Chef for a Day

By Jody Shee

Your job is hectic enough. So the idea of allowing a guest to trail you all day may not sound particularly wise, at first. But your colleagues who have embraced and encouraged the chef-for-a-day concept find a payoff in ways that transcend schedule interruptions. A view of guests as friends and your job as fulfilling is the foundation. No two operations perform their program the same, which is another key. It has to be done in your style. Learn from four chefs, who explain their chef-for-a-day agendas.

Brennan's of Houston

If being a chef for a day isn't prestigious enough, those who participate at Brennan's of Houston, Houston, are made to look official and professional as they don chef's clothing that includes a chef's jacket with their name embroidered on it.

The guest-chef experience begins at 10:30 a.m. with a tour and a restaurant history lesson, followed by cooking with executive chef Danny Trace and / or other kitchen staff. The guest chef eats lunch with Trace, then heads back to the kitchen to learn and work some more. In late afternoon, he or she gets a lesson on spirits with the bar manager, followed by wine tasting and pairing with the wine director. Later, the guest chef enjoys a six-course dinner party with five friends.

"It's funny. They wear the jacket in the dining room with a sense of pride," Trace says. "Our cooks understand the system and have a blast with them. There's never a time when someone is in the way. The program builds loyalty, bonding and friendship."

Throughout most of the year, there's a chef-for-a-day guest in the kitchen about every week, for a price of $1,475. What participants learn is largely up to them. One recent guest, a dentist with a love of fishing, indicated that shrimp was his favorite food. He even entered a shrimp burger cook-off contest. So the agenda for his day as a chef was learning about and preparing barbecue shrimp, crabcakes, pecan fish, fish pontchartrain, shrimp sausage, shrimp muffaletta, stuffed shrimp and three shrimp-burger versions.

Because the program is so involved, the responsibilities are spread among the staff. "It takes a manager out for most of the day. But we each share for a couple of hours," Trace says.

Before they come, guest chefs receive a questionnaire asking what they want to learn or any interests they have in specific cooking techniques. They are also asked to indicate the spirits they are interested in learning more about, as well as their wine preferences and questions.

"It's about them having a great time and feeling comradely," Trace says. "They feel like they are part of the gang. They feel like they run the joint. It's a privilege for us to do this."...