Teambuilding Gets a Culinary Overhaul in Nashville

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Recently Executive Magazine sat down with Erica Rains, CEO of Nashville’s hot culinary firm, The Chef and I. We talked about their new culinary teambuilding division, the changing face of food experiences, and the story of how they got to be where they are today.

Tell me about The Chef and I and how it stands apart from other restaurants in Nashville

The Chef and I is an interactive culinary company in which food and passion come together to create a very unique and memorable experience. With an interactive restaurant in Lenox Village, a large catering division that serves over 350 offsite events a year, a cooking class program and now a culinary teambuilding program, we’re a bit busy.

Your newest division is about culinary teambuilding, correct?

Yes, it’s called Tastebuilding, and we are very excited about it! We have yet to actually do a public launch, still it has taken hold quickly with our corporate sector and is easily our fastest growing revenue stream. We plan to do a big launch in late spring/early summer.

How is this different from cooking classes and other culinary activities?

It’s just a more comprehensive program with many moving parts, and some new ideas for each sort of culinary teambuilding event. There is no cookie cutter price list or limits to what we can do. We start by sitting down with the client and determining their real needs and expectations. Then we meet their needs, and exceed those expectations each time. That’s how we know we’ve been successful.

Why do you think this is such a popular product with your company?

Folks have been doing teambuilding since company retreats began, decades ago. Recently, however, experiences have become a commodity that many companies feel carries more weight with their employees. Often, employee morale increases because when folks know their employer is willing to spend time and money on them, they will in turn enjoy their position, feel more valued and respected, and deliver a more focused, effective job well done.

So is this as much about psychology as it is food?

Definitely. It’s both. We’ve really enjoyed the relationships we’ve built with corporate trainers and other teambuilding professionals to create an effective combination of experiences. When we conduct the Mystery Box Challenge, it’s more than fun. It’s a glimpse into the individual and group dynamics. If an employer is having trouble in one area, or with one or more people, a qualified professional can observe, then later submit reports to the supervisor on their observations. Often this uncovers needs or opportunities that may have otherwise been tough for the employer to see, because they are immersed in the company culture every day. We love providing the fun culinary part while having a deeper psychological benefit if the client so chooses. And then again, sometimes, it’s just a fun ice-breaker.

Where did you get your ideas for different culinary teambuilding challenges?

We definitely don’t claim that we invented them. We have been inspired over the years by different culinary competitive tv shows – as we have actually done some reality tv ourselves. We credit all of the people that are passionate about their culinary careers, either as television personalities or well-known chefs in their markets. We simply studied the premise of fun competition, then learned how best to deliver that experience in local, real-world situations. The great thing is, it keeps evolving.

What are some of the challenges that seem to be most popular in your Tastebuilding program?

The chef’s tasting challenge is one of the most popular – folks are blindfolded while tasting different ingredients and guessing what they are. This is great because we can do it for 5 people or 500. It can take as little as 10 minutes, up to several hours depending on the complexity of the ‘brackets’ and number of people involved. With larger groups, championships are a product of several rounds, and prizes are given. It’s a lot of fun, and quite humorous on all accounts. People are often surprised by their ability to identify tastes, and it is a surprising study of breaking down the senses. When your sense of sight is taken away, often the sense of taste changes.

For more information, you can email Erica@thechefandicatering.com or visit www.thechefandicatering.com for a comprehensive look at the interactive restaurant, catering division, and cooking class program.

Photo of Erica Rains appears courtesy of The Chef & I