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The Life of a Restaurant Group’s Executive Chef

April 02 2020

A graduate of the Algonquin College’s Culinary program, Chef David Godsoe built his skills at various Ottawa fine dining establishments, including: The Black Tomato, Broadway Bar and Grill, Indulge Kitchen and Cocktail, NeXT Restaurant and Ramada Ottawa on the Rideau. Then in 2016, Godsoe joined 18-Hospitality Group’s flagship location, Restaurant e18hteen.

 

Today, Chef David’s portfolio involves day-to-day management and working the lines of Restaurant e18hteen, along with Jackson, The Clarendon Tavern and Social.

 

We recently sat down with Chef Godsoe to learn what it takes to be a successful restaurant group chef, as well as the unique challenges and identities that come with running four very different restaurants.

 

You’re the Executive Chef of Jackson, Social, The Clarendon Tavern and e18hteen. Describe your role at each restaurant and how it differs between the four establishments.

Jackson, located inside the Ottawa Art Gallery, is a very complex business. We do large events throughout the year, so business ebbs and flows. On a day-to-day basis, we operate as both a café and lunch restaurant.

 

With The Clarendon Tavern, it's where I spend the least amount of my time, as it was more setup from the get-go. I still continue to manage the menus and make sure that the food quality is where it needs to be.

 

Social is a juggernaut of a restaurant that does very high volume, but I have a fantastic team in there with my Chef de Cuisine, Peter. A lot of what I do there is more coaching, mentoring and maintaining the profitability of the business. 

 

e18hteen is the restaurant that I spend the most kitchen time. Being a Four-Diamond restaurant, it requires hands-on attention.

 

Share with us what your day-to-day as the Executive Chef of four of Ottawa’s top restaurants looks like.

Most of the time I'll start my day at Jackson, primarily because it's the one that opens the earliest. I'll do a check-in with my management team there and go through what needs to be addressed. Next, I’ll do a check-in at The Clarendon Tavern to talk with my managers, check the products and do some tastings. 

 

In the afternoons, I spend time at Social for quality control and touching on different areas of the restaurant to ensure things are getting done the right way. Near the end of the day, I'll head over to e18hteen, get suited up and step onto the line to make sure service goes smoothly for the evening. 

 

How do your food philosophies and techniques differ between the four restaurants during the menu development process?

The base philosophy stays the same; we approach everything with a made-in-house ideal, trying to ensure we make as much of our food in the back of house as possible. The main differentiating factor between the price points at each restaurant is the type of ingredients that we bring in.

 

For example, at Restaurant e18hteen, we're dealing with very high-end beef, black truffles, caviar, etc. If you go to The Clarendon Tavern, we're creating nice house-ground burgers and simple flatbreads, but the food costs are a lot lower. 

 

Where do you find inspiration for each restaurant and how do you continue to find inspiration to evolve them?

It's always a challenge, especially when you're trying to manage four different concepts. I rely a lot on the team around me. I have great people that I work with on a day-to-day basis to help come up with tasting menus and lunch specials. It can be anything from sandwiches of the day at Jackson to feature flatbreads at The Clarendon Tavern.

We like to have an approach where we involve everyone in the creative process. For large menus or holiday menus it’s a lot for just one person to come up with, so we maintain a team mentality. We then make sure everything is aligned with the restaurant concepts. 

 

What are the biggest rewards and challenges in running the kitchens of each of your restaurants?

The biggest challenge is maintaining the difference between each restaurant. We have to make sure that they're truly unique. 

 

There are different skill sets required to work in each restaurant, so we are able to establish a training program where we can move cooks up through the kitchens, which is one of the biggest rewards. At The Clarendon Tavern, it's more of an entry-level kitchen where you don't necessarily need years of experience. Through there, cooks are able to work themselves into restaurants like Social, which can be a bit more demanding. Then, they can ultimately move into e18hteen where there is more finesse and attention to detail. 

 

Seeing cooks progress through our kitchens at each stage of their career to become the chefs they want to be is definitely the most rewarding part. 

 

One piece of advice that you would give to a chef looking to become part of a restaurant group.

The biggest piece of advice is to stay organized and don't try to do everything yourself. Delegation is key, along with being able to put people into roles they need to succeed. Ultimately, you have to understand that you're responsible for everything, so if you don't set people up properly, that falls on you. The better you set people up, the easier your job will be. 

 

So, what’s next for Jackson, Social, The Clarendon Tavern and e18hteen? How would you like to see each of these restaurants grow in the coming years?

Jackson is where we're implementing the most change. Because there's such a unique dynamic, trying to navigate everything in a successful manner has been a challenge over the past few years. We're currently building on our events and actively improving the cafe. The foundation is there, we just need to build on it all.

 

The Clarendon Tavern is doing very well with a bit more of a 'slow and steady' increase in business as more people become aware of it. We're looking to expand the patio in the summer, giving us 50 extra seats outside, which will be beautiful.

 

Social is almost at its limit. There will always be areas in which we can improve and grow, but our team is doing a great job of making sure we're always booked full of groups. We'll continue to work on food, service and the wine list. Last year was one of our best years we’ve had; the team did such a tremendous job.

 

For Restaurant e18hteen, we'll be doing some renovations to give the restaurant a bit of an update. We're also looking to expand our steak offerings, tasting menus and getting a dry aging room for dry meats. I'd love to explore the avenues of retired dairy cows and different beef that people wouldn't normally consume and use cool techniques to transform those ingredients into unique experiences.