From “Knife Fights” to “Family Meals:” How Parkhurst Inspires Chefs with Engagement Events

To create authentic culinary experiences, we start where it counts: with our chefs! Parkhurst hosts chef engagement events throughout the year at various locations across our footprint, with themes like “Knife Fights” and “Family Meals,” to encourage collaboration and connection among our culinary artists.

“At Parkhurst, chefs bounce ideas off each other all the time when putting on events,” says Parkhurst Project Lead, Culinary Innovation and Standards Tim Fetter. “But chef engagement programs go beyond that. We purposefully get chefs to work with someone they haven’t met yet or someone they wouldn’t normally collaborate with to further connections and spur creativity.”

While chef engagement events are open to all Parkhurst chefs, there’s no pressure to participate. For every event, Fetter strives to make each one more fun and interesting. One recent Parkhurst engagement event took place at Bard College, where chefs collaborated on a farm-to-table dinner using produce harvested from the college farm. Other plans in the works for the future include “Camp’n Cook,” where chefs cook around a campfire and spend the night in the wilderness. Essentially, with these chef engagement events, Parkhurst strives to get chefs to think outside of the kitchen.

Making Engagement Events Happen

Just how did the chef engagement events get started? Fetter took the lead as engagement chair of the program shortly before the onset of the pandemic, probably the most unfortunate time to start a hands-on, in-person program.

“Over COVID, we hosted virtual events to keep the program going. As more things have gone back to normal, we’ve finally dusted off the original idea to start making them happen in person again.”

With a Parkhurst footprint that extends over 15 states, Fetter identifies chefs by region who might be interested in planning an event for their colleagues. Then, these chefs have free rein over the theme.

When the program first started in 2019, one suggested idea was a “Knife Fight”-themed competition that proved to be popular. But don’t worry: It’s not as vicious as it sounds.

“Knife Fight was a show on the Esquire Network where chefs would go into a restaurant after it closed and battle it out while a bunch of people would cheer them on. There were no real rules. Just, ‘Here’s a special ingredient and whatever else you can find in the kitchen.’ And that’s what we did!”

Television seems to have an influence on event ideas. Another theme, “Family Meal,” was inspired by the television show After Hours with Daniel Boulud, which saw chefs and celebrities gather round a restaurant table to talk about life and food as they enjoy a meal prepared by the home chef.

“We took that premise, and instead of having one chef produce everything, we called it a Family Meal. Chefs could prep something at their own site and finish making it in the kitchen with the other chefs. They’re spending a little bit of time in the kitchen with each other, fostering connections, and then at the end, they eat, and that’s when the real conversation starts.”

The Importance of Conversation

Ahead of Parkhurst Chef Engagement Events, Fetter asks for discussion topics in a pre-event survey to guide the conversation, which often includes troubleshooting problems the chefs face on-site. Fetter points out that these events provide the unique opportunity for chefs to cook while they network.

“We get the opportunity to cook whatever we want to cook and maybe even try some new recipes we’ll incorporate later. Plus, at these events, we’re sitting at a table with our CEO and COO, and you’re not sitting on eggshells. You can tell them what’s working and what’s not working about menus, and they want that feedback. That in itself is refreshing and sets Parkhurst apart.”

Following the engagement events, the chefs carry the conversation and collaboration into their work.

“It’s easy for chefs to get into a rut, but any time they can do something a little bit different, they come back with renewed energy and excitement. The best part is having the chefs in a room together. You see the passion in what we’re talking about. The theme makes it exciting, but the conversation is where it’s at.”

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