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Condensed Interview with Ocean Reef Club Chef Philippe Reynaud

publication date: Feb 16, 2014
author/source: Meg McDonough, President Luxury Hospitality, LLC , regular contributor @ HospitalityEducators.com
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Interview with Chef Philippe P. Reynaud,  Senior Director of Culinary Operation

Ocean Reef Club, Key Largo, Florida         November 1, 2010

Condensed Version - The full length interview is also available on www.HOSPITALITYEDUCATORS.com


Chef Philippe Reynaud has been the Executive Director of Culinary Operations at Ocean Reef Club since 2000 and is a member of the Club's Senior Management Team. He is responsible for the culinary operations of 12 restaurants, conference banquets, member's catering and special culinary events within the Club. Aside from overseeing menu development, hosting visiting celebrity chefs, and mentoring extern students from various top U.S. culinary schools, he also manages over 120 culinary associates and chefs in season. Reynaud is a member of the American Culinary Federation, The Euro-Toques, La Chaine des Rotisseurs and the James Beard Foundation.

While growing-up in Cannes, France, his parents ran a seasonal restaurant on the beach during the spring-summer season for 17 years. It was here that he came to appreciate working in a kitchen that, at times, was considered "organized chaos." He worked a 3-year apprenticeship at the Casino of Cannes and Deauville, Normandy in the summer. The casino kitchens were composed of large culinary brigades which brought him into the various areas of the kitchen spectrum.

Reynaud worked previously as Executive Chef at The Jonathan Club (Los Angeles) where they averaged 200+ special events per year - all produced from one kitchen. Whereas at ORC all the restaurants are independent from one another and located in different buildings. With so many more chefs involved and menus to manage, it takes a great deal of organization and planning to get everything done.

Preparing for high season at ORC requires specific activities, such as:

  • Identifying reopening dates or new meal periods for the various restaurants at the club.
  • Sending the seasonal culinary staff their job offers with the time of arrival to match their training/reopening dates.
  • Reviewing the previous season's Member & Guest feedback; formulate an improvement plan.
  • Reviewing all training standards and adjust them to match the improvement plan which includes full menu review for each restaurant, steps of service, equipment review and uniforms.
  • Food outsourcing and cuttings take place late summer when all menus are finalized.
  • Writing up the menu descriptions; producing new daily specials for the ORC restaurants; training cooks and servers; and performing the new menu launch.

In order to learn about new trends in the food industry, Reynaud takes a group of chefs from ORC to visit hotels / restaurants to see what they are doing, which he finds inspirational and helpful and allows him to "keep a finger on the pulse." He also attends food trade shows to see what is new in the industry, taste new foods, and check out new equipment. Before the planting season, he will visit local farmers and develop a plan to get fresh produce, cheese, fish, etc. Recently two ORC chefs traveled to Bangkok for a 4-week R&D to study and learn how to prepare Thai/Asian foods - this season the Club has plans to infuse their menus with new Asian dishes.

When I asked whether the economy and recession had affected the Club's operations, he confirmed they had been affected; the reduction in group conference business required scaling back some of the kitchen operations. However, they have stepped up F&B amenities. "Our operating costs are being very well managed; we are very efficient in delivering a top product, while keeping expenses down. Watching operating utilities and maintaining a good recycling program helps as well." Similar to other hospitality institutions, certain key ORC personnel have had to assume additional responsibilities for conferences/banquets, members' catering functions, and special events in the absence of a Banquet Chef and Pastry Chef.

One of my favorite questions I like to ask of chefs: If you were to be invited to create a State Dinner for The White House (symbolic for the purposes of this interview only, as a remarkable place which serves as host to remarkable and influential people from around the world), what would your menu be? Chef Philippe said he would first inquire who would be attending as well as the identity of the Guest of Honor; ask what the budget for the dinner would be; inquire how many courses they would like to eat; and how much time they have set for the dinner. Much would also depend on whether he could use all locally grown or outsourced foods, or perhaps create a theme like an all-truffle dinner. At minimum, a 5-course meal, paired with different wines from the same region, using only fresh locally grown foods was an option for him but stressed that it would be really difficult to give a specific meal until you narrow it down to a certain style or flavor for your patrons.

When asked what type of event stood out for him as a success or setback in his career, I was not without a great story: "One of the most memorable, is actually a combination of a momentary (technical) setback and a success in the end. This took place when I was preparing to cater a five-course gourmet dinner for 300 guests with dining on the rooftop of the old Macy's building in Los Angeles. This dinner was prepared for the Jonathan Club members following a private viewing of the Van Gogh paintings collection which had been flown in from the Netherlands museum. We had only electric-residential stoves to work with which were set up on the roof level. The electrical power went off while the Veal Racks were roasting and... dinner was "slightly delayed" - we were expecting complete controlled kitchen chaos when we finally had the electricity restored 20 minutes later. At the end, our event became a complete success." [I can only imagine how many of you (fellow bloggers/readers) have had similar situations to contend with and how you resolved your dilemma.]

Finally, I asked about some of the trends he has experienced which might help prospective students? He said some of the local farming and farmers' markets are trends that have taken chefs and students out of their kitchen to field trips. Many young students get to understand how vegetables are grown, how cheeses are made. They learn how weather can influence food quality and prices. These days restaurant customers want to know where their fish, meat, and produce come from. You need to know this kind of information to pass along to your fellow chefs as well as the guests who have an interest in learning where their foods come from. Also, student education is key to their success; we used to say that practice makes a perfect chef, but a chef is not perfect until he/she has perfect ingredients knowledge.

As current culinary students may inquire what influences the great chefs of today, Reynaud provided the following metaphor: "The single factor which influenced my decision to be an apprentice at the Casino of Cannes, France, was the large variety of cooking and quality chefs working in that kitchen. Imagine the art of cookery as a tree trunk - every branch of that tree is a profession related to cooking. At the start of your culinary career, your knowledge should be rooted in basic cookery skills: with practice comes confidence, creativity and slowly the branches of the tree start to grow. Now imagine developing your skills "branch" as a food stylist for magazines, or becoming a chef teacher, or working as a nutritionist, or cooking at the White House. Whatever you decide you are going to be, students must have a good knowledge and understanding about how food is handled, prepared, displayed and where it comes from."

Many successful chefs have graduated from the CIA. Other star chefs have no culinary school background but have been mentored by a great chef. It all depends about the passion you have for the craft and how great you want to become. The best school is practice, cooking your heart out, being thirsty for knowledge, being curious, asking questions, knowing where the great chefs work, seeking them out and trying to work under them.

Chef Philippe has a great system for channeling the student-teacher effort where everyone benefits with on-the-job training. As he elicits so eloquently: "Success comes with passion, research and persistence. Outstanding chefs have eyes for the "big picture" - they not only should have great business aptitude but also become great mentors and teachers in fostering new generations of chefs."


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