Run It Like You Own It

In the hospitality industry, the concept of “ownership” can be quite literal, referring to the individual or group that has made a financial investment and is directly affected by the operation’s profits or losses. But many restaurants are often passion projects, reflecting a singular vision of a creative culinarian. These individuals take full ownership of the elements that drive success, the stakes being highly personal, if not directly financial. Similarly, large-scale operations rely on the all-in commitment of a leadership team to a shared vision.

Our Sterling Silver® Signature Chef program brings together a select group of chefs who exhibit excellence in and out of the kitchen, elevating their businesses through the execution of their finely honed craft and demonstrating evident ownership in the process. Two of our signature chefs, Chef Dave Cuntz and Chef Yannick Montplaisir, share reflections on finding—and maintaining—success in foodservice operations.

Dave Cuntz

Executive Chef, The Roost, Durango, Colorado

“When I think about how I create a great dining experience, I believe it takes a team that works together and has no walls or ego and wants to be a part of the experience,” says Chef Dave Cuntz. As a chef for more than 40 years, he is always on the lookout for a new generation of culinary aspirants to whom he can teach his craft.

Originally hired as a consultant and then brought on as executive chef, Cuntz is at the heart of creating and executing the culinary vision for The Roost, an upscale casual eatery designed to appeal to Durango’s year-round tourists and locals alike in a highly competitive environment. (Pre-COVID, the Colorado destination rivaled San Francisco in the number of restaurants per capita.) “Our concept is American cuisine with international influences,” Cuntz explains, emphasizing flexibility and comfourt as the most critical drivers. “I wanted to serve food that delivered the comfourt of what people needed at that time—and what they will always need. We felt the menu and concept could test the slow comeback of the restaurant industry.”

The Roost’s menu also needed to reflect the owners’ adjacent music venue and differentiate itself from their second concept: a chicken house/sports bar also located in the same building. “We needed to be elevated,” says Cuntz. He accomplishes this with an extensive and creative menu that features such entrée enticements as a housemade bacon-wrapped meatloaf (with truffle potato chips), a roasted sweet potato and mushroom-centric “vegetable Wellington” and an orange teriyaki Alaskan salmon, as well as premium steaks, including a Sterling Silver Prime Rib, Filet Mignon and T-bone.

“I’ll put Sterling Silver up against any other brand. The flavour, the texture, the story all play into the reasons why Sterling Silver is so awesome,” says Cuntz, a Sterling Silver Signature Chef for 15 years. He considers consistent quality to be of particular value, recounting an occasion when his prime rib order failed to make it on the distributor’s truck, and he was compelled to “borrow” another brand for a dinner service. “It was high end and twice the cost, but when I prepared it the way I always do, it was mealy, tasteless and the colour was off. I couldn’t believe it,” he laments. He commits to Sterling Silver because “the consistency is always there.”

When it comes to emerging menu trends, especially with beef, Cuntz understands the baseline expectations he must meet: “Diners want flavour, and they want something they can’t get all the time,” he says. He reports that pepper steak is coming back (“especially with a bourbon mango ginger chutney”) and there is growing interest in chipotle cream, which “is flying out the door; people are loving it with beef.” And with an eye on both flavour and the wallet, “I’ve been working on end-to-end loin cuts—something I call a ‘deluxe cut’—and everyone is loving it! The price point is there for our profit, and it’s not hurting guests’ pockets, either. No one has flinched.”

Continuing to commit to both beef and to global influences in his new menu ideation, Cuntz is gratified to see the success of a new sandwich item at The Roost. The Singapore Roti John features shaved prime rib and curry, along with peppers, onions, a seasoned egg, American cheese, Sriracha and mayonnaise on a French baguette. “It has a story, and the flavours are amazing,” he reports.

Yannick Montplaisir

Corporate and Development Manager, Food Purchasing, Blanchette/Shaker Franchisor Group, Quebec

Wearing other operational hats in addition to the implicit toque, Chef Yannick Montplaisir is continually reviewing the big picture in his role with Blanchette/Shaker Franchisor Group. “It’s about creating great food, but also seeing how everything works, from front of the house to repairing and cleaning equipment.”

It’s a big job, as Blanchette/Shaker operates 18 Shaker Kitchen & Mixology restaurant locations, along with Holy Burgers, a growing quick-serve chain featuring smash burgers and poutine. The group has also launched a foodservice and retail line of its signature beef tartare. As corporate and development manager, food purchasing, Montplaisir is responsible for menu launches, works with manufacturers to produce large-scale quantities of several house ingredients, updates costs and inventories across the business and even serves as food stylist and photographer for the brand’s menus and marketing materials.

While each area under his purview is critical, success is centered on the reliable service of high-quality craveable menu items. “Creating products for foodservice, and for grocery stores, is really a great challenge that involves delivering an exemplary item in terms of flavour, with minimal compromises. Attention to detail in the choice of ingredients drives our menu, but without reinventing the wheel,” Montplaisir says of his goal to create comfourt food with “a little something extra—something that will make the difference in texture and flavour.”

Discovering those little extras is a year-round process of customer conversation, trend watching and team brainstorming. Putting them into action happens twice yearly; food and beverage menus are adjusted in November and June. When he’s not actively developing new food and beverage options for the menu, Montplaisir takes advantage of every opportunity to “cook when I feel like it and not out of obligation. Rest assured, I almost always have a taste for cooking!” This includes a practice of personally providing lunch service to a site’s restaurant team, including the dishwasher. “I never forget where I came from,” he explains.

Shaker Kitchen & Mixology exclusively serves Sterling Silver Premium Meats as the showcase of several high-value menu items, such as filet mignon and flank steak, as well as its lineup of craveable burgers and its beef-based toppings for poutine options. Montplaisir’s commitment to his vendour partner is unshakeable, and he has been a Sterling Silver Signature Chef since 2023. “Offering a stable, quality product is very important to us,” he says. But the rising price of beef, with a parallel decline in the leisure dollar, has prompted some difficult decisions, he acknowledges. To ensure their operation remains an accessible choice for patrons, the team has had to remove some “noble cuts” from the menu. 

“Profits are at the crux of the matter, but cuts like filet mignon, for example, will always remain an important loss leader. Pairing it with the best sauce and accompaniments that enhance the experience is part of our vision.”

Montplaisir also points to the value of having a team that can execute the vision, living up to and surpassing corporate and customer expectations, both in the kitchen and front of house. “Support, training, discipline, accuracy and fairness are essential,” he says. “But it’s very important to keep laughing and lifting the mood in this particularly demanding environment to relieve the pressure.”

Article adapted from Flavor & the Menu – “Minding Their Business,” April 20, 2024

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