Rocky Mountain Food Report: Moving Forward at The Broadmoor: Q & A With John Johnstone
In July of 2016, The Broadmoor welcomed its new director of operations and experienced master chef, John Johnstone, stepping into the role of Vice President of Food and Beverage.
The 50-year-old of Glasgow, Scotland, has spent his career working in a variety of Michelin-starred restaurants and high-end hotels. He learned his trade at Clydebank College then did a classical apprenticeship at the Glasgow Central. From there, he further honed his classical French education with an apprenticeship at Malmaison. From there, the list includes working with Marco Pierre White in London, Tavern on the Green in New York, and Euro Disney in Paris (“I opened Euro Disney, as a part of the opening leadership team. I worked in the five-star hotel and during that time I actually cooked for Michael Jackson for 10 days because he was the guest of honor. He was a really simple guy. He ate fried chicken, collard greens, just really Southern food. He was a really sweet guy, I liked him a lot.”)
Johnstone’s administrative background includes working as the Vice President of International Operations for the Ritz-Carlton and running 42 international hotels in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Before coming the Broadmoor he worked for six years at Augusta National, the home of the Masters.
The Report had the opportunity to sit down with Johnstone, find out where things are heading at The Broadmoor and officially introduce him to Colorado Springs.
RMFR: Tell us how things have been operating here at The Broadmoor since your arrival.
JJ: Craig Reed was my predecessor and had been here for many years. This is a big operation and its finely tuned. It runs very, very well. So for me it was really just to get in and observe. See what’s been done, how its been done and why its been done that way. Just ask lots of questions, ask “Why?” five times and try and understand the business model.
The key for me was to meet my team, build a relationship, get to know them, get to know how and why they operate and understand their world from their perspective. From there I can start to evaluate what needs tweaking, what needs changing, what needs any work done. But the first six months is always about learning, so that’s what I’ve been doing.
RMFR: Since you’re at the six month mark now, what changes will you make at The Broadmoor going forward?
JJ: Number one is assessing the skill level of the team and making sure you have the right talent strategically in the right location. Everybody has different skills. So you want to make sure that the skill they have is in an environment that they can take full advantage of it. And vice versa.
… Obviously from a product [standpoint], looking at the menus, looking at the concepts. Are we true to that concept? Do we have the right dishes that fit that concept? If we don’t then we can make some changes there. And of course, there’s everyday business. The end of the year is budget time and staff evaluations. I do a lot of travel as well for recruitment. Culinary, front of house. There’s an awful lot to squeeze in between seasons. We have a peak and a shallow but the shallow season is not so shallow anymore. We’re running in the mid-60 percent for January, February, March, which is very, very strong. So as you can see there’s always paperwork. But right now, I’m still asking all my questions, that won’t stop.
Looking at goals for next year. It’s a great time now to get with the team, evaluate last year, celebrate successes, look at opportunities. Then plan together for how to address our opportunities, what are the things we’re going to focus on, what do we need in order to accomplish those. Sometimes it’s just a process and the process is free. You can change a process for free. But sometimes you need assets, so you need capital planning, new infrastructure. So right now that’s what I’m working on.
RMFR: Will we be seeing a lot of menu updates in the coming months?
JJ: I’ve been doing that right now. Working with the culinary team we have been fine-tuning the menus.
RMFR: Did you bring many people here to The Broadmoor with you?
JJ: I’ve started to. Now as we have some attrition, I can look back at my repertoire [of] my colleagues and start to bring them in. It will start to happen as we move forward.
And again, that’s all about if you want to be the best you have to hire the best talent, at the end of the day. Then you have to set huge goals and then you have to be disciplined and intense about accomplishing them. But it all starts with talent. That’s the great thing about this business. When you work with great talent and then you make a change, you always have an opportunity for that talent to come and join you or for you to join them. So I’ve been really blessed by having a lot of the teams that I’ve trained for the last 25 years in America still come work for me wherever I went. I used to make a joke, when I’d interview, I’d be interviewing for 10 of us. That’s what happens, people follow people. Talent follows talent.
RMFR: How do you feel The Broadmoor serves Colorado Springs residents?
JJ: I think this is home to a lot of local residents. We have tremendous support and business from locals in every single restaurant. I think this is part of their home environment. At the same time obviously we’re world renowned for our quality and this is an iconic resort. It’s a global brand, known to be the very best. We have clients that come in from all over so our group and banquet business is very, very strong. Those are areas we need to capitalize on as well. But I think the property does a really nice job of really celebrating it’s national, international and local business and we care deeply about our local guests. We are always evaluating our guests comments and feedback. We celebrate when they tell us we’ve done a great job and we focus intensely on areas that they tell us we could be better. We’re very sensitive to looking at every single comment that’s made. Good, bad or indifferent. You have to.
RMFR: So what are your thoughts on the Colorado Springs food scene?
