In its way, Guest Chef might be the most daring concept in foodservice. Its owners—Scott Cameron, Jerry Boddum and Mark Valentine—open their kitchen to all comers to do as they please for a couple of weeks at a time. Cameron describes it as “sort of a brick-and-mortar version of the food truck.” We call it a much-needed innovation.
Guest Chef restaurant is a dream come true for its visiting chefs. They get a fully functioning and staffed restaurant to treat as their own. At 20 seats plus a takeout counter, it’s just the right size for people who might be unfamiliar with the pace commercial kitchen work requires.
It’s expected that the chefs will come from all walks of culinary life. That means pure amateurs, perhaps experienced chefs drawn from allied fields such as catering or institutional cooking, maybe even working pros who want to try out an experimental menu without the risk of opening their own place to do it.
The financial arrangements are simple. The visiting chefs create their own menu and provide their own ingredients; the restaurant supplies everything else and takes a percentage of the gross.
The restaurant positions its offer to prospective guest chefs this way:
“Guest Chef provides an entrée into the restaurant business while providing a unique dining experience
• We are looking for cooks who want a public venue for their creations
• We provide a restaurant with a commercial kitchen and dining area
• We provide all the basic cooking utensils, pots and pans and serving equipment
• We provide promotion through the web and social media.
• You only bring the food, your talent, and your enthusiasm
“If you attract a following we will invite you back for a return engagement.
“If you are a sensation we have other locations where we can provide you with a permanent outlet for your cooking
“You risk only your ego and the price of the groceries.”
It’s the opportunity wannabe chefs have been dreaming of all their lives. It’s also an interesting option for established chefs who find themselves between gigs or merely looking for a better job. Now all of them can sign up and take their shot in front of the dining public. If they’ve got the goods, their appearance at Guest Chef could be a life-changing experience. We expect plenty of Bay Area restaurant owners will drop by Guest Chef to scout new kitchen talent and see how prospective hires perform in a real-world restaurant setting.
We also expect plenty of patrons to give Guest Chef a shot. For better or worse, the continual presence of a new chef cooking his or heart out in the kitchen gives this restaurant plenty of positive energy that will renew itself every two weeks.
As we write, Vera Ciammetti, an instructor at Draeger’s Cooking School, helms the Guest Chef kitchen. She’s cooking food from the Abruzzi region of Italy. Before her, Oakland resident Eva Santillanes, an amateur cook, had a menu that featured chile rellenos and fajitas. Up next is Paul Skrentny, who’s had good luck preparing Spanish fare at street fairs and private parties under the Paul’s Paella banner. He’s in the kitchen through New Year’s Eve.
We don’t know that this concept will succeed. But it’s such an imaginative idea we’re hoping it does. Business incubators are frequently used in other industries to help newcomers start out. We need something similar for the restaurant industry. Maybe Guest Chef is it.