Building camaraderie while rubbing elbows in the kitchen

Donna Satchell Kimble, right, and her teammates assemble a smoked salmon appetizer.

Donna Satchell Kimble, right, and her teammates assemble a smoked salmon appetizer.

Team building activities in the great outdoors have been popular for years. Now a local business is focusing on strengthening teams by taking them into the kitchen.

Team Building With Taste is an enterprise that seeks to foster collaboration and innovation and build trust for the team members of its clients—all while cooking up appetizers, entrees and desserts. Called “Cooking Up Camaraderie,” the programs are designed for each group or organization and participants don white aprons, sip beer and wine and figure out how to put together a dish they’ve been assigned.

The activity takes place at the company’s commercial kitchen—which serves as prep space for several food truck operators by day—located on Peachtree Square off Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

I was invited to join a media night camaraderie cooking session one July evening and was totally immersed in competition to see which team could make the best dish. It was fun, fast paced and involved working in an unfamiliar space with teammates one likely never cooked with before.

At the start of the “competition,” founder and CEO Paul McKeon provided an overview of the business, describing himself and partner Jack Gerblick as “serial entrepreneurs.” While we sampled beer and wine and green bean appetizers, he talked about the five-year-old business, listed corporate clients such as Delta and Home Depot, showed clips of past teams and then chef Susan Fornek gave marching orders. Teams were picked “schoolyard” style with four team captains alternating to select a team member—some who they knew, others who they didn’t. We were given 45 minutes to put our dishes together.

Gale Horton Gay, left, with team members Dennis Malcolm Byron and Andrea ham it up while working on a falafel dish.

Gale Horton Gay, left, with team members Dennis Malcolm Byron and Andrea ham it up while working on a falafel dish.

Once in the kitchen teams assembled around large stainless steel prep tables while a supervising chef pointed out where various equipment could be found. The ingredients needed for each team’s dish was already on the table but team members had to read through the instructions of a laminated recipe. There was a table of other ingredients that we could add to our dishes if we chose to do so. 

Our chef didn’t let us flounder and quickly started telling us what needed to be done. 

Teams were tasked with coming up with a team name, following or straying from the recipes to concoct the dishes, assembling enticing-looking plates and making a creative presentation of their dish before the entire group.

A flurry of activity ensued as some team member diced and mixed ingredients while others deep fried or grilled parts of their courses before returning to their stations to assemble their plates. In some sessions, groups are thrown a curve ball such as having to incorporate a new ingredient at the last moment.

The evening I participated, the teams cooked up falafel served on toasted pita bread, smoked salmon wrapped around roasted peppers, beef sliders and meatballs. After the presentations and announcement of a winner, team members lined up to sample the buffet of food that everyone prepared.

Team Building with Taste, which also has a location in Dallas, has experienced a 52 percent growth in 2016 over 2015. Since the program began four years ago, more than 1,000 companies and 30,000 participants have enrolled in the culinary competitions, according to company officials. 

“Businesses are often using these team building experiences as an inclusive exercise for an increasingly remote or virtual employee base, to connect managers and millennials in a multigenerational workforce or to help business teams come together after a merger or acquisition,” states McKeon in a press release.

“Culinary team building is more than a cooking challenge,” said McKeon. “It’s a comprehensive three-hour program based on a detailed curriculum to build high performance business teams.”

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