Executive chef at Conrad NY explains why he loves working in hotels
Interview with Gerron Douglas, Executive Chef at Conrad, New York, a Hilton hotel
With the Conrad New York for eight months, and overseeing a staff of 21 cooks and 25 stewards here, Douglas previously worked for the hotel as Banquet Chef for their Union Square Events catering team and before that, for The Waldorf Astoria as Sous Chef/Chef Saucier. He began working for hotels by chance and opens up on why the opportunity is a win-win.
HC: What appeals to you most about working for a hotel?
GD: The stability of working for a hotel and working for a large hotel company/chain is something you’re not quite used to in restaurants. You can have amazing food, but the profit margins are so thin, and there’s nothing else to support them. Great restaurants come and go all of the time. I’ve been lucky to receive the amount of experience and exposure I have working in hotels. The things I saw over a decade at The Waldorf – one of the best in the world at the time – in terms of galas, celebrities, athletes, and politicians – are things you wouldn’t see in an entire career at a restaurant. Once you have a taste of it, it’s hard to go away from it.
HC: Are there any unique perks as a Hotel Executive Chef?
GD: The travel benefits are better, as we’re able to cross collaborate within the company’s other hotels. We did so with Conrad Tokyo and had an opportunity to go there to be a part of an event there, and in turn, their team came here.
HC: How do you spend your workday?
GD: My hours are long and can range from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or longer, depending on the day. 70% of my time is spent in meetings and on administrative duties, preparing menus, getting orders together and on payroll. 30% is actually hands-on operations, expediting service – overseeing events of that nature. The higher up you go on the corporate side, the less your time is spent on the cooking and the more it is spent on running a business.
HC: What are you most rewarded by in your role?
GD: Inspiring and motivating my team. At the end of the day, my success is based on their performance and the extension of that, is the success my team has when they leave here. I am motivated to get members of my team to the level that I’m at now. It drives me every day. I’m also motivated by making good experiences for our guests. When you know you’ve made the difference in someone’s day, week or year – that part’s very rewarding.
HC: Why does your leadership style work?
GD: I’m not one to manage behind the desk. I practice and believe in leading by example – it’s the best way to gain and maintain the respect of your staff. I won’t ask my staff to do anything I am not willing to do myself or haven’t done, which goes a long way. I’m not the typical crazy chef that screams and throws things. I treat people with respect and speak to my staff how I’d want someone to speak to me, and how I expect them to speak to each other, even in the midst of the high pressure in the kitchen.
HC: What are the key challenges of your role?
GD: Finding, developing and building a solid team can be the most difficult part. You need to find people with the right skill set and that you can develop the right chemistry with. You can go through a lot of people, trying to find the right one. When I interview, I lay out everything to the person. I don’t sugar coat things. I’m upfront and honest as to expectations – what they can expect from the position and what the dynamic is. When I feel like I’ve found a potential candidate, at that point I have him do a cooking practical. You would be surprised how much you can learn about someone from the way he cooks.