Posted: Jun 10, 2017
So, you want to make it in the food industry. Maybe you get so many compliments on your cuisine that you think you can run a kitchen. Or maybe you are ready to pitch the next popular, Shark Tank-worthy snack. Where the heck do you start? Whether you want to become a chef, sommelier, or entrepreneur, you can figure out how to make it in the hospitality business from those who came before you.
In honor of the upcoming FAB workshop for women working in hospitality—running from June 11-13 in Charleston—we talked to seven of the participants about their best advice for success in the culinary industry. Whether it's trusting your instincts or ignoring the competition, these powerful women know how to stay successful in the rapidly-changing food world.
1. Remember You Can Never Be Replaced
When Chef Barbara Lynch started her Boston restaurant empire 20 years ago, she got "very jarring, yet helpful" advice from one of her investors. "He said, 'Just remember, you can never be replaced,' meaning that I'm the chef-owner and I that it was me, not my sous-chef or my staff, that was the most important. "It's important to remember that anyone can be replaced but you, and since you're the leader, you have to be very specific about how you want to run your restaurant." Although the James Beard Award winner's baseline knowledge of numbers (how much she's willing to pay and how fast she can grow) is important, it all comes down to the people at the restaurant in the end. "I learned to be a great observer, and I learned to go with my gut feeling to know what was right, and what was wrong. I think it's really important to build a great culture within your group."
2. Don't Compromise Your Vision
"Slow and steady wins the race. Having patience and keeping steady with your vision and not compromising that vision is incredibly important," says Helen Johanssen, owner and partner at Jon and Vinny's and Helen's Wines in Los Angeles. When she first started as a buyer for Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo's restaurant Animal 10 years ago, she was always one of the only women at tastings. Now, as the beverage director for all seven of their properties, she sees "more of a 50/50 split of women and men" in that part of the industry. "You really have to believe in yourself and your intellect and not compromise on that. And start every day new—don’t carry over what happened the day before, like water rolling off your back. Learn from your mistakes."
3. Don't Look at Your Competition
The yogurt market is incredible oversaturated, but Homa Dashtaki stands out from the crowds with her incredibly-popular, creamy Persian yogurt, White Moustache. The cult-favorite brand has even expanded to selling whey drinks with its food waste. To get there, Dashtaki says she had to "grab onto advice like they're lifelines." The best advice came from mentorship and bonding over similar problems with other people in the industry—she cites Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Ice Cream and Anita Shepherd of Anita's Yogurt—but she refuses to compare herself to anyone else. "The reason for my success is because I’m just competing against myself and my product. If you try to compete with everyone else, it gets overwhelming and a little artificial. Then you’re just manufacturing things to compete with outside," she explains. "Know and be passionate about your product so it will speak to everything: How you make it, distribute it, and sell it."
4. Take Off the "Gender Goggles"
Nancy Cushman, founder of restaurant group Cushman Concepts (and the acclaimed o ya in Boston and NYC), stresses that gender and success shouldn't correlate. "You shouldn't be treated or act any differently because you’re a woman. Take off the gender goggles," she says. "Success and results are not gender based. Be bold, be fearless and stop self-editing, because you probably have the best ideas at the table. Follow your intuition because it’s going to be right most of the time."
5. Don't Sacrifice Your Life for the Job
"You can have it all," says Chef Maneet Chauhan, executive chef of Nashville's Chauhan Ale & Masala House and judge on Food Network's Chopped. "I know a lot of people think once you have family and kids you need to stop or slow down your career, but I push myself further every day so that my kids can see that they can have everything they want. You can be part of both worlds." Chauhan also took to heart advice about gender and race from one of her first instructors at the Culinary Institute of America: "What the world considers as hindrances in this industry, like being an immigrant or being female, are actually our strengths and make us better at our jobs."
6. Never Stop Learning
"Stay curious and keep learning. It's important to continue your education and find a mentor to help you along. And when you have the opportunity to be a mentor yourself, bring others along with you," says Randi Weinstein, founder of FAB. This applies to more than just the culinary world, learning from others' successes and failures, and figuring out the level of difficulty of the field you're getting into.
7. Always Network, Even With Unexpected People
"Share your interests and tell people what you’re interested in to guide them to help you," says Alice Cheng, founder and CEO of Culinary Agents, a professional networking and job-matching site for the hospitality industry. "Brag about yourself in a humble way so that people remember you and can help you down the line." However, don't just blanket say "I love this industry and want to work in food" to someone—be specific and research what gets you excited. "Try to understand what you really want to do, look at what you can bring to the table with certain skills or expertise, and make that the elevator pitch you lead with when trying to get a job," Cheng explains. Culinary Agents is the go-to hiring site for restaurateurs like Mario Batali, Danny Meyer, and Thomas Keller, so if you're looking to work for them, putting your resume there would be a smart first move.
BY ALYSE WHITNEY
JUNE 9, 2017
Source: Bon Apetite
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