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9 minutes reading time (1877 words)

Interview with Executive Chef Will Manson of the Beach House


 October 15, 2019

Written and Published by The Chiles Group

Learn more about The Beach House Waterfront Restaurant and plan your visit today by visiting 

Q. What, where, and how did you get into the business of being an Executive Chef?

Like most chefs, I started working as a dishwasher. It was quite a few years ago that I work for my current boss and owner of the Sandbar restaurant - Ed Chiles. I was just out of high school and wanted to do something other than working in my Dad's law office. Those were the early years of the Sandbar - sometime in the late 1970s. I worked during the summer as a night dishwasher. The job was good. Just what I needed. I learned a bit of a work ethic before going to college. After a few years of getting nowhere in college, I went back into the work of kitchen life. It was slow going but satisfying, and I learned more about how a restaurant runs, about food, and people little by little, day by day. After attending the Culinary Institute of America and working at numerous corporate restaurants and convention centers, I came back to my home town of Bradenton in 1998. I have to say, most of the skills that I learned working for Ed Chiles, got me where I am today. One of the best life lessons I learned is simple - never quit - even when you feel beaten down, keep going strong. I feel like this attitude helped me become a little smarter than the day before.

Q. What separates an Executive chef from other types of chefs?

In the resort and hotel businesses that have multiple restaurants, concessions, and banquet venues, the Executive Chef is the top chef in the kitchen brigade. Many of the duties become more administrative. An Executive Chef spends a fair amount of time with administrative duties such as managing kitchen staff, ordering products and supplies, hiring, training, developing menus, creating recipes, tracking profitability, and the list goes on.

Q. Do you consider yourself a formally trained chef, or did you cut your teeth on the street?

Both - I did have the opportunity to earn a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. I had almost ten years of kitchen experience before going to school. Formal training provides an excellent backdrop for street smarts where you learn in the kitchen in real-time.

Q. What do you find to be the most significant challenge as an executive chef?

I find myself at a disadvantage, sometimes with the tedious nature of spreadsheets and budgets. I still am a working chef, so I flow between my working chef and Executive Chef duties. I am still very much involved in providing and developing leadership skills in every kitchen employee. My staff has 40 members, and all of the different personalities can be a challenge to navigate at times, but, we all have a good rapport 99% of the time.

Q. Conversely, what do you find as your highest sense of satisfaction being a chef?

My most satisfying moments are when we are having a very busy night, and my managers and servers come back and tell me that my kitchen is doing great. Those comments let me know my team is working as a team.

Q. Let's talk about food. Can you take me through what it's like to concept a dish - where does the idea come from, how do you arrive at the final dish, do you test?

Beach House serves on average 1500 to 1800 guests daily, which is taken into consideration when developing a feature or special presentation. We must ask ourselves, "Are we able to execute the concept we are considering?" On a busy night, we could be feeding 300-400 guests per hour. That's guests, not individual dishes. Multiply that by 3 or 4 items coming to the table (plus drinks), and you get a good idea of the sheer volume. Given this scope of service, we work with our other kitchen departments to help by prepping in advance, many components of a dish. This affords us the ability to put finishing touches on the plate, which speeds up food to the table. We use good ingredients with proven techniques to deliver food that looks good, tastes better, and is consistently served in a timely manner. As far as creativity, we may do a version of a classic dish with our spin on it. When you are working with a lot of seafood, you do not have to over embellish by adding a lot of depth to the food. We let it speak for itself.

Q. When you're sourcing ingredients as in produce and or protein, what do you look for? Local? Sustainable? Talk about what's important to you.

We look for products first that are farmed, fished, or produced as locally as possible. Seasons and regions often determine the locality for harvesting so, and we have to keep that in mind. For instance, the tomato in your salad in September won't be coming out of Manatee County. But it may be from a farm in Tennessee or Michigan. As far as frozen products, some items must be frozen because of their volatility. Shrimp and Lobster tails, for instance, would be impossible to manage if they were not frozen. Maintaining quality would be difficult not only for us but, the fisherman and the distributor as well. The cost to always have every ingredient fresh would be prohibitive across the board. We try to stay in the boundaries of sustainability by using products that have well maintained and managed fishing practices. It's also essential for us to avoid species that are under any environmental issue or overfishing pressures.

