May 31, 2022

Talking Top Chef and Tiny Fish with Sara Hauman

Talking Top Chef and Tiny Fish with Sara Hauman

This week I have Sara Hauman, You might know her as the yogurt queen from season 18 of Bravo's Top Chef, or from her highly entertaining Instagram cooking videos where she's making some delicious-looking food.

After high school, Sara moved to the south of Spain. Upon returning to the US, she decided to go to culinary school, (which she doesn’t recommend).  She spent the next few years working in restaurants including Brandon Jew’s Bar Agricole. With some experience under her belt, Sara returned to Spain to work at the famed Asador Etxebarri.

On the show, we discuss her love of food growing up, moving to Spain after high school, and going to culinary school. We dig in and discuss culinary school, and why she doesn't recommend it, and she shares her experience working at one of the world's best restaurants in Spain.

We talk about Top Chef, including the application process for her, her experience on the show, and how her confidence grew as she went further in the competition. And now Sara has started a tinned fish company called The Tiny Fish Co, where she's selling tinned sea treats from the Pacific Northwest.

Sponsor- The United States Personal Chef Association
While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it provided an avenue for personal chefs to close that dining gap.  Central to all of that is the United States Personal Chef Association. Representing nearly 1,000 chefs around the US and Canada, USPCA provides a strategic backbone for those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. 

One of the upcoming events for USPCA is their annual conference scheduled for July 7-10 at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota, FL. Featuring speakers and classes, the conference allows chefs to hone their skills and network with like-minded business people, and is open to all chefs in the industry.

For those who supply the industry, it’s a chance to reach decision-makers and the buyers of products. Chefs Without Restaurants listeners can use promo code CWR50 to save $50 on registration. Please contact Angela at aprather@uspca.com for information on becoming a member, attending the conferences, or exhibiting.

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Sara Hauman

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Sara's Instagram
Sara's Website

The Tiny Fish Co Instagram

The Tiny Fish Co Website
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Founder Chris Spear’s personal chef business Perfect Little Bites

