Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, HAAC, Complete Culinary LLC president, has walked in many foodservice and culinary shoes during his nearly 40 years in the industry. His culinary education experience includes more than 20 years with Kendall College and Laureate International Universities where he had direct responsibilities of culinary programs on 48 campuses in 12 countries. His foundational restaurant training included work in the finest restaurants and patisseries in France, Switzerland and the United States.
Koetke is the next culinary professional to sit at CAFÉ’s “Chef’s Corner Table” and share his insight into foodservice trends, the industry’s future as well as what job-searching advice he would give today’s graduating culinary students.
Where do you see the foodservice industry in five years?
I do not foresee doom and gloom for the long term. I do think eventually COVID-19 will be less and less a part of our daily lives. When that happens, restaurants will return in force as people crave dining and the chance to be social. But I also think there will be new concepts emerging that will challenge the tried and true restaurant. What this last year has shown us is that businesses need to plan for diverse business strategies, focus on being flexible and resilient as a core business competency, and explore multiple revenue streams to allow them to potentially better pivot in the event of uncontrolled changes to the business environment.
Describe two current foodservice trends you see in the foodservice industry.
The biggest one is the role of social media as a core business driver and essential interface with business operations. Previous to COVID-19, it was a part of many foodservice business strategies but not essential. Today, it has proven how important it is and will shape the industry moving forward as many segments of the population previously less savvy in technology have now come to rely on it.
The other trend is take out. Before COVID-19, restaurants saw take out as a way to increase revenue without increasing square footage. Now it is life and death. At the same time, as restaurants get better at it and as the consumer sees its success, I think it will provide real business opportunities in the future.
What advice would you give today's culinary students and graduates as they prepare for a career in the foodservice industry?
Be ready for rapid change. Be flexible. Constantly scan the news environment for things that can impact your business. Now it is COVID-19, but tomorrow it will certainly be something else. Expect it and be ready to adapt. In every change, there are always opportunities that open up. Look for them.
What steps would you advise culinary graduates to take in securing a position in today's market?
More than ever, there is a focus on proper hygiene. One outcome of COVID-19 is that the consumer may expect more transparency in kitchen operations and a higher level of cleanliness. Graduates need to demonstrate they understand and embody this. Otherwise, be ready to step in wherever there is an opportunity until the restaurant industry comes out of this and jobs return.
Describe one surprising event in your professional life that made a valuable impact on your career today?
Instead of one pivotal event, I would refer to what at the time looked little and then turned into major opportunities. Always be on the lookout for that conversation where there is a kernel of something. Follow it and be flexible. Had I not taken a random call in the kitchen years ago when I really didn't have time to talk, I would not have learned of an opportunity to enter culinary education that then spanned 20-plus years and took me around the world.
More about Christopher Koetke
Christopher Koetke has an MBA from Dominican University and a BA in French literature from Valparaiso University. He has been honored with the Outstanding Alum from the Brennan School of Business at Dominican University, alumni achievement award from Valparaiso University, and Worldchefs Educator award. He hosted his own national TV cooking show on the LiveWell Network for almost five years, written for prominent newspapers and trade publications, and authored a well-known culinary textbook, The Culinary Professional. He is an expert on food concept development, culinary sustainability and on the culinary application of amino acids as flavor elements. He is also opening a new concept in post-secondary culinary education at the Sun Valley Culinary Institute in Idaho.
Editor’s Note: “Chef’s Corner Table” will become a regular feature in upcoming issues of the Gold Medal Classroom. Articles will focus on professional chefs from various facets of the foodservice industry. The questions will delve into their views of current foodservice developments and how culinary students can find positions within their industries.