Oct. 26, 2022

Mentorship and Leadership in the Food Industry - What is a Chef with Russ Zito of Johnson & Wales University

Mentorship and Leadership in the Food Industry - What is a Chef with Russ Zito of Johnson & Wales University

On this week's "What is a Chef?" episode we have chef Russ Zito. Russ has been a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University for 26 years. I asked him what his definition of a chef was, and his response revolved around leadership, mentorship, and exchanging ideas. This segment will not be included in our full conversation which will be released in a few weeks, so subscribe now so you can catch the rest of our conversation.

RUSS ZITO
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Sponsor- The United States Personal Chef Association
Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has grown in importance to fulfill those dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap.  Central to all of that is the United States Personal Chef Association.
 
USPCA provides a strategic backbone for those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. It’s a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with their meal.

Call Angela today at 800-995-2138 ext 705 or email her at aprather@uspca.com for membership and partner info.

Transcript
Chris Spear:

This is a Chefs Without Restaurants mini episode on what it means to be a chef with Russ Zito. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, wherever you're listening to this. This is Chris and you're listening to Chefs Without Restaurants, the podcast where I normally speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people in the food and beverage industry not working in a traditional restaurant setting. Today is one of my many what is the chef episodes, and it's with Chef Russ Zito. Chef Zito is an instructor at Johnson Wales University and I had him cheese I guess it's been 26 years now back when I was in culinary school. He was also my senior advisor and had to sign off on my externship project. On the podcast, I talked to a lot of guests about culinary school, whether they went to it whether they think it's worth it. But I've never actually had a culinary instructor on the show, which is one of the reasons I wanted to get chef Russ on the show. The full podcast episode will be coming out in a few weeks. But I asked him the question what it means to be a chef, he doesn't come out and say the words either leadership or mentorship. But that's what he's really going to get into here. And I want to kind of expand on that a little bit. From my own personal experiences. I've seen a lack of leadership and mentorship in this industry. I think sometimes it comes down to staffing issues, you know, you're new on a job, and they really need you to hit the ground running. And you don't necessarily get the training that you need or proper mentorship. I think it's especially challenging when you come in at a managerial level. You know, it's funny, I came out of culinary school with a culinary degree. So, you know, on one hand, they expect that you're going to be able to run and lead a kitchen, even though a lot of people will also tell you that being in culinary school isn't a real world experience. So that's a paradox. You know, I had an experience where I was hired as an executive chef, and literally on my first day, my GM took me to my office, I had been there like five minutes. And she said, Here's your office and introduced me to my sous chef, and then left me and I was new to this company. There was no real training there. And I just had to hit the ground running. And that didn't set me up for success. And I think, you know, my staff somewhat even held it against me, because while I was a chef, and I knew how to cook, I was new to this company. And over time, you know, I learned their policies and how they did things. But I just wish I'd gotten more guidance from the start, you know, set me up to be successful. And this was not the first time this happened. It happened so many times you were just expected to know what you're doing and run with it. I have a lot more thoughts on this. And this could totally be a whole episode. But this is just my way of saying that. I really do appreciate chefs like chefs Edo, especially in culinary school because they're there to teach you to guide you to lead you. He also talks about how he learns as much from his students as they learn from him. And I think that's a really good trait to have in a leader, putting your ego aside and being humble and realizing that just because for whatever reason you're in charge of a team or leading a class that you can still learn from the people around you. So I hope you enjoyed this segment, please come back and listen to the full episode when that comes out. If you just go ahead and subscribe right now on whatever platform you're listening to, you will know when the new episode comes out. Thanks so much for listening. I really appreciate it. And please stay tuned after the episode, there's a little bit about sponsorship. I've set up a new page on our website, it's chefs without restaurants.com forward slash sponsors where you can find all the info of the sponsors and affiliates were working with. I'd really appreciate you sticking around for that. And here's the episode. Well, one of the questions I always ask on this podcast is what did it mean to you to be a chef because for so long, we frame that around a guy who works at a restaurant and it's so much more than that. So what are some of the ways that you would define a chef?