Transcript

Welcome to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. I'm your host Chris spear. On the show. I have conversations with culinary entrepreneurs and people in the food and beverage industry who took a different route. There caterers research chefs, personal chefs cookbook authors, food truckers, farmers, cottage bakers, and all sorts of culinary renegades. I myself fall into the personal chef category as I started my own personal chef business perfect little bites 11 years ago. And while I started working in kitchens in the early 90s, I've literally never worked in a restaurant. What is up everyone. My podcast guest this week is Chef Sarah Hauman. You might know her as the yogurt queen from Season 18 of Top Chef, or from her highly entertaining cooking videos on Instagram where she's making some very delicious looking food. After high school, Sara moved to the south of Spain. Upon returning to the US, she decided to go to culinary school, which she doesn't recommend, by the way, and we definitely get into that on the show. She spent the next few years working in restaurants including Brandon Jew's Bar Agricole, and with some experience under her belt, she decided to return to Spain to work at the famed Asador Etxebarri. So we start the conversation off just kind of getting a feeling about where she got this love of food, moving to Spain with her dad after high school, and then coming back to the US going to culinary school, and then her early restaurant days, we definitely dig into the culinary school thing. You know, that's something we've talked a lot about on the show. And she falls on the camp of do not go to culinary school. So we do touch on that a little bit in our conversation. Sara talks about going to Spain and the whole process of how she ended up over there, how she ended up where she ultimately was working. And you know, some of the fun stories like the time she got in a little kerfuffle with one of the chefs there. And of course, you know, we're going to talk about Top Chef Sarah was on last season's Top Chef, I think she won the first episode, and ultimately was in the top eight. And part of our conversation around Top Chef was, you know, I think Sarah identifies as an introvert, maybe had some self confidence issues, especially as the show started. And just, you know, it's a challenging, weird environment. I think anyone would struggle a little bit. But it was really great as a viewer to kind of see her grow and evolve and get more confidence as the show went on. And now if you've watched her instagram videos, I think they're really great. She seems confident and really comfortable in front of the camera, and I think is, you know, a real joy to watch doing cooking videos. In there. She really opened up on this episode and talks about some personal things, things that I don't think everyone would even be comfortable talking about. So I really appreciate her coming on the show and kind of getting into some of the messy stuff. You know, it's not all you know, over the years, she's amassed a number of accolades and we didn't even really get into that on the show. And what does Sarah got going on now? Well, she has started a company called tiny fish co where she is producing tinned sea treats from the Pacific Northwest. You should go check it out on Instagram at the tiny fish Co. She's always had a love for tinned fish. I think that's something we even saw a little bit of on Top Chef. So we talked about how she ended up starting her own company. So if you've always wanted to try recipes using tin fish, she will definitely give you some tips for how to use it. But I think one of the best things to do is to check out her website and buy Over the past 27 years, the world of the personal chef has some of the amazing types that she's producing. And I did ask grown in importance to fulfill the dining needs of consumers. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant her what it means to be a chef, like I've been asking many of experience, it provided an avenue for personal chefs to close that dining gap. Central to all of that is the United our guests this season. I did excise that out of this episode. States personal chef Association, representing nearly 1000 chefs around the US and Canada and even Italy. USPCA And we'll be releasing it separately. So if you enjoy this provides a strategic backbone for those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, conversation, please check that out. That will be dropping soon. and more. It's a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience along And if you're not currently getting the Chefs Without with their meal. One of the big upcoming events for the USPCA is Restaurants newsletter, the link is in our bio or go to chefs their annual conference scheduled for July 7 through 10th at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota, Florida. Featuring a without restaurants.org you can sign up for it. I will not send host of speakers and classes. The conference allows chefs to hone their skills and network with like minded business people you more than one email a week. It will be filled with some of and is open to all shifts in the industry. For those who supply my favorite recipes, gear recommendations, or reminder the industry, it's a chance to reach decision makers and the actual buyers of products. This will be the first time back about this week's podcast. At some point, the algorithms are following the COVID lockdowns and the chef's are anxious to connect. And right now Chefs Without Restaurants listeners going to throttle me back and you're not going to see my can use promo code CWR50. To save $50 on registration, please stuff. But if you're on the email list, you will know what contact Angela at aprather@uspca.com For information on becoming a member attending the conference or is up. So check that out. I really appreciate it. And the exhibiting. And as always, all this info will be in the show notes. And now on with the show. Thanks so much for listening, episode will be coming right up after word from this week's sponsor. and have a great week. So to kick off the show, I like to get a little background on you.Let's talk about food. And growing up like Did you always love food was you know, was it something that was important to you and your family?

Sara Hauman:

So I I always always always loved food. And I think I ended up getting into food because one it's a love hate relationship with me. And two. I just like growing up. I didn't necessarily have a lot of money. But it wasn't. It wasn't a situation where it like occurred to me, you know, as a kid, I just was a little bit like do to do living in my own little land. My family would go we would never really go on vacation per se. Vacation would be like a road trip to Illinois to visit my grandparents which say on? Yeah, you're like, that's a great vacation. But at a certain point, my parents are yelling at each other. They're yelling at me, I get carsick.

Chris Spear:

We had a camper and my dad would just like drag the camper to my cousin's house on Cape Cod, and leave it there for a couple of weeks. And like he and my uncle would like put a new roof on the house and me and my mom would hang out with my cousins. But like, that was besides like, we went to Disney World when I was in fifth grade. Other than that, we Yeah, never had a vacation in my whole life, which made me want to travel extensively when trying to get money and be off on my own.

