author, John David Mann, who is a real pro. The book is a parable. It’s a story about a little boy who loses his dad at a very young age, gets mad at the world and mad at God, and that gets him in a bunch of trouble. His dad’s friend, a crusty old retired military chef, pulls the boy in. Each chapter is a life lesson, and each chapter they cook something together. It is so beautiful, as you can imagine, good cooking has so many comparisons to life! Ok now you have to go and buy the book. We actually have some movie interest and we are excited.
- It seems to me that TV is the best media source to reach the highest number of people. With the popularity of the Food Network, did you ever consider developing a show and become a Food Network Star?
A: Now where did you hear this …? Actually I have been working on a show for the past ten months and it’s really gaining momentum. Stay tuned Also I am starting a new Podcast October 1st called “The Recipe, Celebrities Secrets To a Successful Life” which you can find on my website.
- Can you elaborate on the question about becoming a Food Network Star?
A: Not really because I am not one. I guess what I would like to say here is this. I have known some young culinarians who have entered into their career and their only focus was becoming famous. In my opinion, throw that thought away. I am developing a TV show (who knows if it will fly) not to be entertaining but to touch people’s hearts. Not to become famous but to inspire people to live a better life. Put the focus on producing “Excellence” and the famous part will come by itself … IF You Are Real. Almost everything I have done publicly with books, Podcast, Afghanistan, professional speaking engagements (which I love), all have been developed to touch people’s heart, inspire them to be great. By the way, this was not the mission statement when I started, but ended up being the core values I practice because these projects have been amazingly successful and sustainable. As you get a little older you become a little wiser and focus on those around you instead of yourself. Make your efforts about others and you will increase and enhance your production 10-fold and surround yourself with lots of people who want to help!
- What excites you about cooking in today’s world?
A: I don’t know! We will never know it all. We always have a chance to do it better tomorrow and I am so excited about my future projects.
- Finally, what words of wisdom do you have for other Chefs?
A: If you’re not happy about something in your life, your job, your relationship, your health, your home, your friends, staff, anything … if you’re not happy about something … get off your ass and do something about it!!! Do SOMETHING about it. Stop complaining, stop wishing, stop trying to figure out why this is happening to you – just do something about it! GET STARTED. ☺
To say that Chef Charles M. Carroll, CEC, AAC is a cut-above the typical club chef is an understatement; it’s not just being able to cook – it’s about focusing on those around you instead of yourself. Charles is an inspiration to many, exceptional author, mentor to young culinarians, promoter of the profession, and a capable administrator. DMA thanks you, Chef Carroll, for allowing us the opportunity to capture you in print. We all appreciate your contributions and are very pleased to share them with the industry.