Cliff Crooks believes a successful restaurant starts with its chefs, interview

Host Cliff Crooks, as seen on Chef Bootcamp, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network
Host Cliff Crooks, as seen on Chef Bootcamp, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network /

Cliff Crooks takes the helm in Food Network’s Chef Boot Camp. While the chefs that arrive in his kitchen are struggling, Chef Crooks is ready to lead them to redemption. Although diners might not see the chaos in the kitchen, any successful restaurant needs to rely on its culinary team. If these chefs can find their drive, they will leave this experience with a renewed passion.

Food TV fans are familiar with Chef Cliff Crooks and his appearances on various culinary competitions.  More importantly, the culinary director of BLT Restaurant Group, he appreciates that his success is only as strong as his team in the kitchen. To give guests great food each and every time is essential. If a restaurant cannot rely on their chefs, the restaurant is set up to fail.

In a very simple statement, Chef Crooks referenced how vital a good chef is to a restaurant’s success. Chef Crooks said, “If your establishment serves food, it’s as vital as paying the electric bill every month.”

Cliff Crooks helps chefs rediscover their passion on Chef Boot Camp.

Recently, Chef Crooks spoke with FoodSided about Chef Boot Camp and his perspective on the restaurant industry. While diners will always expect an expertly prepared plate of food, in a restaurant there can be a difference between a chef and a cook. Although the concept might be slightly nuanced, it comes done to understanding the role.

Chef Crooks believes that there is a difference between a chef and cook. He said, “I definitely agree with this statement. While chefs will always be “cooks” as a profession, cooking is solely about executing repetitive excellence on a daily basis. The single-minded focus of “can I outperform myself every day.” Good cooks will be noticed in a kitchen and given more in-depth tasks with the hopes of continuing on the journey of becoming a chef. Chefs, while responsible for the quality and execution of their vision, do less cooking than many realize. Chefs are orchestrators, business people, mentors, therapists, mediators and finally cooks.”

Cliff Crooks Chef Boot Camp
Host Cliff Crooks, as seen on Chef Bootcamp, Season 1. photo provided by Food Network /

As cooks evolve into that chef role, a few qualities and characteristics are vital to their success. Chef Crooks said, “Not accepting mediocrity, remembering you are in HOSPITALITY, good palate, being open to outcomes, listening to everyone when they speak, because not only should people be heard – but you don’t know everything (I myself still learn on a week-to-week basis), ability to stay calm, wanting to know facts before judgement, willing to do the dirty work, ability to take criticism about their food, open to corrections and opinion and keeping in the back of your head that it is most certainly a business.”

While chefs drive to keep themselves inspired, the reality is that a restaurant does not have a constantly revolving menu. Many restaurants have signature dishes or specialties. Since the diner wants that perfectly cooked, familiar flavors, chefs are faced with an interesting scenario. Perfectly prepared food is expected, always, even if that dish has been prepared thousands of times.

According to Chef Crooks, “A chef relies on their team to execute that dish on a week-to-week basis, from sourcing to preparation to plate. The drive in this case comes from watching the hard work of training and processing of information come to life on the plate and constantly checking the quality so it’s exactly the same each time.”

Cliff Crooks encourages chefs to find their inspiration.

At the same time, chefs need to foster their creativity. Motivation and inspiration can be found in all around.

Chef Crooks said, “chefs are motivated or inspired in different ways. Could be the change in seasons and sub-seasons (i.e.: late winter/early spring, into spring, into late spring/early summer etc), reading and self- education, seeing what our peers are doing, dining out. Overall trying to remember they are not alone and we all go through ruts in inspiration – could even be as simple as sitting in a park!”

Even with inspiration at every corner, chefs and restaurants can become complacent. Just because guests want familiar doesn’t mean that the menu should become stale or boring. Fighting through those moments of blandness is key to success.

While Chef Crooks said, “I’d imagine even uber-successful chefs go through down periods.” But, that sentiment is just part of life.

For him, he stated his opinion clearly. He said, “What’s more important is to be self-aware or listen to those around you who may be giving you signs that you’re off your mark. It is possible for a chef’s complacency to be felt in the food and flow of food during service, leading to a sub-par guest experience.”

Still, a chef needs to fit into the culture of a restaurant. A chef who’s specialty is Italian food may not going to thrive in a steak house. But, a good chef can and should adapt. It really is a chef’s desire to improve himself.

Chef Crooks said that a chef needs maturity. “Unless you solely have the funds as a chef to pay your own bills and payroll then you must be a team player and work with your partner or business owner to come to an agreement. Does there need to be a common vision? There needs to be a common vision between the chef’s cuisine and style of setting/establishment, if not the guest experience will feel disjointed.”

Many viewers will watch Chef Boot Camp with rapt attention, like many food TV shows on the must watch list. For the chefs and restaurants involved in the show, it is more than just food entertainment.

Chef Crooks commented, “I would hope viewers can glean that there are many different levels of raw talent, expertise and ambition among these chefs. While they go through the boot camp journey, they can pick up tips, do’s and don’ts and get a firsthand look at what it takes to become better at their craft. Some have it in them to improve – they just need someone to believe in them and reignite their passion for food, while others need a reality check that they may be happier and more successful in a career outside the kitchen.”

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Chef Boot Camp series airs on Food Network on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Cliff Crooks is the executive chef at BLT steakhouse and Culinary Director of BLT Restaurant Group.