The Evolution of a Dish:

9 Qualities of a Great Culinary Director

Culinary directors are essential in overseeing the operations of a kitchen, handling tasks such as budget management, contract negotiations, sales monitoring, and staff recruitment.

However, aside from these tactical responsibilities, what additional skills are necessary for success in this position? In this post, we delve into the less tangible yet vital qualities that make a culinary director truly effective.

They balance ambition with realism.

Balancing ambition with realism is crucial in the culinary industry. While a chef's ambition often drives them to push the boundaries of culinary creativity, it is essential to ground these aspirations in realism to maintain consistency in quality. Striking the right balance helps assess the feasibility of ambitious concepts, which prevents potential compromises in taste, presentation, and overall customer experience. 

Efficiency is a crucial consideration when balancing ambition with realism. By setting realistic goals, culinary directors can align ambitious goals with the kitchen's resources, equipment, and staffing capabilities, thus optimizing resource management, avoiding wastage, and optimizing costs. 

Moreover, maintaining a positive kitchen culture relies on realistic expectations. A balanced approach fosters a sense of achievement, boosting team morale and confidence, ultimately contributing to a harmonious working environment and preventing frustration and demoralization within the culinary team.

"We swing big, but we also swing realistically as well. We think about how we can achieve the flavor we want, and also how we scale. For example, if it's Hollandaise, is it possible to do it with a three-hour shelf life? So it's not sitting somewhere warm when we know we need to keep hot food hot and cold food cold?"

John Karangis,
Executive Chef & VP of Culinary Innovation,
Shake Shack

They prioritize employee growth.

Fostering a culture that values and supports employees' professional development enhances employee satisfaction and loyalty. This commitment to growth reduces turnover rates, ensuring a stable and experienced team. Moreover, as individuals within the culinary team evolve and expand their skill sets, the entire team's capabilities are elevated.

The emphasis on employee growth also creates a culture of excellence within the culinary team. As individuals progress in their roles, they are more likely to meet and exceed expectations, fostering a positive and high-performance environment in the kitchen. This commitment to growth instills a sense of accountability and professionalism, contributing to the team's overall success. 

Additionally, prioritizing employee growth enables culinary directors to identify and nurture leadership potential within the team, facilitating succession planning. This proactive approach ensures that well-trained individuals are ready to step into leadership roles when needed, enhancing the sustainability and resilience of the culinary team.

"You need to create visible upward mobility so people can see, okay, if I stay here, I put the time in, I'm going to be rewarded. Many groups are now giving equity because what's better than that? You have ownership. You feel like you're a part of something. You're no longer simply a pawn in the game. You feel like you can put down roots somewhere and grow." 

Eli Kulp,
Culinary Director
High Street Hospitality Group

They are resilient to failure.

Recognizing that failure is inherent to experimentation and culinary exploration, resilient leaders encourage their teams to take risks and think outside the box. This mindset prevents the fear of failure from stifling creativity and allows culinary professionals to learn from setbacks, refining their techniques and approaches over time.

Culinary directors must view failures not as roadblocks but as opportunities for growth and refinement. The ability to bounce back from setbacks, analyze the root causes of failures, and implement corrective measures contributes to the ongoing enhancement of recipes, kitchen processes, and overall culinary operations.

A culinary director's resilience in the face of failure also profoundly influences team morale and leadership effectiveness. Acknowledging mistakes openly, learning from them, and demonstrating a determination to move forward sets a positive example for the culinary team. This approach fosters trust and encourages team members to contribute ideas without fear of reprisal.

"We tested a chicken parm and it didn't work out. We did everything we could to elevate it without seeming to be fancy. We analyzed it a lot to figure out what the concerns were. From a guest perspective and from an internal perspective, our teams were able to execute well, so that felt great. I love when those things happen too, because I think that's life. So, we will look to bring it back in a way that resonates. And I may be striking out again, but we'll try."

John Karangis,
Executive Chef & VP of Culinary Innovation,
Shake Shack

They motivate through purpose.