JJ: I haven’t had the chance to get out that much so I don’t know it too well. I take my kid to Duca’s, they have great pizza. Downtown a little bit, had some sushi at Fujiyama, they do a nice job. But haven’t had a chance to explore. I got here in the middle of July and the season was just full, 100 percent and it really hasn’t stopped since then.
RMFR: How do you deal with the short growing season here in Colorado?
JJ: We have our Broadmoor farms. We have a greenhouse and we have our own farms. Now they’re not large enough to sustain our volume but they certainly allow us to take advantage of peak growing seasons for certain items and we showcase those on the menu. The previous chef, Ziggy [Eisenberger], he now has his own, large farm. So we work with Ziggy to grow a lot of the produce we use here. It’s significant enough to provide us a lot of fresh produce and we can partner with him in what we want for each part of the year. Plus, just modern day, we can have fish from Hawaii over nighted to us in 24 hours. You can get whatever you want from wherever you want which is really a blessing. You’re not limited any longer. But we do source and partner with a lot of locally grown. Whether its fruits and vegetables, our meat program, local fishes.
RMFR: Let’s talk about your personal approach to cooking.
JJ: I think that classical cuisine provides you the foundation for all cuisines. Let’s be honest, especially in a new country like America, whereas Russia, Italy, France, they’ve had great cuisine for centuries and are the basics of all cooking. You have to include China in there, because the Italians took pasta from the Chinese. French took their cuisine from the Russians. You have to have a very strong foundation in these cuisines in order to really contempoarize cuisine, which is very much so nowadays. But gastronomy will always go back to the basics. Bernaise sauce, mayonnaise, red wine sauce. The skill is learning how to do them how they were always done, classically. Not reinventing them. You can reinvent certain things as long as you have a firm grasp of their classic preparation.
… Plus, it’s respectful of where cuisine came from. Quite frankly, you learn the fundamentals and you learn a lot of romance about cuisine when you study the history. Escoffier being the father of modern cuisine. Now he learnt and was trained classically, but where he went to a different level was he documented it. He documented the party system. Chef de party of fish, chef de party of sauce. He broke the kitchen out into categories and then created experts within those. Then created a roadmap of how to apprentice through those. If you’re going to be an expert in a field you need to study the history.
RMFR: Speaking of history, we touched on the release of Red Leg’s kölsch at The Golden Bee. Will that continue to be a featured product at The Broadmoor’s restaurants?
JJ: Yes, that’s our beer. That’s uniquely ours. You can purchase it at the brewery too but the only other place you can get that is here. It’s featured at many different locations. Up at Seven Falls at 1858, of course The Golden Bee, it’s on at the Summit, on at Play. It’s a very good beer. Once the weather turns around a little bit, we’ll do a bigger launch at 1858. That’s a great place to have a big opening on the beer and really give it a showcase. We’re quite proud of it, proud to have it, proud to partner with Todd [Baldwin] and his team, they’re fantastic. That’s a great partnership and we want to do as much of that as possible. We want to take advantage of the local talent that’s here and celebrate them and showcase the products they’re capable of doing and we have a nice environment to do that in.
RMFR: Will there be a beer pairing dinner highlighting the kölsch sometime soon?
JJ: There’s been talk about doing a beer dinner at 1858 to launch this. We’re looking at that right now. We just want to get the right mix and the right offering.
RMFR: What’re some of your favorite foods or items to order here at The Broadmoor?
JJ: I don’t eat meat. So I choose vegetarian options or eat some fish. I love sushi, sashimi. And I love pasta, which I hate to admit. Any kind of filled pasta, homemade pasta. I’m a pasta freak.
RMFR: With wine perhaps? Do you also have sommelier training?
JJ: I’m a certified master chef and I think there are only 65 in the country. There are only that many that have passed the test since the late 1960’s. Part of that is that you have to be somme certified. If you look up American Culinary Federation, certified master chefs, there are very few of us that have passed the accreditation. At that level you have to be quite accomplished in all types of cuisine.
RMFR: Does that include cicerone training as well?
JJ: Not necessarily beer. You have to have a comprehensive knowledge of beverages. But not bar training, you have a general outline. You’re not a master bartender but you’re going to know the generics. You have majors and minors and your minors would be beverage, would be wines, all of those. It’s a master chef accreditation, so it’s predominantly foods of the world and done in a mystery basket process. You don’t know what you’re getting, you draw an envelope and those are the dishes you have to prepare. And you get four hours to do it and if you don’t know the recipe, you’re in trouble.
RMFR: Sounds intense!
JJ: It’s 10 days of that. We changed it to eight days several years ago because they were not having much success. The failure rate is over 99 percent. So they shortened it up a little bit.
RMFR: Want message do you want to leave our readers with about what’s happening at The Broadmoor?
JJ: Be part of the change with us. That’s the key. We want everyone to grow together. That’s our team, that’s our product, and that’s for our local and national patrons to enjoy the growth. You have to have that local partnership and we hope that we’re a great place for them. As we’re always trying to get better, we’re trying to get better for them.
[All images courtesy the Broadmoor]
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