With Our Powers Combined: The Value of Collaboration
Left to Right: Jo Barrett, Co-Executive Chef at Oakridge Wines / James Metcalfe, Managing Director of JRM Hospitality / Kylie Javier Ashton, General Manager of Momofuku Seiobo
Hospitality is a relationships game. Whether it be with staff, producers, fellow industry members or – of course – diners, you’d be hard-pressed to find an industry where personal connections are more important.
As the sector continues to grow, rather than bunkering down and focusing purely on their own businesses, chefs and restaurateurs are looking around and taking notes from other people’s successes. More than that, there’s also a lot of fun to be had when collaborating with your industry colleagues, said co-executive chef at Oakridge Wines, Jo Barrett.
“Collaborations are popular because they represent something different for diners and hospitality workers. From a restaurant’s perspective, they’re a good way to keep staff engaged and to upskill, while also helping you to form relationships and networks. For diners, they’re a great way to be exposed to restaurants or chefs that they might not have had the opportunity to experience before.
“The hospitality industry has changed a lot since I started cooking. It’s become more focused on sharing and working together rather than being secretive and overly competitive. We’re seeing more collaborations because people want to work with their friends. Relationships are formed over a common love of food and hospitality,” she said.
A growing trend in hospitality is collaborations that see chefs from different kitchens coming together for one-off events. Despite the obvious challenges that these collaborations can involve, the benefits far outweigh the stress of getting them off the ground, Barrett said.
“During the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival this year, I was involved with taking over the Lindum Hotel for 10 days. Each night we would host a new chef or a number of chefs, either national or international. There was a lot to organize before the take-over and a massive amount of pressure during the festival – each dinner was different and organizing prep areas, produce, menus and staff were intense. But I really enjoyed each dinner for different reasons, and I loved seeing how each chef approached their work and food. We had a lot of chefs over the 10 days and the best part was executing the dinners and seeing how creative people were while also just sharing in their general love of food and hospitality.”
Aside from taking part in special events like these, a large part of Barrett’s role at Oakridge is establishing and fostering relationships with suppliers. It’s these collaborations that play a fundamental role in the day-to-day running of the restaurant, which is committed to showcasing the best of the Yarra Valley in the most sustainable and ethical way.“We work closely with many local farmers and producers in the Yarra Valley. One of the first collaborations we made was with Timbarra Farm, who we receive fruit and vegetables from. Their farm is in the forest and they plant what we can’t grow. Their produce is incredible and we’ve formed a relationship where we plan some of the future season’s planting together.
“We also get milk once a week from a local dairy that has 12 Jersey cows. We’re lucky to get this milk – it usually goes to local families but we get the excess and we make our house-made cheeses with it. In summer, when berries are abundant, we work with a local strawberry grower who gives us ripe berries destined for the bin. They can’t pack the berries because by the time they’re transported and reach their destination they’re overripe. The berries we get have never been refrigerated and are warm from the sun. We turn them into jam and it isn’t uncommon to see them in many dishes across the menu,” Barrett said.
Hospitality consultancy firm, JRM, has also established valuable relationships with suppliers, and recently launched a collaboration program, the JRM Social Series, to help connect them with other industry stakeholders.
“We wanted to connect small producers with new clients – I’m a big believer in supporting the small guys,” said James Metcalfe, founder and managing director at JRM.
As part of the Series, small, relatively unknown producers are invited to showcase their products to a relevant industry audience at a dinner event, attended by JRM clients.
As well as planning a collaboration with Women in Hospitality later this year, JRM has hosted events with suppliers including Sydney Direct Fresh Produce, Crackwillow Farm, Truffle Farm, Fourth Wave Wine and Brokenwood Wines.
“There have been a number of benefits to the collaborations, but above all, it feels good to showcase what people do and to hear their stories. The dinners have been great for connecting people and cementing relationships,” said Metcalfe.
Another obvious benefit is that collaborations give businesses an exciting and enticing message to share with their target market, added Laura Brown, JRM marketing, and business development manager.
“Collaborations are becoming an increasingly popular marketing tool within the industry. Hospitality is an extremely friendly and supportive industry, so it makes sense for us to work together to create magical events. Businesses in hospitality don’t have endless marketing budgets, so they have to think outside the box to create brand awareness and maximize reach. Through collaborations, you’re automatically exposed to new audiences and can align with other like-minded, high-quality brands,” she said.
How to get it right
Collaborations are about working with other people and/or in new environments, so it goes without saying that they can throw up a number of challenges along the way. For JRM’s Social Series, where each event is hosted at a different venue, simple logistics can be a big issue.
“Undoubtedly the biggest challenge is working in new spaces with new equipment. Often due to the uniqueness of the venues, space is quite tight and equipment is limited. Every venue presents a new challenge, but it adds to the fun and games on the night,” Metcalfe said.
Key to ensuring the success of a collaboration is making sure all parties are clear about what they want to achieve.
“As with everything, good planning and communication is key to making sure that everyone is happy with the success of the event. It’s also vital to know what the individual expectations are prior to the event in order to ensure the best outcome for all involved.”
Kylie Javier Ashton, General Manager at Sydney’s Momofuku Seiobo couldn’t agree more.
Recently tasked with the job of introducing Melbourne’s Grow Assembly symposium event in Sydney, Javier Ashton said understanding the goals of each stakeholder in a collaboration is imperative.
“Communication is the key. It’s important to lay out everyone’s expectations right at the beginning and keep up communication throughout the process to ensure that you’re on track and that you can work through any setbacks together,” she said. “Delegating is another big part, and ensuring that you have one united goal at the end of the day. And debriefing after the event is important – there are always things you could have done better and things you learn along the way.”
Collaboration-style events like Grow, which aims to educate and inspire hospitality professionals through a series of presentations and panel discussions, are made possible because of the long-standing, valuable relationships that abound in the foodservice industry.
“If it hadn’t been for my existing networks, I probably would never have had the opportunity to be a part of Grow – which just shows the importance of attending events like it. They give you an opportunity to speak to like-minded people and build your industry network … Building relationships are at the center of what we do in hospitality, so I think it’s crucial to events like this but also our businesses in general.”
Equally important to managing expectations is recognizing the differences in how people work.
“Everyone has their own process and way of working. Some people are super organized and communicate a lot (like me). Others like to process things in their own mind and bring it all together at the last minute. At the end of the day, you have to be adaptable – that’s what our industry is all about: being fluid and knowing how to work with many different creative people. It’s an art form in itself.”
This is possibly the hardest part of organizing and maintaining collaborations. But it’s also an inherent part of the hospitality industry, where small groups of people often work in very close proximity and spend an incredible amount of time together. Respecting each other while shining a spotlight on the diversity of talent in a team or partnership is the key to all great collaborations. When done well, both the dining public and the collaborators themselves have an incredible amount to gain.
“We’re getting better at understanding that we’re a stronger industry as a whole when we support and learn from each other,” Javier Ashton said. “It’s a pretty cut-throat industry, so having other people who you can work with, share ideas with and talk to is a great opportunity. We’re all trying to be better at what we do, and we can’t always do that alone.”