Sara Hauman:

Yeah, we we didn't necessarily go anywhere cool. But living in San Diego. It's like we would go to Tijuana for a day, you know, and or we would go like Disneyland, which is in LA would be like our family vacation. But, you know, it could have been a lot worse, but at the end of the day we would they were really good about taking us out to dinner as a family. Probably like once a month. And my mom not really the greatest. My dad was like fine. He was uh, he was in. He's a little bit older. So he was in the Vietnam War in the Marines and he actually was a cook in the military but that's a different completely So we would go out to eat, but we would never go to Applebee's or the chain restaurants we would go sushi or Indian food. And so that I think, for me was like the coolest part of growing up. And that's where, I don't know, I think I traveled through the food that we were eating. And I was always the one I wanted like the most, the craziest thing on the menu, whatever the craziest thing was, I wanted to eat that I was always that that kid.

Chris Spear:

We're your parents supportive of that. Were they all about letting you buy that weird thing that maybe they weren't sure you were going to eat?

Unknown:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I would never not eat it. I pretty much always tried everything very adventurous. But also so quiet, like, deathly quiet. I never talked. So I think whenever I found something that I was excited about, you always know when I'm excited about something I can't I can't hide it. They would definitely try to at least encourage me to like get into it.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, last week, my son who's nine insisted that we get eel when we went out for sushi and he had had before and it's been it's been a couple times and I don't know why. But he just said, I want the eel. I'm like, Okay, I mean, you ate it last time, we'll get it. But I was like, Are you sure you're gonna eat it? And it's like, you know, not a big deal. You're getting like one roll, right? Like, if he doesn't eat it, I'll eat it. But he was insistent on that this time.

Unknown:

Yeah, yeah, growing up for me, food was, food was always there. Food was always around me not necessarily the best food in the world. But I just I really did get excited when we would go out to dinner. That was the best thing for me. And I think because it was like traveling to a different culture, that that's the coolest part about food still, for me. I didn't

Chris Spear:

live in an area that really had a lot of, I guess what you'd call ethnic food at the time, but we went out to eat a lot. My dad was not adventurous at all. But my mom was my dad worked. Sears. So retail. So like three nights a week he had to work. So that's when my mom and I would go out and have like, something special. So like we'd maybe go out to a Thai restaurant or something. Yeah. And my dad was home was more like steak baked potato salad type stuff. Yeah, I

Unknown:

guess growing up kind of like in Southern California on the West Coast. Definitely a little bit luckier. Or if I would have grown up kind of in the middle of nowhere, suburbia, chain, restaurants, chain malls, all that good stuff. Probably not the greatest.

Chris Spear:

So did you work in food service? like as a teenager? Did you get any kind of restaurant experience then? Or when did you start working in food?

Unknown:

I worked in retail when I was a teenager. i Okay, so crazy story. My life is a little bit strange.

Chris Spear:

I love stories, boring stories on the show. So bring.

Unknown:

So growing up, everything was great, kind of like until it wasn't I have an older brother, he had a lot of drug issues. So that were six years apart. So when that was taking place, I was kind of like 910 1112 You know, the good years, the years when things start changing. And so kind of contributed to me just shutting my mouth and putting my head down and doing my work because there was already like, the messed up person in the family. But that also takes a really big toll on you know, parents. So my parents split up when I started high school. And a couple years after that my it was when the chat rooms were like the cool dating spot

Chris Spear:

like AOL chat rooms.

Unknown:

So my dad started going on those chat rooms and connected with a woman, a British woman who lived in the south of Spain. So he, you know, in love whatever was like selling gonna sell all this shit and move to Spain after I graduated high school and retire because he's a little bit older. And I was like, Well, I'm tired. I worked really hard in high school. I am definitely like type a perfectionist. So I just sports I did everything that I thought that I had to do to like, please everyone in my life and got straight A's, but I was exhausted at the end of that. So I decided okay, I'm gonna go to Spain with my dad. And it's gonna be great. So I would actually spent the first year of after high school in Spain, despite, you know, getting accepted into like, colleges and stuff, which is a little crazy for some people to comprehend, but it's okay. And then I came back because again, my brother was like, going through some hard times and was like living out of his car, and I just was like, Okay, I need to take care of people because that's what I do. I just take care of people. So I basically finagle. My mom was getting married. So I finagled her and her husband, they had like a small apartment that they owned. And I said, What if we pay rent on it, so my brother to have a place to live, and that worked out. So I came back to the US. But I also knew that I needed to go to school to please my mother. So I said, Well, I'll just go to cooking school because it was always, it wasn't necessarily like the huge passion that I had. But I just always loved food, I would do school projects about food, I loved eating food, it was a very special moment for me, whenever I got to eat something,

