New York City’s Cliff Crooks helps chefs sharpen their skills in Food Network’s ‘Chef Boot Camp’

Host Cliff Crooks, as seen on Chef Bootcamp, Season 1.
Host Cliff Crooks, as seen on Chef Bootcamp, Season 1.
Photo courtesy of Food Network

A New York City chef is helping his fellow chefs sharpen their skills in the kitchen in a new show on Food Network.

Like many chefs in the business, Chef Cliff Crooks started in the lower levels of the restaurant business. As he worked, he would often ask questions to the kitchen staff.

“It was watching the kitchen operation and when you’re young, the hi-speed adrenaline rush in the restaurant is drawing,” said Crooks. “I found myself etching back and asking questions and probably being really annoying to kitchen staff.”

Crooks rose through the ranks and now is the culinary director at BLT Restaurants, based in New York City. Through his work, he was given the opportunity to host “Chef Boot Camp,” which premiered on Food Network on April 8.

In each episode of “Chef Boot Camp,” three chefs head into a three-day boot camp led by Crooks, who starts off by assessing their skills. Next, the chefs must demonstrate fundamental cooking techniques of a classic dish which they must create on time and to Crooks’ satisfaction, showing their skills, knowledge, and ability in the kitchen. 

“No two lawyers are the same, and no two chefs are the same. I need to see where deficiencies lie,” said Crooks. “I give them tests in order to test culinary skills. For example, we all do omelets at home, but to do properly has quite a bit of depth. Watching them perform their version and teaching proper technique, I can say, you have difficulty chopping, cracking eggs, mixing egg before omelet shell, it’s overcooked, — these little techniques can help you to have a close to perfect finished product.”

With the skills assessed, the chefs are then put to work in one of Crooks’ restaurants and they create a new dish for their restaurant owners to demonstrate their growth and progress from boot camp.

“I’m solely looking to help people be the best version of themselves that they want to be,” said Crooks. “It’s very straightforward and unscripted. If you are doing something wrong, I will tell you, and if you continue I will discuss where are you going. That’s real life.”

For Crooks, the key to running a successful restaurant is teamwork, and that’s it’s absolutely essential for the front, customer-facing part of the restaurant and the kitchen staff to communicate well.

“That is the great pie in the sky, teamwork and the level of communication in the restaurant as a whole,” said Crooks. “The front of house and back of the house, one cannot operate without the other. If it does, you’re in a bar that doesn’t serve food, or you’re having a great meal with subpar service. A lot of times subpar service is the result of poor communication, either in training or a lack of communication from the culinary side to the front-facing staff.”

Crooks says that so far the feedback for “Chef Boot Camp” has been very positive. Crooks believes that the fact that the show is an honest look at how these chefs’ jobs, as well as the financial future of their restaurants, hang in the balance if they don’t get the help.

For those who tune in to “Chef Boot Camp,” viewers can expect to learn just how integral chefs are to the business while learning a few kitchen tips along the way.

“Chefs are actually an integral part in running the totality of the business. The tips and tricks that come up in each episode that I am teaching are a great takeaway,” said Crooks. “As much as chefs are and have been glorified, there are many different levels of being a chef and it’s not what we see on TV. Not all chefs are lucky enough to sign book deals, there different varieties of what makes up food across the world. We’re not just Gordon Ramsey, who is a blockbuster chef and personality, there’s a little guy or gal doing best they can with what they have and they want to be better.”

“Chef Boot Camp” airs on Food Network on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET.  Learn some of Crooks’ best cooking tips at FoodNetwork.com/ChefBootCamp.