Peter Tseng is the executive chef at a 300-bed medical center in Petersburg, Virginia and has been with HHS since 2015. We sat down with him to learn what has made him successful.
HHS frequently brings prospective customers to tour your facility because you have done an excellent job of upholding our standards. Tell us a little bit about that process.
One of the best ways to take care of our daily business is to hone in on the small stuff, the details. That’s where a lot of what we do makes the biggest difference. When it comes to maintaining the standards for our brand, you have to be mindful of the finest minutiae—from food placement to where the grab and go stickers are placed. That’s what helps to build a strong base for our brand. When people walk into an HHS account, they need to be able to see the difference between what we’re able to do and what some of our competitors let go by the wayside.
What traits have made you successful as a leader?
One of HHS’ values that I hold very dearly is being a problem solver. In the role of a chef, being a problem solver is crucial. Things go sideways all the time—equipment fails, there’s call ins—there’s a million things. One of my favorite chefs used to tell me all the time, “The mark of a great chef is not someone who never makes mistakes, it’s someone who knows how to recover from them.” You need to be able to troubleshoot the things that happen that are beyond your control and find a way to work around them. At no point would it be acceptable for me to go to my client and let them know that patients aren’t getting fed and I have to shut down the cafeteria because I can’t figure something out. That’s when I would expect the client to go find someone who can.
What types of food trends are you seeing out in the field?
One of the trends I’m seeing a lot is a turn from comfort food to healthier versions. A lot of times our customers are looking for things that are familiar, and being in the South, they relate very well to a lot of the Southern-style comfort foods, but they don’t necessarily want those foods laden with all the fat and grease that they’re traditionally known for. People also don’t necessarily want to buy things that they know are super healthy because there’s a stigma around healthy food. One of the techniques we’ve deployed is something we call “stealth health,” where we take something that our customers are familiar with and we prepare it with healthier, cleaner ingredients.
What areas of your leadership style are you still working on developing?
One of the areas that I’ve worked hard to improve is to have a softer touch with my leadership style. Growing up in kitchens years ago it was ok for a chef to get upset, yell, be demeaning, throw things, and just really act out. That’s the kitchen environment that I was raised in. It’s not ok nowadays to act out, so I’ve worked hard to be more compassionate with our team members and to know when and where to be more firm and when to lead with your heart.