Q. Have you ever absolutely blown a dish? 

I've had some flops in my day, no doubt! I try to put those things out of my mind. I learn from it, but at the same time, let it go. Hanging on to those moments can be dangerous for a chef.

Q. What's your top three favorite things to eat?

I go for beef, scallops, rare yellowfin tuna. Any preparation will do.

 Q. When you're developing a dish, do you give much thought to what wine or drink would pair well and if so, can you give me some steps or criteria you employ to make suggestions? 

In the last 10-15 years, the rule has been, there are no rules. We made a wine dinner last year where we cooked with each wine with its corresponding dish. It does enhance the dish when you create those parallels. That being said, We try to steer our guest toward an appropriate wine for their meal. I would not recommend a Cabernet or a Syrah with a delicate rainbow trout. Capiche?

Q. Is creating a new dish a one-person effort, or do you involve other team members?

We may use our prep department to assemble part of the dish, and the line cooks cook and finish the dish before serving. We do have some "cross over items" on our line, that participate in a single dish, but we keep that to a minimum to keep operations smooth. You have to witness what we go through each night to understand.

Q. If you had to name one thing you hated eating as a child, what would the be and why? Is that something you started eating as an adult?

Peas! I never really cared for them as a child. I was married for 20 years before my wife found out I didn't like them. She laughed at me.

Q. What's on the specials this month and why should I try it?

We are offering a shrimp Pad Thai over Soba Noodles. It's a version of a classic dish. We made it a bit more saucy than the traditional recipe. One of my chefs made it. He worked hard on developing the flavors and making the dish look elegant. We had a couple of guests insist it wasn't authentic once. And then we never heard another complaint on it. That's what I mean by letting things go. If you can't let it go, it will eat you alive. It's a very good dish. I know this because the staff orders it, and then they sell the hell out of it. Give it a try.

 Q. What do you think the biggest mistake(s) up and coming chefs make when they enter the restaurant business?

The same mistakes I made. They don't realize how multidimensional this business is. You not only have to have cooking knowledge and skill, but you also have to be able to work with people well. You have to make a lot of mistakes, learn from them, and not repeat them. You have to be diplomatic and reasonable. You have to treat people with respect and kindness. Everyone thinks you can be uncompromising like some of these celebrity chefs. Don't get me wrong, there are many places like that, and some chefs thrive in that madness. To me, they are dungeons. Not in the real world. My success has come from trying to be fair, but firm on results. I find if you are willing at some point to explain why we do things the way we do them, you're employees will be more eager to complete the tasks at hand. Planning and forecasting play an important role, as well. You find that in a larger establishment, getting everything to run smoothly is like moving chess pieces with a strategy to win.

Q. Are there any celebrity or well-known chefs that you admire or style your method of cooking

Look. I enjoy cooking. I like my job. But I don't go home and put the food network on TV and sit with a note pad. Watching cooking competitions are stressful to watch and not entertaining. So no, I have no heroes in the cooking world. I find that people who live, eat, and breathe what they do 24/7 are not who I look up to. I love to learn new things in this business. It's the learning and new experiences that keep me going. And most of what I've learned are from everyday people from dishwashers to cooks and chefs. I do use YouTube to watch cooking demonstrations. I wish that forum was available 30 years ago.

Q. If you were to host a last supper, what would you serve?

I suppose I would try to make a meal that would incorporate a family feel as in - "carving the roast beast" like in Hooville. I would prepare comfort foods that would give everyone a feeling of unity and belonging. We know what those are and I think I could execute an excellent spread.

Q. Is there anything else relative to the Beach House that you would like to share?

Now that the smoke has cleared and our renovations are complete, I would like our guests to consider us as a perfect location for holiday events, business, family gatherings, and weddings. We have been successfully providing these services, and we continue to raise the bar at the Beach House Restaurant.