In a profession characterized by competition for the top spot, chef Charles Childers believes a kitchen isn’t just a head chef working alone but is instead a group of people working together.
Childers, the chef and department manager for the deli and Jack’s Meat and Fish market at Nature’s Oasis, has been in food service since the age of 14, when he got his first job selling ice cream at his local Las Vegas Baskin Robbins.
Growing up working with food inspired Childers to go into the culinary arts as an adult and after graduating high school in Las Vegas, he attended the Community College of Southern Nevada’s culinary arts program.
Before he completed the program, though, Childers was hired by Caesar’s Palace, and left school to work professionally full-time.
Childers said he learned a lot in culinary school, but working at a casino resort taught him something his classes didn’t.
“I think that I have a much better perspective on what people want after working in that environment,” Childers said. “You learn you have to play to your crowd, and my experience has taught me what people want and don’t want.”
Childers followed a roommate to Durango in 1997 and worked in several kitchens, including Carver’s Brewing Co. to Seasons of Durango.
In 2004, Childers started as a chef at Nature’s Oasis, but left to work in the liquor business before returning in 2009 to run the kitchen when the store’s location changed from its original King Center location to its current spot on Camino del Rio.
Childers took a break from Nature’s Oasis when he moved to Fiji in 2011 to work as a chef at a beachside resort.
In Fiji, Childers worked alongside a kitchen staff that would often work in bare feet and had little-to-no formal culinary education.
“A lot of these guys came straight out of their villages into working at these resorts,” he said. “And so I had to teach them, and it was a challenge, but they picked it up.”
That communication, built on all of the previous experience Childers had collected over his career, helped him when he returned to Nature’s Oasis in 2012.
Knowing what you want and how to communicate that to your staff is key, Childers said. Having once been in the shoes of each member of his team helps significantly when it comes to communicating quickly and effectively with them.
Occasionally, he still covers shifts in the kitchen and said it’s good to stay connected to what you’re managing and in sync with your coworkers.
Head Chef and Kitchen Manager of Nature’s Oasis Kurt Trautmann said that Childers’ kitchen experience is a definite benefit.
“We both know what we’re doing and so are able to work really well together,” Trautmann said. “It’s almost like a mind-meld sometimes.”
In his free time, Childers also spent several years volunteering as a chef educator for Cooking Matters, a Colorado-based program aimed at providing recipes and educational cooking material to low-income families.
Through the program’s classes, Childers taught a number of kitchen skills, including basic knife skills and cooking techniques, to La Plata County residents. In 2015, he became one of the program’s Hall of Fame members for his contribution to the program.
More recently, Childers has been focused on providing the consistency and quality that the people of Durango expect at Nature’s Oasis, he said.
On April 5, Nature’s Oasis opened Jack’s Meat and Fish Market, a specialty section within the store, and Childers became the manager of that department in addition to the deli, a responsibility he said he was excited to take on.
Throughout his career, Childers has experienced the kitchen from every level, and said that he has developed a real appreciation for every single member of a team and their respective jobs. He encourages people considering going into the culinary field, and even those considering white-collar careers, to do the same.
“Kitchens don’t run on just the chef,” Childers said. “You don’t get to be a chef unless you know what you’re doing and can command the trust and respect of the people you’re working with.”