It’s always fun to see any cooking or pastry competitions in exhibitions. but there’s always consequence behind the prestigious competitions.

Competition, The Double-Edged Sword

In addition of a display of extraordinary skills, we can see competition as the stepping-stone in someone’s career. However, the victory in a competition usually comes with a logical consequence, hijacking. In order to know how to  deal with the issue, we discuss with Chef Rahmat Kusnedi (CRK), an ex-pastry competitor who becomes a business owner (Physalis’s), the perpetrator and also the victim of hijacking.

How do you see culinary competition?

We have 2 side of competition, like a double-edged sword that can be sharp in two ways, up and down. If a 5 star hotel is led by a chef that used to participate  in competition or association, he would let the staffs to do the same thing. It’s different story with businessman chef who is job-oriented, they rarely give permissions. If the company give permission and the staffs win, of course there will be positive feedback for the institution, they will have better image. Like what happened when I worked in Sari Pan Pacific under its Executive  Chef, Katsuya Ono who got 22 gold medals in his whole career, not silver nor bronze. I learn competition from him.

Please tell us your story in competition.

I was participating in 2003’s Salon Culinaire in Jakarta, at the time I was still a Sous Chef. I was pushed by Ono-san (Katsuya) to participate, because to him, anybody who got skills should exhibit them. It was not just me, almost all of the division in Sari Pan Pacific was focusing on the competition under his guidance. We managed to become the champion, we brought so many medals, personally, I brought 2 gold medals thanks to Ono-san’s coaching.

So how did the competition affect the company?

Of course, commercially, we got positive exposure. Even though he was a chef, Ono-san’s way of thinking is brilliant. He was able to persuade the top management that competition is part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), a program of Marketing division. Marketing activities such as giving flyers, put up banner require money, so did competition. However, in event such as Salon Culinaire, all people in horeca industry would focus there, it’s the parameter of the industry.

After the event, the promoting job was taken over by PR division. At the time, the PR as led by (alm) Fika Kansil, who was very active. We made so many sales promotion, the photos of our activities was broadcasted everywhere. It boosted the sales, but we have a new issue, chef hijacking, including me who moved to JW Marriott. Since the competition began, the Executive Chef of JW Marriott gave me his name card and asked me to call him after the competition. Almost all Executive Chefs do similar things if they are interested in the competitors.

It’s a tough situation for hotels. That’s why you see some hotels that won’t allow their staffs to participate in competitions. Of course we have different kind of chefs. Some don’t really care for competition, some are willing to walk the extra miles, like Ono-san. On the other hand, he encouraged his staffs to movet o get better career elsewhere. He didn’t mind mentoring new people, but of course, the succession plan that we’ve discussed in previous issue, has to be implied well.

Now you’re a business owner. How do you prevent this hijacking?

I had it too. My chef who won a competition has been hijacked by one of 5 star hotel. But I understand that I did the same thing in the past, I have to let it go. No big deal for me, because the point is, when I can contribute to someone’s success, he will remember the things I’ve done.

Can you stop it with contract?

Yes, hotels have done it. Of course, hotel appreciates when you have skills and achievements outside workplace, there’s always bargaining power. The job promotion can be given at the same year, or at the latest, the beginning of the next year, it’s certain. There are contracts, but it’s not strong enough to prevent someone from moving. We have people who don’t enjoy changes, they prefer staying in the comfort zone, but we also have those who love new challenge in new places, everyone has his own thinking.

Then, how should we deal with the issue?

Back to the succession plan, everything’s connected. If you have good succession plan, when the champion chef is gone, you can maintain the quality. But in the end, my approach is not about money, it’s about how to humanize the staffs and
see them as families. The same goes when we start a family, there’s only 2 people, a husband and a wife. Then we’ll have children, but someday they will also leave, and we’re back to 2. You can’t tell them to stay, it’s their right. It’s like in companies, feel free to join competition or association, if they should leave, they’re still part of the family.

In the end, the measure of one’s success is not seen merely on personal achievements, but on how he can transfer the knowledge that can contribute to others’ successes. When I heard my staffs succeed in other places, I see it also as my achievement. In this regard, the greatest chef for me is Jean Francois Arnaud (JFA). We have so many great Asian chefs, thanks to him. In Indonesia, I don’t see any good chefs who are never been mentored by JFA.