Finding synergy in the kitchen
February 26, 2012
In his bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” author Stephen Covey defined “synergy” as “when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Although each individual part is great, the Vail Valley team of Chef Jordan and Sandra Goncharoff is a prime example of how synergistic relationships can yield wonderful results.
Chef Jordan is a private chef, certified sommelier and owner of Home Chefs of Vail, providing customized culinary experiences for every palate, including multi-course tasting dinners, simple family style meals, cocktail parties and weddings, drop offs and even cooking classes. Drawing on his 20 years of restaurant cooking and management experience after culinary school, Jordan creates unique menus of regional and ethnic cuisine such as Southern, Italian, Balinese and classic French. Home Chef’s signature style is Rocky Mountain seasonal rustic cuisine with Jordan’s creative twists, using locally grown and raised produce and proteins.
Sandra owns and operates two very successful fitness businesses, Synergy, a pilates and yoga studio in Avon, and Pure Barre Vail Valley in Edwards. She often quips that “Jordan feeds them and I work them out.” After having studied and worked as a physical therapist for approximately four years, Sandra followed her passion into pilates and has been teaching for nearly 12 years, seven as the owner of Synergy. Sandra expanded her business holdings with the acquisition of Pure Barre six months ago, about the time their daughter, Ava, reached the ripe old age of one.
Eight course culinary experience
We have many Vail Valley couples with multiple jobs or business holdings that face daily challenges of balancing family and work. So I thought it would be fun to work alongside the Goncharoffs at an event to get the behind-the-scenes perspective of the trials, tribulations and joys of running three successful businesses and raising a child.
I chose for my experiential research a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ wine tasting dinner at the Beaver Creek home of Aleene and Jim Fraser. The Chaîne is the oldest international gastronomic society of its kind and I just happen to be the head of the local chapter. What fun I had not only in planning the event and seeing Jordan’s eight-course “Winter Comfort Food” menu develop, but also being behind the scenes as my fellow Chaîne members dined on Jordan’s creations.
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Contrary to popular belief, private chefs do work in restaurants. At least that’s my opinion. They may not work in brick and mortar places with the same employees each night, but the venues must still function as restaurants, even if the cooking surfaces are inferior, ovens faulty and prepping spaces meager. With his assistants – which often include Sandra – Jordan routinely moves his “restaurant” around from place-to-place. Private chefs like Jordan who do events large and small don’t have walk-ins, larders or spare tools when they set up shop in homes, even those with large catering kitchens. Therefore, they must be self-reliant, incredibly organized and most of all, prepared to deal with any surprises. It’s an art to be able to do this sort of roving work. Often Jordan and Sandra’s days begin around 6 a.m. and end with Jordan working well after midnight.
On this day at the Frasers’ home, complete with a stunning catering kitchen, Jordan and Sandra arrived with loads of boxes packed with carefully labeled plastic cartons of prepped items, fresh produce and meat, sous vide machine and Jordan’s tools, pots and pans. The products of three long days of meticulous prepping were laid out on the kitchen island and throughout the next six hours assembled into the eight course culinary experience.
Jordan had chosen winter comfort foods as his theme for this mystery wine tasting event. Each duo of diners was randomly assigned a course for which they had to pair the wines. With tips from Jordan in hand, off they went in search of two bottles of the perfect companion to Jordan’s fine dining versions of winter favorites. Even the appearance of the menu was designed to intrigue guests and not divulge any secrets. No fancy names for the dishes, just names such as “small bites” (hors d’oeuvres), “citrus” (salad), “lentils” (with a scallop no less), “chicken pot pie,” “chili,” “meat and potatoes,” “cheese,” and “chocolate and peanut butter” (in honor of Jordan’s favorite dessert he made as a child). We listed the deconstructed ingredients that with the simple names guaranteed a surprise when reconstructed and presented at the table.
A juggling act
Jordan had capable assistants, including Sandra who worked as though on autopilot. So after helping with final preparations, I relegated myself to observing Jordan’s hands-on routine of carefully constructing each dish onto plates chosen for the best size and shape to show off the course. The servers worked to seamlessly serve and clear, wash and polish wine glasses and prepare plates for the next course. The kitchen was a beehive of activity, no different from my previous experiences. As with the restaurants I worked, there was a constant cycle of washing up to return the utensils to Jordan and pack what was no longer needed. Efficiency is no less important to a successfully catered dinner as it is in a restaurant. By the time the last plate was dropped – to the rave reviews of the 18 diners – Jordan was already packed and ready to clean up the kitchen.
Family is precious to Jordan and Sandra. Once between courses, after Sandra had left to pick up the baby, Jordan darted out into the cold to kiss his daughter goodnight. After Ava was born, Sandra returned to the pilates studio within six days and Jordan took up the mantle of “Chef Mom.” During the long days Sandra spends in the two studios, Ava generally is with Jordan, except for one day a week in daycare. Their experience is no different from the many families in the Valley who juggle time between work and family, making every attempt for both aspects of their lives to be rewarding and successful.
After having experienced the sometimes frenetic, albeit well-choreographed pace of two high-end fine dining kitchens and a short-order restaurant, I’ve developed an immense respect for culinary professionals and their teams. Whether in beautiful restaurants with state-of-the-art kitchens or in private homes, the desire to pay homage to the producers of the foods they serve by creating memorable dining experiences reigns supreme. Working on thin profit margins and throughout long days, professionals like Chef Jordan weave their love of food developed at an early age into their culinary creations for all of us to enjoy. The Goncharoffs live by their mission statement to “survive every day, be good parents, strong partners in love and business, and to be an asset to the community.” No doubt the synergy of these two professionals has lead them to achieve their goals.
Suzanne Hoffman is a local attorney, wine importer and the Chambellan Provincial of the Southwest Region and Bailli (president) of the Vail chapter of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. She is passionate about all things gastronomique. For more background information on her “Behind the Scenes” series, go to http://www.facebook.com/vailvalleysecrets. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.