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Olson: Metropolitan’s chef team creates culinary synergy

Olson: Metropolitan’s chef team creates culinary synergy

Metropolitan, a restaurant in Salt Lake City, recently garnered yet another four-diamond rating from the American Automobile Association. The AAA accolade is no small feat considering that Metropolitan is operating without an executive chef. About every 18 to 24 months, the restaurant loses its top chef to bigger markets, said owner Karen Olson. The last one, Todd Mark Miller, left to take a job in New York just before Salt Lake City’s annual Dine O’Round, a two-week event in which restaurants offer meals at special discounted prices.

Without Miller, Metropolitan’s cooks stepped up and deftly handled the special menu and record crowds, Olson said. She put away all the applications for the executive chef job and instead of one head chef, she has created a leadership team of three chefs—Jed Banta, Chris Durfee and Justin Shifflett. The culinary team divides various duties among themselves, such as working with vendors, handling invoices, data processing, and setting up the line. They also collaborate on menu planning and employee training.

Why a culinary team instead of an executive chef?

I’ve always had one executive chef, but when they leave, it creates a void. I’ve watched [the remaining chefs] get overwhelmed and burned out. I thought: If I can divide the workload between a number of people, there is not so much weight on one shoulder. And if someone leaves, it’s easier to fill a third of a position rather than a full one. And it allows for three or four voices—our pastry chef is a part of the team—to be creative and to be heard.

Chefs are known to have strong egos. Is the team approach working?

This group of young chefs has never been executive chefs somewhere else so they are not coming in with that sense of entitlement. They all want to make it work; they want to learn. There is a dynamic energy that takes place when they put their creative heads together. They generate new ideas daily.

Is the change apparent to customers?

Regular customers are coming in and saying it is the best menu they’d ever had. The front-of-the-house is enthusiastic and excited. I believe in collective energy; that’s how I run my business. Here’s the situation; here’s the opportunity; let’s discuss it. The buck stops with me, but I like the synergy that comes from a team creating from each other’s energy.

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