Chefs and the topic of leadership
By Amanda Faison
The theme of this year’s James Beard awards was “Rise.” It was a poignant message for an industry that has, in recent months, come face to face with its dark side. The overarching theme expressed that evening in May, through moving speeches from Andrew Zimmern and José Andrés, along with Paula Wolfert’s lifetime achievement award, was one of hope and forward motion.
It’s clear that the industry is in the midst of a necessary shift, and that, no longer, will a restaurant solely be defined by its food, wine, and hospitality. A good and meaningful culture is of equal and critical importance. As Will Guidara, co-owner of Eleven Madison Park, so artfully stated on the Meet the Masters: Lessons From The Journey panel at this past weekend’s Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, “[A thoughtful business] is like sourdough. Success comes from growing it with intention. You need a starter to make it feel right.” In essence, what’s become known as the “Good Food Movement” is that starter—and it’s becoming a checklist writ large: ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients, check. A culture of respect, check, check. A place to learn and grow, check, check, check.
Over the years, many of Good Food 100’s chefs and restaurateurs have been honored with a James Beard Award. We count 14, including this year’s winners Carolyne Styne for Outstanding Restaurateur, Alex Seidel for Best Chef Southwest, and Mike Lata’s team at FIG for Outstanding Wine Program.
As defined leaders in the industry, we asked our chefs and restaurateurs to chime in on the idea of what it means to be a leader in this industry now and in the future. The answers invariably express humanity and the reminder that, as Massimo Bottura said Tuesday after winning Best Restaurant at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, “Chefs in 2018 are much more than a sum of their recipes. We can have a very loud voice of change.”
Read on for how these Good Food 100 chefs are thinking about leadership:
“I think the term “Good Food” needs to encompass not only how we procure and purvey food and beverage in a sustainable and ethical way but also how we run our restaurants. It should have been always but we really need to dig deep and offer safe working environments where people are led and taught, trusted and encouraged to be their best. Your restaurant is your responsibility from top to bottom, but it is a much easier task if the people you have on staff are smart, empathetic, and good humans. It’s a stressful job full of hurdles but it can be a place of goodness.” —Hugh Acheson, chef-owner Five & Ten and others, Atlanta
“Can good food come from a bad kitchen? Probably. However, we are beginning to look beyond the plate. Environmental impact and sourcing have been a habit for us for awhile now, and that's wonderful. But we're at this unique cultural moment where we're asking questions about the wellness of our restaurant workforce. Can good food come from a bad kitchen? Are we engendering a culture of respect? Are we caring for one another so we can properly care for our guests? We should welcome those questions.” —Rick Bayless, chef-owner Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco, and others, Chicago
"Good food is about a whole lot more than just the food. Sustainability has been the term used as a goal for our industry in regards to sourcing our foods and beverages. Now we are looking to make this something that includes the most important part of our business, our team. We need to redefine sustainability to include not only the foods and drinks we serve but the well being of our teams. We as leaders need to set these standards and examples for our community to evolve, and become innovators under the name of sustainability. Delicious and well loved food will follow." —Renee Erickson, chef-owner Bar Melusine, and others, Seattle
“To be a leader is way more than cooking. It is being a therapist, a mirror, and a voice of reason...Beth [Gruitch] and I always look to how we act in our restaurants as the role model. We have to create a culture of not just good food, but also of good working environments and positive leadership. The culture in a restaurant is as important as the food. And people want to be lead by someone they trust and can look up to.” —Jennifer Jasinski, chef-owner Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall and others, Denver