Chef Terry McSpedon, Crew Restaurant, Greenwich, CT
Who or what influenced you to start a career in foodservice? Where did you train?
Growing up, Julia Child’s show was my Sesame Street. I would watch her religiously; enraptured by the love and care she took with all the ingredients and dishes. As a teenager, I worked under the tutelage of Joseph Doering at Maxl’s Rathskeller Restaurant in White Plains. He taught me the basics of working in a restaurant, and I consider him a mentor for all I gleaned from his wisdom and expertise. Formally, I attended CIA in Hyde Park.
Describe your culinary style and point of view?
My culinary style would probably be categorized as based on classical French with American influences. I like menus that are developed with fresh food, seasonal items, local farmers, and the customers in mind.
What do you do to stay on top of the new cooking trends?
I am not trend-oriented, as trends are fads and therefore will go out of style. Classic food reinvented is always in fashion; we don’t need to jump on the current culinary bandwagon to serve dishes customers love.
When developing a menu how do you enforce the standards that you have set in place?
In a small restaurant setting (such as Crew), it is easy to monitor and oversee the kitchen to be certain the vision is being carried out.
A great menu and location is so important, but in your opinion, how important is your kitchen and wait staff to the success of a restaurant?
Having worked in all facets of the restaurant machine, I can say the kitchen and wait staff is totally and completely paramount to success. One clogged gear can disrupt the whole process. Front of house staff are the ambassadors to us prepping and cooking in the back.
What role does the vendor community on both the equipment and food supply side play? And in your opinion, is today’s salesperson providing the level of service you need to succeed?
We try to support local when able with our food, and endurance and efficiency are key with equipment. Since I was, in one incarnation, a sales rep in the food industry, I recognize the necessity of a good relationship with a restaurant. We are a service-based industry from all angles, and customer satisfaction extends to all aspects.
Do you feel that the restaurant industry suffers too much from Zagat, Yelp, and other consumer review sights? Are consumers depending too much on review?
Without question, restaurants are suffering from all of the online reviews. The websites can pick and choose which reviews to upload, and often the negative ones are more entertaining and sensational so they are chosen. As for customers, if it can be googled or they can ask Siri, most will not bother to learn more beyond. People can follow a group without having an independent opinion.
What current culinary trends do you really embrace, and which ones do you wish would go away?
I like that local farmers have been en vogue for a while, and I think that trend is (thankfully) here to stay. I wish the importance of trends to people’s dining experience and opinions would go away.
What advice would you offer to a newcomer looking to become a successful chef in this industry?
Eyes open, ego in check. Fully immerse all your senses into your culinary experience, including learning from those who have come before you. In this era of the cooking channels and celebrity chefs, anyone with a set of professional cooking knives imagines that they can make/be the next best thing. Enter the kitchen with an open mind and a willingness to learn.