As most young chefs complete their culinary training, strike out on their own, and decide how they would like to utilize their skills, the majority assume that they will be plying their trade in a restaurant kitchen. However, there are many other options to think about, and pursuing a culinary career at a resort can be just as rewarding as cooking in a restaurant. The resort chef is a breed all its own, but it may be the perfect path for you.
If you have an adventurous personality, enjoy outdoor activities, and/or don’t mind being a bit isolated or far away from city life then you may want to consider resort work. Not only will you be able to reside in a beautiful locale, but you can also expand your knowledge by cooking a wide variety of dishes. Some other perks commonly offered by resorts and the contract management companies that often run them are low-cost housing (depending upon the situation), good benefits, competitive wages, and upward mobility. Indeed, most of the time these types of organizations prefer to promote from within the community rather than bringing someone in from outside.
In almost every case, the resort business is seasonal in nature. This presents its own unique advantages and drawbacks. The dream scenario for many chefs is to move between two or more locations during peak seasons. For instance, what could be better than spending winters at a ski chalet in Aspen and summers in the Outer Banks? Or, if you hate the cold, how about wintering over in the Caribbean and traveling to the Alaskan wilderness for a summer cooking at one of their many luxury lodges? The transience of resort cooking is precisely the element that attracts some chefs and turns off others.
Before you let your imagination run wild, keep in mind that being employed by a resort is not all fun and games. It seems glamorous, but as Chef James Wallace (Hyatt Palm Springs) commented on the Chomp podcast, “it may sound so exotic, but when people would come visit me in Hawaii… they’d go to the beach more in a week or two of being there than I would in a year of living there.” Prepare for long hours; it’s common for kitchen and dining room staff to work as many as 14 hours per day. You’ll also need to be on top of your game day in and day out because only the most remote resorts have truly captive client bases. The rest face stiff competition from other outlets and need to be continuously evolving to satisfy guests and entice them to return multiple times over the course of their stays.
Most kitchens utilize a brigade system, which means it’s possible to gain a lot of experience on numerous stations in a rather short period of time. There is also the potential for a rapid rise through the ranks if you are able to prove yourself to your superiors. However, unlike in the restaurant industry, at a resort you will have an additional hierarchy beyond the kitchen. To take the next step in your career, you will ultimately need to impress not only the Executive Chef, but also (depending upon the organizational chart) the F&B Manager, Hotel Manager, and/or General Manager as well as regional and possibly national (or even international) leadership.
If you aren’t afraid of working hard in the trenches, don’t mind getting your hands dirty, and are hungry to further your cooking skills then consider joining a resort kitchen. As with a lot of other things in life, it’s a choice with a number of pros and cons, but if you can handle this ever-changing and somewhat unpredictable culinary niche, a whole world of opportunity awaits.
Suzanne Hall – Resorts Appeal to Outdoor Lovers
The Desert Sun, Chomp Podcast – What it’s like to be a chef at a resort
Michele Thomas, Annette Tomei, Tracey Biscontini – Culinary Careers for Dummies, Chapter 6: Living the Good Life: Working in Hotels, Resorts, and Spas
Columbia Beach Resort – Alessio Pitzalis: Confessions of a Head Chef