There’s often a lot of talk about passion in the restaurant trade.
But where you focus it is the important part when cultivating a recipe for success, according to Brett Turner, co-owner of of Droski/Turner Hospitality Management, a leading hospitality management and event planning company.
For Turner, he initially envisioned himself as a celebrity TV chef in the mould of Emeril Lagasse. “You know, cooking and being the guy. And I quickly realized that the business side of me is actually what I appreciated the most,” said Turner, one of four chefs taking part in the From the Kitchen to the Boardroom event hosted by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Richmond News,on Jan. 28 at the River Rock Show Theatre.
It’s no surprise Turner gravitated to the industry — he grew up in the environment since both his parents worked as food and beverage managers. And he remembers helping set up a variety of events as a young teen, working for chicken strips and French fries.
Today, the business is a tad different. The events are larger and the work as co-owner requires more than being good in the kitchen or with business skills.
“I go by the title of co-owner and culinary director,” he said. “But if anyone knows the term co-owner, it can go from construction management and accounting to counselling and marketing.”
That’s his working life now — a far cry from one that was focused on the kitchen.
“For myself, I was younger and went to culinary school and got a job working at a fine dining restaurant, and something clicked for me one day,” he said. “We used to order stuff in, whatever we wanted, and sell it for whatever we wanted because it was a high-priced kind of place. It was all passion and not much numbers and I remember thinking I really want to learn more about the business behind it.”
Not long after that, Turner was approached by Scott Morrison, co-founder of the Cactus Club, who wanted him to help with a new restaurant concept he was getting off the ground.
“I came onboard and we travelled the world for a year to put together this concept and worked with some of the best chefs in all of North America, and that concept became Brown’s restaurant (Brown’s Social House).
While that was a culinary tour de force, Turner said some of the best lessons he learned from that experience was the business side of the operations.
“I really learned the business side of things there because they (Brown’s) are business-focused, being more of a franchise. So, I really learned how to make the numbers work and how important the numbers are,” he said. “They’re specific on everything. They’re specific on the location, the lighting, the accounting, the food, the product, the people and training.
“I had my fine dining fix and then my numbers fix, then realized at that point that I was going to be a little bit of a different chef than I originally had planned.”
So, as he looks back on his experiences to date, what advice would he give some aspiring chefs?
“I take it back to when you’re a young cook listen to yourself and see where you want to take it. Don’t try and force something,” he said. “Like I said, I wanted to be Emeril, but what I realized is that what actually suited me better was the business side.”
Getting some good experience is also paramount.
“Try different things, because you won’t know until you try those different styles. And see what you’re passionate about, because that’s what is going to propel you through.”
Then find the best person you can think of and learn under them, he said.
“And if you can, don’t worry too much about the financial part of it. The learning is way more important than any money you can earn at that time in your life.”
So, is he happy being Brett and not Emeril?
“I am, actually. I was watching a classic Emeril clip the other day when he used to be skinny. And I do have to do TV things from time to time and quite enjoy doing it. But I think being a TV chef day in and day out, I don’t think would suit me.
“I really like to get passionate about things and I have a couple of businesses and I get really passionate about them and dig into the all-encompassing problems I find with them.”
Turner said he was recently up at 4:30 a.m. to deliver 500 breakfasts to eight hotels. Then he spent part of that afternoon in a branding and marketing meeting.
“I like switching gears and being involved in all aspects of the businesses.”
Tickets for the From the Kitchen to the Boardroom event are $250 and include a unique dining experience put on by the four chefs, plus a question and answer session with Turner, Jackie Kai Ellis of Beaucoup Bakery, Quang Dang, executive chef at West, and Vikram Vij, who has established several, highly regarded Indian restaurants.
To order tickets, visit richmondchamber.ca.