Executive Chef Bob Clark
Location: San Jose, California
Number of people fed per day: 1,400
With Bon Appétit Management Company since: 2004
“This may sound funny, but I’ve never been comfortable cooking from a recipe. Most chefs rely on training, instinct, and their five senses to create authentic tasting food. Bon Appétit Management Company is a company that understands that. Because our people in leadership are chefs and food lovers, we’re not a recipe-driven company. Instead, we’re inspired by our love for great ingredients, and flavor is what drives our work in the kitchen, not recipes..”
Why I’m a chef:
The first kitchen I worked in at the age of 14 was staffed by Italian and Russian ladies who really knew how to cook. It’s the sounds I remember most. I felt at home there among the rhythmic chopping of knives, the whir of the food processor, the clank of metal spoons and ‘mmmm’ sounds while the ladies were tasting, all punctuated by the murmur of conversation. I just liked being there. Pretty soon I was coming in after school to make salad dressings, assemble lasagnas, and prepare the meats. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew that I wanted to cook, so I attended the Hotel and Restaurant program at Santa Barbara City College. I was lucky to be able to work alongside Julia Child at a few events, as she was a local resident and a big supporter of the school. She was an amazing role model who reminded me of those ladies in my first kitchen. No matter what she was doing, her passion for food came through. After college, I cooked around the Bay Area, and even had my own catering truck for awhile. I also ventured out and worked at resorts in Hawaii and Sun Valley before returning to my home in the Bay Area and finding Bon Appétit. I love my job. It’s more like cooking for your family. I see the same people every day and I enjoy giving them food that makes them happy.
What sustainable food means to me:
Sustainability is all about the big picture: where we source our ingredients, how they get to us, how long the trucks that brought them were idling on the freeway, plate size, portioning, food waste, and energy use in our cooking. We have to consider all of these factors, while also remembering that we’re here to make our guests happy with amazing flavors. The people I serve eat here five days a week, and they are adventurous eaters, so I’ve got to stay on my toes. If we give our guests plenty of variety and educate them about what they’re eating with passion and professionalism, I’ve found that it’s easy to get them to embrace our sustainability initiatives. It’s like a great finish to a race when I watch the cooks at the stations talk about our food and see people get excited about trying a new Low Carbon Diet choice like an Asian chicken burger with ginger, soy, lemongrass, and sautéed bok choy instead of a regular beef cheeseburger. Or, a smoked trout pizza with watercress instead of a pepperoni and mozzarella pizza. It’s how I get my kicks! We’ve made subtle changes in how we present our foods to help people make more sustainable choices. Here’s how: in our sandwich station we keep high carbon items like roast beef and cheese in the back of the case and merchandise colorful salads, turkey, and other lower carbon (and healthier!) choices up front. I’ve cut down cheese use by one-third, while still offering customers choices.
We also look closely at every aspect of our operations. It used to be common for kitchens not to accept lunchtime deliveries, but I’d rather receive deliveries during my busy hours than early in the morning when I know the trucks have been sitting in rush hour traffic spewing pollution into the air. Kitchens that are not well run can be huge energy hogs, so another thing we do is structure our oven time so that the ovens are working at capacity. We don’t follow the common restaurant practice of turning on all the equipment first thing in the morning and leaving it on until the very end of the day. Small changes can make a big difference.
Why Bon Appétit Management Company is Different:
I love that everyone, from the executives, to the chefs, to the people that work the stations, to our diners, is in on the philosophy of local, sustainable, and flavorful. It’s a phenomenal place to work. People are just really excited about what we do here. The clients are open with their feedback, our diners understand what we’re doing and appreciate it. And it’s so simple, really. We’re using our common sense to do the right thing, while concentrating on making the best tasting food.