Sponsored by Ventura Foods
Chefs Dan Coudreaut and Chad Schafer have known each other for decades. The colleagues and friends have history working together at McDonald’s, where Schafer is currently the senior director of culinary, and have always stayed in touch even after Coudreaut left to launch his private consulting business. We sat in as the two reconnected for a chat about the state of the industry.
CS: I was fortunate enough to be able to meet you early in my career, when it is so important to find people that inspire you, and you were inspirational to me. And we have always kept in touch. I'm a firm believer that you have to find people that will believe in you, to help you believe in yourself as well, and you were one of those people for me.
DC: I don't know if you remember this conversation, but maybe a couple years into your time at in Green Bay when you were on our team and you were helping us immensely. I remember talking to you, asking “How's your career going? What are you doing?” And you said “Dan, I'm just learning so much, I'm constantly learning.” And I said “Chad, when is it going to be time for you to start teaching?” I think I saw a light bulb go off in your head a little bit there, and now you are, and I'm immensely proud!
CS: I remember that like it was yesterday, and I probably don't go a week without saying it myself. I use that same advice on a lot of people that I talk to and especially with the team. It was a light bulb moment. It woke me up enough that I've stolen that shamelessly and I use that whatever I can!
DC: You are at the center of multiple masters, supply chain, marketing, owner operators, the C-Suite, you've got all of these different things that you've got to manage, and a lot of the food companies that I come to those challenges are very similar. You know, it's the same pot, different soup! I believe that we both bring to the table an ability to help the teams work more collectively, collaboratively together. That is our common challenge. The past couple of years you have been leading a creative team. With the way the industry is going, innovation seems to have taken somewhat of a back burner, rightfully so it could be argued. But how are you able to maintain your team’s excitement and creativity and efforts in this time?
CS: It's a great question because the last few years been a challenge for everybody. It's been a challenge for the industry. But it's also been an opportunity to come together as a team. At the end of the day, we have to move together as a unit. A couple of things that have really helped over the last couple of years has been the fact that we get together at least three days a week and we have a team call. That's something that we didn't do in the past. If you ever look up in the sky and you see geese they're flying in a V. There's a reason they fly in that V. The bird at the front falls to the back, then another one goes to the front, and they keep flying and they keep carrying each other. But they take turns in that leadership position and that's one of the main or central ideas over the last few years, is we have to take turns, and we have to take those moments to take those breaks and then also cheer and encourage the people to take the lead in the front end, carry those ideas or carry the team forward. So how do we take what we've known now and make the industry better? One of those things is about talking to each other. Sharing the things that were uncomfortable, being brave enough to open up and be real with the conversation. Those are some of the things that really have come up and have been important to my team, and I think that that's what we want for the industry.
DC: What you're saying is really profound and I think makes sense for not just a culinary leader, but leadership period. And what I think I hear you saying is, it's not something that happens every six months or at a yearly review, right? Is this a day in and day out conversation? Minute by minute behavioral change?
CS: It's still in process, but it's something that we're going to make sure is long and sustaining. We have to build that into our team culture.
DC: So, tell me a little bit about your trying to build that culture, which is really within a subculture within the broader context of the larger enterprise. How is your culture interacting with the other cultures? Are you being embraced or are you being battled?
CS: It's absolutely embraced, and it's a companywide thing. We have a great system where there's a lot of people doing things in their communities and just trying to understand what it means to authentically be part of the community and to make a difference in that community. Sometimes just being able to focus in on what that is. If you can take one step at a time and understand the things that are the right fit and the impact that can really be made, then I feel like it sustains. I had some assumptions coming into this where I thought I could help and make a difference, and some of those things didn't make a difference at all. It’s doing things like talking to a vocational high school teacher in the public school system and asking that what could make a difference. Is it just about money or is it about showing up? Is it about consistency and being in front of students? You know, just those types of conversations. I wouldn't have thought about until I started doing this. It’s very personal and it's really amazing to share it. You have always been very true to who you are and what you stand for in the industry, and no matter who I talk to it's very clear who you are as a person. But how about as a leader? What helps you get there when other people are looking at everything that is coming at them in these independent restaurants? How do you keep that focus and identity?
DC: I didn't always have it. I made many mistakes along my way, burned relationships along the way through my own actions, and things that I'm not very proud of. Those are things that I will share with young people to say, I did this, and it didn't work out very well for me. I try and dig deep to find out what is my truth. That’s the only authenticity I have. That's what I try to manage. And again, I'm not successful all the time. You know, there's times when I'm not proud of what I said or what I did, but I try to own up to it if there's a mistake made, I try and shoulder it. if there's praise made, I try and share it. I try and surround my myself with better people, better chefs than myself and therefore the system becomes better if we all try make our little universe the best we possibly can. That's how it’ll be successful.
CS: How do you change that model in the industry? How do you make that work so that the people aren't as stressed, and they can provide the hospitality? Don't always operate the way you did; you have to operate for the world you're living in now. I think that's how you can do that.
DC: Hospitality is really important. You know you pulled that smile out. Share that with people.
Let's be hospitable in the hospitality industry! You know, let's not forget that. You're feeding their bellies, yes, but you're also feeding their lives and that matters. Chad, it's question for you is how do you help maintain that throughout your organization? How do you make sure it becomes reality?
CS: We keep the customer first. I mean we start there and stay there. We have our own ideas and assumptions that inform how we can accomplish the work. If the customer doesn't say yes at the end of the day, it's not a good enough idea. We need to go ahead and shelve that and be OK with that. Not all ideas are going to be winners, so the customers are first because they need to be heard.
DC: I can't think of any better statement to end this conversation on!
The MenuMasters program was founded by both Nation’s Restaurant News and Ventura Foods in 1997, with the inaugural event held in May of 1998.
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