Russ Zito:

Yeah, people ask me what I do. And I'm like, really just a cook. You know, I cook food, you own a chef has a set of skills that are very different from, from from Cook, per se. You know, what I see as being a chef has changed a lot in my 26 years at Johnson Wales. But also in the time that I spent in industry before the time that I spent in the industry in the military and the time that I probably spend from now until you know I'm not shuffling anymore if that's what it is. But um, people say, Hey, Chef, what do you do? I'm like, Well, I work with a bunch of young people that want to know everything I know. You know, what I see as being a chef personally, is as a instructor today, that is not just teaching in the culinary lab going out into the garden and picking the produce and planting the produce and planning the the the entire garden to support a menu and having these two Ask these incredible questions and how many students that want to know everything you know, and they are way home from home for the first time. And they, you have no idea what their background and their experiences and what their home life was like or anything. But I think just being able to get in that kitchen, or in my case, in the garden, sometimes elbow to elbow with these young people. And, you know, I hate to call them kids, but a lot of them are kids. But I have students that are not kids, I have students that are change a career, I have students that are coming back as food science majors that want to get that color basis. But to me, being at the stove, elbow, to elbow, and being able to share your experiences, and you know, trade those stories back and forth, and show new techniques. You know, in today's world, with the students that are coming out of the industry, and that are working on the weekends, sometimes I learned as much from them in a day, then then they learned from me and maybe even more new ways to do things, you know, exchange of ideas. So to me, being a chef is not only cooking and understanding those core competencies and, and techniques, and being clean and being neat and being professional. And keep in mind these applause Street. And being a good role model a good example, it's it's about that exchange of culture, that exchange of ideas that exchange of your life's experiences, may be centered around that food. You know, they say if you smell a smell your taste a taste that brings it back to your grandmother's house at Thanksgiving, or an event or a birthday party. I think that's all about you know, being a chef as well. And understanding those experiences, and how to recreate them in your establishment with your guests, and educating your guests. And, and just really sharing all that, to me. That's what makes or fulfills my day. That's what makes me enjoy what I do. And man I love getting in that classroom every day. Even if it's the same group of students, and I get to know them six hours a day at the stove, you get to know people, maybe you get to know a little more than you want to know. But just being there and sharing that that you know that exchange of culture that exchange of experiences that exchange ideas and being able to replicate that in a way that, you know, sets your guests up and gets them turned on about food and make someone a comeback. I think that's that's the essence of being a chef to me. I love it. You know, I look forward to it every day.

Chris Spear:

Well, thank you for being a chef. I Everyone's got a different take. And it's it's one of these questions I asked everyone this question, you know, everyone has kind of a personalized podcast episode and story. But it's one of the ones where I'm like, I just kind of want to get this wide view. You know, for me, the hard thing is like, not hard, you know, forever. People say what do you do? And I say I'm a chef, and they get really excited and wide eyed and say like, Oh, where do you work? And in their mind, they already have a picture of me working in a restaurant. Oh, you know, I run a retirement community. And there's kindness like, oh, you know, some people say, you, you have to be a leader or you have to have a team is what I hear a lot from other people.

Russ Zito:

Even if you do not you always have a team. It may be different people on your team everyday. You you work but yeah, you have a team.

Chris Spear:

There's some nitpicking and some gatekeeping there. And you know, it's an interesting conversation. Thank you so much for listening to this episode. Again, my full conversation with chefs Ido will be coming out in a couple of weeks. I usually do this at the beginning of the episode, but today, I dropped it at the end. So as you know, this show would not be made possible without the support of our sponsors. And besides the show notes, I have now gone and put all of our sponsorship info in one place. So if you go to chefs without restaurants.com forward slash sponsors, you can find all of the brands and partners that we're working with. So that means if you purchase products through these links, it costs you literally nothing but I get a small commission, which is going to help the podcast keep going. And these are brands I love there's Masienda and as you might know, I had founder Jorge Gaviria on the show a couple of weeks ago, the tiny fish co another podcast guest, Sara Hauman, that's her business. Vosteed knives, ruff, Tilit. All these businesses, if you want to pick up their products, just use our affiliate link and you'll be helping out the podcast. On that site. You can also find links to our Patreon where there's different sponsorship tier levels. Or if you just want to help us out you can throw some money at Venmo or buy me a coffee. But the podcast really relies on our podcast sponsors. And this year's annual sponsor has been the United States personal chef Association. I'm really grateful that they decided to sponsor the podcast for the whole year. You can find all the info on how to connect with them by going to chefswithoutrestaurants.com/sponsors. So here's a word from the United States personal chef Association. Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has grown in importance to fulfill those dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap. Central to all of that is the United States personal chef Association, representing nearly 1000 chefs around the US and Canada. USPCA provides a strategic backbone to those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. It's a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with their meal. USPCA provides training to become a personal chef through our preparatory membership. Looking to showcase your products or services to our chefs and their clients. partnership opportunities are available. Call Angela today at 1-800-995-2138 extension 705 or email her at aprather@uspca.com for membership and partner info. Go to chefs without restaurants.org To find our Facebook group mailing list and check database. The community is free to join. You'll get gig opportunities, advice on building and growing your business and you'll never miss an episode of our podcast. Have a great week.