“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions”
Chef Arnold is an Executive Chef, Chef Instructor, mentor, advisor, restaurateur, and culinarian. He holds certifications from the Worlds Chef Societies as a Certified Executive Chef, American Culinary Federation as a Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and Lead Accepted Culinary Examiner (ACE).
Prior to becoming a Corporate Executive Chef consultant, he was Corporate Executive Chef for Hospitality management groups in Taiwan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, UAE as well as various sites in the USA. He has been executive chef/operator of two restaurants in the Gulf Coast of Florida, one a fine dining steak and seafood restaurant and the other a beach community bakery and diner. His culinary experience spans from opening and operating a large contemporary multi-unit restaurant company in Central Florida to operating General Manager of a Country Club.
We connected with Chef Arnold to ask a series of questions about his experience and advice for anyone looking to break into the world of chef consulting.
Let’s see what he has to say…
What inspired you to begin in the culinary/hospitality industry?
I remember my grandfather working in their (his and my grandmother) small town coffee shop. He was the only cook and he lived over the top of the restaurant. There was a basement where he would butcher everything that he needed for the next day. Later in life, I was fascinated by Julia Child and her ability to overcome the obstacles that came in both Culinary School as well as our business.
Where did your career begin and what were the most profound lessons you learned early in your career?
I started as a busboy/dishwasher in a family owned steak house in Indiana. I worked up to a prep cook fairly rapidly and spent a great deal of time as a prep person doing chicken. From cleaning and butchering, to brining, breading and pressure frying.
I think that too many people want to bypass the hard knocks part of doing business and get right to the stardom. I think that you have to know all of the rough and tough parts first or at least along the way. I tell everyone that will listen that started out bussing tables and doing dishes. Now, I can tell you that it is not, I repeat not the glorious part of this industry, but it will teach you who to depend on the most. I treat my stewards like kings to this day. I hate doing dishes but on a busy weekend, you will see me in the dish pit at some time or another just to let those people know how much I respect and need them. It’s a mistake that many top people make now.
Your career has taken you all over the world, as such, how important do you believe it is to have global experience for anyone in this industry?
When I was in school, a few people told me that I should spend some time abroad. I discounted that advice and can honestly tell you that I regret it. I have spent a great deal of my professional time in the last several years traveling the globe and will say that it has made me better at my craft. There is nothing better for you than being challenged in a different culture and language. From Arabic to Chinese, I have made new projects work and it has been a great process that I wish I would have started sooner.
What inspired you to venture on your own?
I think that working as a consultant was not my ideal position and I had gotten used to the idea of working for someone. I guess that I really have just rolled with the punches and reacted to the environment around me. I didn’t really plan to be in the consultant business but a job just landed in my lap a few years back that looked interesting. The COO of the company was very realistic with me and said, look, we really need what you can offer but just not forever. That got me thinking and talking, and, well, here we are playing consultant around the world.
For those who are working for someone and want to venture on their own, what advice would you give them before taking the leap and why?
Have three times the money socked away that you think you will need. Capital is the downfall for most if not all good, failed businesses.
What inspired you to go in the direction of consulting specifically?
I guess opportunity is borne from necessity. Above I told how I got started, but reality is that you have to keep your pipeline full. That means, don’t ever think that you have too much business. You never know when something cool will come along.
In the beginning stages of you working for yourself, what was the hardest part?
I have owned several businesses along my sorted career. I think the hardest thing is taking advice from people that are trying to help you. It seems that everyone has their hand out and is looking for your money, but if you are very smart, you find and surround yourself with people that are smarter than you are in the areas that will make your business successful.
I think that most people rely on friends and family for this because it’s cheap. This is a judgment error. There are tons of people that will help you along the way if you let them. From the people at your local culinary college and the culinary association to SCORE (in the US) and the US embassy personnel overseas.
When you decide to throw down your own money for your dream, it’s hard to listen to others tell you things that you really don’t want to hear. I guess the lesson is to find smart, knowledgeable people and let them help you.
How do you gain clients?
I try to get my name out there via word of mouth mostly. I am very active with LinkedIn and try to get involved with the local (country) Culinary Association where ever I am. I go to quite a few trade shows and try to never burn a bridge if I can help it. Our industry is huge, but very small. I run into people that I know all over the world and am always on the lookout to share something with those that are knowledge hungry. I do a fair amount of teaching and judge from time to time.
Does social media play any part in promoting your business? If so, how do you utilize this effectively?
I’m a LinkedIn junky. I have +4100 culinary connections and would love to triple that. I think that we, in this business are too hard headed to ask for advice and to dumb sometimes to take great advice from anyone. I use Facebook but only professionally to post my photos and videos. I do Tweet but only the great things that I am eating from around the world. I need to get better about that.
Are there productivity tools or resources you use to stay on track?
I am a tech guy and use Office 365 on everything that I own and sync everything everywhere. I do use Dropbox also, but mostly for projects where I need to have multiple people in the files. I use YouTube for my videos both instructional and for fun and I have a website that seems to always need work.
What have you wasted time on while building your business?
I don’t think that anything I have done was a waste. I will tell you that I have wasted an enormous amount of time and energy listening to people that are not as smart as I am. That sounds cocky but the reality is you don’t need to be schooled by someone that doesn’t have something to teach you. The hard part is figuring out who that is!!
What have you wasted money on while building your business?
Marketing Gurus. Or Gurus in general. People that toot their own horn are usually not all that they are cracked up to be.
What has been worth investing the time, energy, or money in?
Get credentials. That means certifications, diplomas etc. Especially if you are going to work overseas, those things mean money.
For someone looking to start a consulting company, what advice would you give them?
Think, find your niche first. Get your certifications that will make you stand out from the crowd. Do a competition or two to get some bragging points? Then start working for people that are on top of their game.
Don’t give anything away.
Has there been any books you read that helped your entrepreneurial abilities? If so, which ones?
I have read many books by the great people both in our industry and in business, but I think what has done me the most good was a book by an extraordinary salesman named Zig Ziglar called See You at the Top. Zig teaches that you can’t lose touch with the guest experience and that you can get everything that you want if you just help enough people get what they want. A great concept. I studied many of the great people in the hospitality industry when I was teaching and creating
I studied many of the great people in the hospitality industry when I was teaching and creating curriculum for culinary schools. Walt Disney was truly an inspired man as was Bill Marriot. I guess that I cannot forget two of the most fascinating people in our industry: Escoffier and Careme. These guys were ahead of their time and really geniuses.
Finally, if you could start your career over again, what would you do differently and why?
I think that I have already pounded the fact that I wish I would have gone overseas and just worked for as many talented people as I could, discovering the many different cuisines around the world.
Past that, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change much. Sure, I wish that perhaps the economy had been better or that the tourist business had rebounded sooner in Florida to save my fine dining restaurant, but the reality is that sometimes…strike that always, the tough times make us smarter and stronger.
I have been very lucky in that I have been able to take what I know and make it into a great consulting business that has taken me all over the world. I think that I would never have done that, had I not had the restaurant failure or if my teaching job had not been defunded. But that’s the funny thing about life and our great business. We can make the most of opportunities and just run with them.