Communicating a clear and compelling purpose creates a unified vision for the culinary team. When individuals understand the collective goal and how their specific roles contribute to that goal, it fosters collaboration and teamwork. Motivating through purpose nurtures a sense of camaraderie and shared responsibility, enhancing overall team cohesion.

Purpose-driven motivation instills a sense of commitment that transcends challenges. When faced with obstacles or setbacks, a team motivated by purpose is likelier to persevere and find innovative solutions. The enduring commitment to a meaningful purpose is a powerful driving force, helping the team navigate difficulties with resilience.

Culinary directors who emphasize purpose in their leadership appeal to individuals with similar values. This can be a decisive factor in attracting and retaining top talent. Employees who resonate with the purpose of their work are more likely to stay committed to their roles, contributing to the stability and expertise of the culinary team.

"Creating a sense of belonging in your kitchen for your team is about as strong as a bond you're going to be able to make. Because we're social creatures, we want to feel part of a pact. If you can motivate people by saying, look to the right and your left. This is your family; these are your people. Do what's right for them, and you'll be rewarded with this nurturing environment. It's so powerful because it gives people purpose. It answers the question why am I doing this? Why do I wanna put all this effort in?"

Eli Kulp,
Culinary Director
High Street Hospitality Group

They value relationship building.

Successful culinary directors forge connections with local farmers, suppliers, and vendors, creating a reliable network for sourcing high-quality, fresh ingredients. These relationships contribute to the consistent delivery of top-notch dishes and allow for unique and exclusive ingredient access, setting the establishment apart from the competition.

Supporting local businesses creates a sense of community and reciprocal support. Strong relationships with suppliers provide a valuable support system for navigating challenges in the supply chain, ensuring adaptability and practical problem-solving in the face of unexpected disruptions.

Innovation and menu development benefit significantly from collaborative relationships with suppliers as well. Culinary directors who maintain open lines of communication stay informed about new and unique ingredients entering the market. This collaborative approach allows for creative experimentation, inspiring a dynamic menu that remains fresh and appealing to customers. The stories behind these ingredients, shared through compelling storytelling, contribute to brand authenticity and differentiation, enhancing the restaurant's overall reputation.

"When I first got to Franny's, I pushed that we should go to the market first. And if we can't get it from there, let's work through a distributor or a local aggregator. So we were at the green market four or five days a week, and everything was hand-selected. There's no monetary value to the relationships you build with farmers and suppliers over time. The emotional value, how much learning there is." 

John Adler,
Senior VP of Culinary and Physical Products,
Blue Apron

They are an inclusive decision maker.

By involving diverse perspectives, experiences, and culinary backgrounds within the team, culinary directors open the door to a rich tapestry of ideas. This diversity sparks creativity and contributes to developing unique and exciting menu offerings that resonate with a broad audience. Inclusive decision-making allows the culinary team to collectively contribute to creating dishes, fostering a sense of ownership and pride that positively impacts team morale and motivation.

Inclusive decision-making creates a collaborative environment where the culinary team gains a comprehensive understanding of the vision behind new items. This understanding translates into consistent execution in the kitchen, aligning with the culinary director's expectations and delivering customers a reliable and high-quality experience.

Moreover, an inclusive approach enhances adaptability and flexibility in response to the dynamic nature of the culinary industry. By fostering a culture of openness to diverse perspectives, culinary directors enable their teams to embrace change effectively and respond to shifts in customer preferences.

"We need our teams to fully embrace and care deeply about what we do. So there's a lot of background on why we chose that item, where the inspiration came from. And then, if our teams like it, we find more often then not, those items will resonate better, sell well, and be executed better. So, our team is a big part of the overall success of the item. And once those items are tested for anywhere from 30 to 90 days, we'll put it on our annual calendar."

John Karangis,

Executive Chef & VP of Culinary Innovation,

Shake Shack

They never stop learning.

