Our Ladies and Gentlemen: Chef Frederic Morineau

ChefMorineauEach month, The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center (RCLC) features an interview with an employee — a Lady or Gentleman of The Ritz-Carlton — in order to share an insider’s view of the organization. This month’s interview is with Chef Frederic Mornineau from The Ritz-Carlton, Grand CaymanThis year Chef Morineau was recognized with a Gold Standard Award from The Ritz-Carlton. This award is given to only seven associates each year and signifies exemplary service and a commitment to our company philosophy. Chef Morineau also received the J. Willard Marriott Award of Excellence this year. The award is presented to a select few who have demonstrated over a period of time the traits of achievement, character, dedication, effort and perseverance.

“THIS IS WHERE I BELONG”

Born in France and educated in both France and England, Frederic Morineau worked in prestigious European hotels and restaurants until an ad in a newspaper attracted him to a chef’s position at restaurant in Aspen, Colorado. After securing the job and moving to Colorado, a co-worker invited Mr. Morineau to check out a hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, which had just opened in town. When he walked in and looked around, Mr. Morineau thought to himself, “This is where I belong.”

From that day forward, Mr. Morineau’s goal was to work at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

RCLC: YOU ACHIEVED YOUR GOAL OF WORKING FOR THE RITZ-CARLTON WHEN YOU JOINED THEIR FLAGSHIP HOTEL IN BUCKHEAD (ATLANTA), GA IN 1996. WAS IT WHAT YOU ANTICIPATED IT WOULD BE?

Chef Morineau: Shortly after I arrived, the local newspaper printed a review of the Cafe saying it was a “lousy” place to eat. So I thought, “I guess this is my last day.” I expected to be told, “Take your book and go home.” But no. Xavier Salomon, who was the Executive Chef at the time, came to me and said, “Now we are at the bottom. Let’s move on. There’s only one way to go and that’s up.” Together we made some changes in the restaurant, and it became successful.

RCLC: WHAT DID THAT EXPERIENCE TELL YOU ABOUT THE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN WHO WORK AT RITZ-CARLTON PROPERTIES?

Chef Morineau: I always had the feeling that if I set myself with the right type of leader, if they can teach me something and if I respect them, I can work for them. I can do anything for them. My work at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead with Xavier proved that to be true.

RCLC: WHAT DO YOU APPRECIATE ABOUT WORKING FOR THE MARRIOTT ORGANIZATION (OWNERS OF THE RITZ-CARLTON BRAND)?

Chef Morineau: The luxury environment. We have the tools and luxury ingredients to do a great job and that makes it a pleasure to come to work. When I worked in France, all I did was cook. No one asked me what I thought about the food. The only time a chef talked to me was to yell at me. The Ritz-Carlton cares about you, and they want to know what you think.

RCLC: YOU WERE RECENTLY RECOGNIZED WITH THE COMPANY’S GOLD STANDARD AWARD AND THE J. WILLARD MARRIOTT AWARD OF EXCELLENCE. WHY DO YOU THINK YOU RECEIVED THOSE AWARDS?

Chef Morineau: I have always understood that working in a hotel is not just about cooking. It involves all the departments and all the people who work there. When you work in a hotel you have to love people. You have to take time to train them. You can’t be “too busy.” My Human Resources Director, Janette Goodman, who nominated me, appreciates that.

Plus, I don’t have a lot of patience for “chit-chat,” but I do enjoy talking with my staff to get to know them. I consider them part of my family. After all, we work on Christmas together! And we have to have fun. Humor is a very important ingredient in the kitchen.

RCLC: BEING AN EXECUTIVE CHEF IN A BUSY HOTEL KITCHEN ISN’T ALWAYS EASY. HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN YOUR COOL?

Chef Morineau: I used to get upset. It takes a while to be a good leader. The Ritz-Carlton training helps you a lot. Years ago I exploded when I saw someone ignore a safety rule in the kitchen. One of my line employees at the time witnessed it and came to me the next day. She was visibly upset. I realized I needed to change, and I did. When you get upset and scream at someone, it doesn’t solve the problem. If you actually sit down with the person and say you love them but explain how they didn’t follow the rules and that they might lose their job as a result, it’s 200 times more powerful than getting mad.

RCLC: YOU’VE MENTORED MORE THAN TEN INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE GONE ON TO BE EXECUTIVE CHEFS. HOW DO YOU MENTOR AND IMPART WISDOM TO THE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN WHO WORK FOR YOU?

Chef Morineau: I tell my staff to be critical of themselves because it will help them constantly improve. I tell them to put themselves in the shoes of the guest and ask them, “If you were paying $1,000.00 a night to stay here, would you want to eat what you are serving?” That’s the difference between creating an okay experience and an amazing experience. Plus, you have to like to eat. You can’t be someone who is satisfied eating cold pizza from yesterday. You have to understand what your customer is looking for.

RCLC: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE UNIQUE EVENTS YOU HOST AT YOUR PROPERTY?

Chef Morineau: Since 2008, every January, on Martin Luther King weekend, we hold the Cayman Cookout…a beach BBQ. Celebrity chefs from around the world are invited to cook specialty dishes. As chefs we all have fun together! The guests enjoy meeting the chefs as they walk barefoot on the beach, going from station to station, enjoying gourmet meals. It’s small and intimate compared to similar events held in Miami or Aspen.

We also host a community event called, “Out of the Kitchen.” Whenever I start in a new hotel I visit the hotels and restaurants in town to meet the chefs. I recognize that we might need their help one day so I form friendships with them. Two of the local chefs I became friends with helped me start “Out of the Kitchen.” The idea was to bring local chefs together to be recognized for their talent. It’s such an uplifting event. Family members come to see their relatives compete and receive awards. This year 25 restaurants participated. The chefs used to have to pay for their expenses, but now we raise funds to finance the event. We’ve created something very special for the community.

RCLC: WOULD YOU SHARE A GUEST STORY THAT INDICATES HOW THE RITZ-CARLTON GOES BEYOND SOMEONE’S EXPECTATION?

Chef Morineau: We have a residence owner whose teenage daughter was very ill. She visited us in the kitchen during one of her stays so we knew she especially enjoyed our West Cayman salad. She had to head home quickly and unexpectedly for more medical treatments, and we wanted to do something for her. There’s no Ritz-Carlton Hotel near where she lives so we contacted a nearby Marriott and had them make and deliver the salad to her.

It’s all about the guests’ experience. We want to be part of their life. That’s why I’m proud to work for The Ritz-Carlton. 

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.