Traci Bryant Ferguson, Partner and Chef at Nina Hospitality
The Little Lamb, a gastropub in Countryside. The chef, James Renew is well traveled and cooked all over the world. It’s a casual restaurant, but he brings all that knowledge to the restaurant.
I think young chefs should be patient. I’ve been in this industry since I was 18 and I’m 37 now. We grew up cutting our teeth in kitchens where people are screaming at each other. I wouldn't be where I am without that, but I think we need to have a different understanding of how we respect and treat each other and respect ourselves. Don't pass your stress onto your employees.
Show patience and kindness to everybody that comes through your door because everybody comes from a different walk of life, which means everybody has something to offer, too. Bring them into your support system along with their different levels of experience. Lean on people for their strengths, try to highlight those strengths and don’t try to be the person that does everything, share your wealth with your team.
Bryce Bonsack at Rocca as you mentioned, but also Cody Tiner at District South. Steve Franco does an excellent job at Cena. Ben Pomales and Adrianna Siller who are at Bandit now. Those are just a few I think that are gonna be the future of the food scene in Tampa Bay for a long time to come.
I think young chefs gotta come up in a way similar to a guy like Marty Blitz here at Mise en Place. What I mean is that if you think you’re gonna stage at a couple of restaurants then become an executive chef, it doesn’t work that way. I think you need the experience of working under somebody like Marty who has the most amazing palette in this city—I’ve always been impressed with the way he can combine flavors and textures.
You need that foundation of cooking alongside someone like that, with experience of being a leader, to be the full package and run a very successful business.
I eat at Thinh An Kitchen, I get that tofu. And you can never get there too early, on a Sunday that after church crowd is crazy.
If you’re gonna open up a spot in the next year, I would not finance with credit cards. I would have mentors, people that you can talk to, reflect on what you're thinking and where you want to go, someone to help test your ideas. And don’t assume that you have the right answer.
Aaron Kirk in our kitchen is bright and full of energy, I look forward to seeing him grow.
I really don’t get to go out alot, unfortunately, and when I get home I cook for my family.
This business is definitely hard work. But if you love what you do, you're always gonna shine. We always use fresh local ingredients. That's really important to me, to our restaurant.
Anju, it’s right behind my house. A great young chef Mee Ae Wolney had this food truck, but this is their brick and mortar, and they’ve got these Korean chicken wings. I love going there. And I love that she uses thigh meat. There’s two sauces, one is teriyaki-ish, and one she calls “St. Pete Hot” or something, and the Dr. BBQ secret is to get the two sauces on the side and dip. Sometimes I do one, or the other, and sometimes I’ll do a combo. And the pork belly is so good. I love that place.
Parkshore Grille, you never go wrong there, I get the lobster salad, and there’s not a lot of salad involved—I love that. And I love Il Ritorno, it’s our celebration spot, and you can’t go wrong; and you might worry that it’s a tweezer kind of place, but you get full there.
It's a really good time to be a chef if a young chef wanted to be serious about it. I was just talking to Marty Blitz here, of Mise en Place, and normally we have a handful of protege sort of guys hanging around with us, but not right now because of the shortage of help. So if you come into the business now, and you're serious, you can move up the food chain pretty fast and and learn a lot.
The restaurants are gonna be here; it's gonna be a good career down the road. We're just having a little tight spot right now. I think it's a really good time to jump in, and I’m definitely looking for a protege right now.
Bryce over at Rocca. Rooster & the Till for sure. It’s been interesting to see who’s really committed to food, quality and service in the pandemic.
The word that kicks around my kitchen constantly for young chefs, old chefs, people my age is “endure.” You have to endure.
We're not at a new age of food or restaurants. We're not at the old age. We're in that transition stage. So if you can sit here and endure and be open minded and wide eyed to like, Okay, what is the next step like what do we need to deliver? What do we need to offer? If you can't endure things if you're, if you're dead set on one thing or another? It's just not gonna work right?
It's already hard to be the talented, passionate, driven leader in any kitchen, but nowadays you have to be able to be more receptive. Gone are the days where you say, “I'm the chef, this is what I'm going to deliver.” It needs to be, “What do guests Want? What do I want? Who do your people want?”
Because finding people right now is hard, too. It's got to be more encompassing and more of a restaurant community by association rather than just one voice.
Wild Child in St. Pete. Rob Reinsmith is talented, one of my favorite chefs in the Bay area.
I think that in every restaurant you have that talented unrecognized person. The more people look at their own staff and put food in the limelight, I feel like we'll see more and more people emerge.
Young chefs should be curious, be very, very curious about the business, the front of the house and back of the house—it all matters. I think that's really important. Don't be afraid to showcase your own talent. If you feel like you have a great dish on the menu, bring it to the owners, bring it to your managers and show them that you have what it takes.
For our organization, we'll look at the will to work, we don’t necessarily look for the skills. You don't hire someone for skills. You hire someone for who they are, and you teach them those skills. And I think that opportunity presents itself in a lot of young cooks. So if you can identify that person, sit down with them, identify that they have the will to do the job, and you can show them the skills, then you get to watch someone evolve. We've been fortunate. A couple of people in our organization have gone through that, and it's super neat to watch.
Restaurants have to remember the human factor. We want to build teams in a positive way. Our job is not just to come up with ideas—that’s the part that is formulaic.
When you build a team you have to address a lot of the things that need to change in this industry. If our teams are going to be our second family, then our job is to nurture them so that they can do a better job than we’re doing.
It’s important to be fair. It goes for every part of the restaurant, front and back. You need to do more listening than talking. You have to understand the other person that way you can not only lead by example but with a lot of mutual respect.