Staff Training Can Add Flavor to Your Menu

by Viki Kappel Spain

Nothing makes a camp operate more smoothly than having a well-trained kitchen staff that understands the importance of high-quality food and works together happily and confidently. Kitchen staff may come and go, but one way to ensure a successful commercial kitchen operation each year is to conduct in-house training for new, returning, summer-only, and year-round cooks. Training provides an opportunity to cover new health department laws and regulations, to introduce procedures and policies, and to show off new equipment.

As a result of the training, the quality of your food should improve, the methods of preparation and presentations should be more consistent, and you may save money because less food will be burned or wasted. Your staff will also manage their time better.

Training also makes your staff feel valued because you are investing in them. It gives them an opportunity to learn new ideas, develop better skills, increase their efficiency, develop a concept of budget and cost awareness, and gives them confidence to do a better job and to care about the job they are doing. They will feel enthusiastic, positive, and energetic about cooking.

Develop a Training Manual

Kitchen staff training can encompass many general areas, and camps can set up camp-specific training programs applicable to the needs of the facility. Each camp director and/or food service director needs to establish and maintain a camp-specific training manual. In addition to covering policies and procedures about food handling and safety issues, the manual should include general staff training work requirements, such as arrive at work on time, follow staff and facility rules and policies, be serious but enjoy the work, and have a team spirit.

Kitchen-specific training discussions can include:

  • the importance of organization and efficiency in the kitchen, as well as speed, timeliness, and deadline perceptions, and observation skills.
  • the importance of teamwork, stressing that no one always gets the "good" jobs and no one always gets the "bad" jobs.
  • kitchen safety and cleanliness, including emphasizing no sitting.

Other Training Resources

Training videos
Training videos are available to assist new directors in establishing quality, consistent training and to help train new staff hired after orientation. Videos can be made on site or purchased. For example, dough-handling training videos can be purchased from the Rich’s Company through their broker. To find a broker in your area, call 800-45-RICHS.

Training guidebooks
To work hand-in-hand with a site training manual, camp directors and/or food service directors need to find as many sourcebooks for the camp kitchen as possible. The ACA Bookstore carries several kitchen guidebooks. In addition, look for cookbooks with recipes for feeding large groups and other related resources at your local bookstore or at the online bookstores.

Finding Instructors

For part of an on-site kitchen staff training program, a seasoned cook can be asked to lecture, do hands-on demonstrations, and instruct staff in the ways of food ordering, menu design, and figuring how much food to prepare. An experienced cook or food service director from another facility can sometimes offer helpful hints, new ideas, and good cooking instruction that can bring new flavor to a tired menu. Another suggestion is to get a local caterer to teach or demonstrate new ideas.

Many food service companies have professional staff (i.e., registered dietitians, experienced meat cutters, produce specialists, etc.) available for training at no cost to the camp or conference center. Most food service company professionals can bring samples and materials to give to staff during the training, as well as food for a meal during the training day. Local colleges and universities also have nutrition and dietitian staff who might be willing to lecture staff during a kitchen staff training program. The dietitian may even agree to review and approve the camp’s menu for ACA-accreditation purposes.

Discuss health department issues
An essential part of the kitchen staff training program is covering health department and sanitation issues. To make sure staff are aware of the latest information and laws, ask a health department representative to be a guest speaker at your training session. Nothing is better than getting health department issues straight from an inspector. This effort also lets the health department and inspectors know that the camp is concerned with health
and sanitation issues and helps all parties become familiar with one another.

Demonstrate Kitchen Equipment

Another area of interest in a kitchen staff in-service training program is kitchen equipment. All staff members need to be guided and instructed in equipment handling safety and emergency situations and procedures. Staff need to know where the fire extinguisher is, where the main gas or electrical shut-off valve is located, as well as the medical emergency protocol. Just as food brokers represent many different food companies, equipment brokers also represent new products and may be interested in coming to your camp to demonstrate their new products and offer training.

Share Information

A great way to turn an on-site kitchen staff training into a fun event is to invite staff members from other camps to your facility. You could also arrange to have a group training at another location, with all the above professionals scheduled for an all-day training program.

Another avenue of shared training is to contact your local ACA section and coordinate a section training event for all camps in the area. Set up a planning committee to establish a site, set a date, and schedule as many professional trainers for the event as possible.

Camp cooking information is valuable and should be shared and taught to as many new and returning cooks as possible so all camps can reap the benefits of training. On-site training can instill enthusiasm, boost morale, improve budgets, and generate good food in every camp kitchen.

Viki Kappel Spain is the food service director for YMCA Camp Ta Ta Pochon in Southern California and has been camp cooking since 1985. She is the author of The Camp Kitchen Guidebook, available from the ACA Bookstore.

Originally published in the 2000 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.

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