A culinary director who embraces a culture of learning opens doors to heightened creativity. Regular skill honing enhances a director's ability to navigate unforeseen hurdles, from managing a sudden influx of guests to navigating budgeting constraints and adapting to ingredient shortages.

By embodying a commitment to continuous improvement, a culinary director also sets the standard for the entire BOH team, creating a culture of excellence. At the core of this culture lies an unwavering commitment to quality. Craftsmanship becomes a hallmark, with a keen focus on the intricate details of food preparation, cooking techniques, and presentation, ensuring an unparalleled dining experience for patrons.

Asking questions is a fundamental aspect of problem-solving and improvement. Whether seeking customer feedback, collaborating with the culinary team, or engaging with suppliers, a culinary director's inquisitiveness can uncover valuable insights. By asking the right questions, directors can identify areas for refinement, address challenges, and make informed decisions that contribute to the overall success of the culinary operation.

"You've got to stay curious about what's working for people and what's not. You've got to say, I know this is 98% great, but what's 98.2? And there's the old Thomas Keller quote, which is like when you acknowledge and accept that there's no such thing as perfection; it's just about making good food and people happy. Like that's what good cooking's about. And so, you must accept that you'll never get the perfect recipe."

John Adler,
Senior VP of Culinary and Physical Products,
Blue Apron

They are focused on consistency.

When patrons visit a restaurant, they expect their favorite dishes to taste the same each time. Maintaining a consistent flavor profile, portion size, and overall quality creates a sense of trust and reliability. Customers are more likely to become repeat patrons if they can rely on the consistency of the culinary offerings.

Consistency is essential for building and maintaining a solid brand identity. A culinary director who prioritizes consistently executing recipes and presentations contributes to the establishment's distinct culinary identity. This brand consistency not only attracts and retains customers but also enhances the restaurant's overall reputation in the competitive culinary landscape.

From an operational perspective, consistency streamlines kitchen processes. Standardized recipes and procedures ensure the culinary team can work efficiently, reducing the likelihood of errors and variations. This operational efficiency not only improves the workflow within the kitchen but also positively impacts the overall speed of service, contributing to a more satisfying customer experience.

"Our process is very scientific. We don't even call them recipes. They're formulas. And we've dialed these exact formulas for our co-packer, so it's always consistent. If you have something you make, it has to be made the same way every single time. No one will be stoked about a product that tastes different from one week to the next."

Tim Ma,
Culinary Director,
Laoban Dumplings

They keep up with technology.

From advanced kitchen appliances to digital inventory management systems, embracing technology can streamline processes, reduce manual errors, and improve productivity. This efficiency benefits the kitchen staff and contributes to a smoother dining experience for customers.

Secondly, technology has become integral to customer engagement and marketing in the culinary world. Social media platforms, online ordering systems, and reservation apps are examples of how technology influences how customers interact with and experience a restaurant. A culinary director who stays abreast of these technological advancements can leverage them to enhance customer satisfaction, streamline services, and remain competitive.

Furthermore, technology enables data-driven decision-making, allowing culinary directors to analyze trends, track customer preferences, and make informed choices about menu development and business strategies. For example, the insights gleaned from the menu engineering feature in meez can help culinary directors know the profit margins, food cost percentage, and revenue of each dish on their menu. They also adjust recipes and see how they affect numbers in real time. 


Being a culinary leader requires more than domain expertise; it demands a sharp business sense, an innovative mind, an affinity for technology, and the foresight of a seasoned strategist. As a culinary director, your journey towards excellence can be significantly empowered with meez. This comprehensive recipe management platform helps professionals like you scale by ensuring precision, consistency, and profitability. 

Take a 2-minute tour of meez and explore our many features, including:

  • Menu Engineering: Gain insights into profit margins, food cost percentages, and revenue for each dish in real time.
  • Workflow Management: Streamline operations with meez's tools for enhanced team coordination and consistent recipe execution.
  • Employee Onboarding: Refine your staff training processes, reducing manual errors and improving productivity.

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