Unless you work in the food business (or are a fan of reality cooking shows), you may not be familiar with the term "chef de cuisine." This term literally translates in French to "chef of the food." The chef de cuisine is in charge of all things that run the kitchen: menu creation, staff hiring, produce orders, and dish plating.
Enter Courtney Storer, a Chicago native and chef de cuisine at Jon & Vinny's, one of the hippest eateries in Los Angeles that serves gourmet Italian in a relaxed, modern atmosphere. Storer has helmed the kitchen since day one. Before our interview, we watch her interact with cooks, making the job appear completely effortless-flipping pasta, salting water, and making sure each plate leaves the kitchen looking flawless.
Ever wonder what goes into getting that dish on your plate? Keep scrolling for a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of a head chef.
MYDOMAINE: How does your day typically start?
COURTNEY STORER: My alarm goes off at 6 a.m. I make a seriously large cup of Verve coffee, hop in the car, and head down to the Santa Monica Farmers Market to see what's new and in season. I get to the market at 7:30 a.m. and meet with Sam, the produce buyer for the Jon & Vinny's empire, which also includes Son of a Gun, Animal, Trois Mec, Petit Trois, and Trois Familia. We'll discuss, for example, which new melons to use for our prosciutto and melon dish and plan which farms we want to sample from to determine the melons we'll take back to the restaurant.
MD: What vendors do you have to visit at the farmers market?
CS: My first stop at the market is always вЂњThe Garden Of.вЂќ I've helped owners Shu and Debbie out on their farm and have seen how hard they work and all the love that they put into what they do on a daily basis. I check in not only on them but on the hard work that they do on a daily basis. The gem lettuce, one of the signature dishes on our menu, wouldn't be made possible without them.
MD: What's so special about the Santa Monica Farmers Market?
CS: The farmers market is that rare time when chefs get to bump into each other during the week. It allows me to check in with other chefs, motivate one another, and see what's working and not working at the other restaurants. It's a real collaboration. There is a sense of openness in this generation of chefs. Yes, there is always competition, but there is also a sense of encouragement. I love seeing other chefs' relationships with the farmers. It's really special. You can see which farmers are looking out for different restaurants.
MD: As a chef de cuisine, you are also managing a team. What is your leadership style?
CS: I believe in leading by example, starting the day motivated and keeping people motivated and focused. You can still be a stern leader without setting a negative tone. Everything starts at the top! Positivity has the same impact as negativity but better results. Creating a positive environment where people can ask questions and not feel stupid, teaching side by side, elbow to elbow with someone goes a long way, better than just yelling at someone. Showing someone instead of telling them. Everyone does not learn the same.
MD: Walk us through a typical day once you arrive at the restaurant.
CS: I hit the ground running. First thing, I make the rounds and say hi to every employee, check in on them and how they are doing. I operate a staff of 40. Then I check in with the sous chefs and see how morning service went. If it's a market day, I'll fill Jon and Vinny in on what I found and any changes that I am going to make to the menu. We discuss two to three new dishes to focus on for both in-restaurant and to-go food since we operate a large takeaway business, as well.
MD: How do you handle the restaurant's peak hours?
CS: Around noon, I'll meet with my sous chefs and talk about consistency. Our goal is to make sure that all of the dishes we're executing are consistent.
By then we'll be in the thick of lunch service, so I start working the line with the cooks. I float on the line. Sometimes I work a station depending on staffing in the afternoon for training and development. Working side by side with the cooks helps them cook better and maintain consistency.Aliza J. Sokolow
MD: What does the last half of your day typically consist of?
CS: After lunch service winds down, I check in on the prep in our prep kitchen, making sure that all critical ingredients are prepared correctly, that all of the orders are done in a timely fashion and are correct. Dinner service will get into full swing by 5:30 p.m. and continue to pick up until the restaurant is stacked. During this time, I make sure everyone is consistent and nothing is 86'd. I like to be there to support the sous chefs during the transition into dinner. I run expo and watch every dish going out. I make sure it meets my requirements, that it tastes good. Teaching people how to season is one of the hardest parts of my job. I know that each dish going out is a representation of me.
Around 7:30 p.m., I go home and fall asleep with my shoes on. In an ideal situation, I would go and eat. If I'm lucky, I might catch a dinner somewhere with chef friends.Aliza J. Sokolow
MD: What is the key to being successful in your role as chef de cuisine at one of the most popular restaurants in L.A.?
CS: The reason that I'm so successful at my job is that I love teaching people and training people. I am humble enough to connect and know that. I know that when I leave this kitchen, these people are a reflection of me and my food.
Like what you see? Get the recipes for yourself with Jon and Vinny's cookbook, Two Dudes, One Pan: Maximum Flavor From a Minimalist Kitchen.