A Commons Club Chat
With Virgin Hotels Chicago Executive Chef Rick Gresh
When it comes to empowering employees and promoting your cause, culture is everything. But what exactly makes for a great place to work?
To help answer this we spoke with team leader and Virgin Hotels Chicago Executive Chef Rick Gresh. With 24/7 in-room dining and four restaurants, including the dynamic The Commons Club, Chef Rick has brought a unique perspective to leadership in the Chicago kitchen and beyond.
Let’s dig in.
WHAT ROLE DOES FOOD PLAY IN THE CULTURE OF A SPACE AND HOW DID YOU BRING THAT TO LIFE AT THE COMMONS CLUB?
The Commons Club is absolutely beautiful. The personality of the space is to relax and nosh, perhaps get some work done and have a meeting, or you can party your butt off. I approached the menu thinking, “What would I like to eat if I were going to use this space myself”? I wanted it to be more on the healthy side and focus on our great farmers in the area.
WHAT PRACTICES ARE IN PLACE TO HELP YOU AND YOUR STAFF CREATE NEW IDEAS AND A WINNING DISH?
The biggest thing is having an open mind and heart. I listen more than I speak most days, and absorb my fantastic staff’s ideas.
With so many outlets, I have to rely on my team to help make the right decisions, and everyone has input on a menu item. We generally start by talking about the upcoming season and what items we’d like to cook with, then it moves into playing around with the food. Together we work dishes through completely before they go on the menu.
HOW DO YOU YOU FOSTER CULTURE AND ENCOURAGE YOUR TEAM TO MAKE THIS MORE THAN JUST A JOB?
First off I have to walk the walk — I can’t be a screaming lunatic! We’ve built a culture of respect and truly caring for each other. I encourage everyone to speak their mind and I have a no BS rule: no politics or games. We work together and we celebrate our successes. When we struggle, we get back at it as a team.
I’m also launching Aluminum Chef. It’s an internal culinary competition where anyone can challenge anyone in the kitchen. It’s a surprise ingredient cook off and the winner gets cool prizes.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Many places actually. Sometimes it’s nature or chatting with my staff, other times a ride on my Harley or sipping on a glass of whisky does the trick.
ARE YOU EVER HAPPY WITH A DISH OR DO YOU FIND YOURSELF CONSTANTLY TWEAKING?
Sometimes when you play with a dish too much it ends up changing completely. I think some dishes are perfect just as they are in that moment, but then the weather changes, or the mood changes and a little extra something makes the dish perfect. There is also that chef side of it when I think, “If I were going to eat this, I would add this or that to the dish”. Total gluttony!
IF YOU WERE AN ACTION FIGURE, WHAT TOOLS WOULD YOU COME ACTION-PACKED WITH?
A Flavor-Atomizing gun. You could be eating a tomato, but after I shoot it with my gun it could taste like cotton candy or whatever flavor I choose!