Chris Spear:

like I just celebrate no experience, like you didn't grow up in in high school saying, I want to be a chef, I want to work in food, just something that was passionate about.

Unknown:

Absolutely. I really love science. I thought science was really cool. And I think food and cooking is a bit scientific. So I went to culinary school, but me being me, I didn't just like go to culinary school because I understand how much money it was gonna cause I got a job in the restaurants. Within the first month, I started culinary school. So I was actually working in a restaurants by day and then driving about 45 minutes south to go to school. And pretty much I was up and awake from five, six in the morning from work, and then school and I would do online classes for all the things I didn't have to be in school for. So I graduated before I was 21. But again, I just I was completely exhausted. It's a lot. It's all or nothing with me, really. But I'm realizing as I'm getting older, it's like I am either at 0% or 500%. There's

Chris Spear:

no in between looking back on it. Was culinary school worth it to you. Or I mean, I guess that's where I can finish that. Was culinary school worth it? Would you do it again?

Unknown:

No, definitely not. I don't think that culinary school is I think I think it's a joke. Really. You you learn on the job. And sure. You know, maybe in my first year, two years, working in a restaurant, it's definitely helped me understand terminology and maybe practicing knife cuts. But at the end of the day, you know, again, I graduated before I was 21. But it did nothing for me except for put me like you said in crippling debt. And now I have to work super, super hard. And I have to weigh my options. Do I want to take this job because I make less money? But I learned more? Or do I want to take the promotion because I'm getting paid more and I'm gonna stay at this job that maybe I'm not learning that much at. So I mean, I'm not I'm still in debt. I'm not from culinary school, I'm not going to be done paying my loan. So I'm 47 and that is that's shitty because ultimately, how many I'm sure you know how many people that you went to culinary school with are not in the food industry anymore. Within

Chris Spear:

like a year and a half so many of them. I went to Johnson and Wales I got a four year bachelor's and you know, I've said on the show before it will be burned in my memory. I had to pay $404 a month for 10 years. And I had to defer that a number of times because of like, I moved and then you know, startup costs of moving to a new city. It's like I couldn't pay for six months. So then it just kept stretching out and out. But you know, I wanted to go work at places I had interviewed at like Charlie Trotter's and, and I don't think that would have been a great place for me knowing who I am now. But like it was basically like a stash like, No, you have to come and work for six months for free and find a place to live. It's like how the fuck am I going to do that? Like no money and I'm paying back student loans. Like that's insane. It's like, No, I'll go to this retirement community. You know,

Unknown:

it was yeah, it for me. I think after a certain amount of time, I just felt really stuck. You know, I love food and I love what I do. But, you know, I just feel like I have no other option. I can't go back to school. I can take out more loans. You I did the same thing. I did a four year bachelor degree in culinary management, that doesn't fucking mean anything. But, you know, sure I did it cost $80,000 You know, and that's so much money. And most of my loans were private loans through because it's a trade school, basically. And so it's not even like federally, federal can't do anything. You know, I'm stuck with these loans. And it sucks and I have made like I said a lot of decisions based on money and not based on happiness because I had to you know, I went back to community college for a little bit to defer my loans. Because I was, you know, I had to take so many credits to defer, but that's exhausting, you know, to it's, I don't know, it's just, I don't believe that culinary school should exist. I think that, you know, I was lucky enough later in life to be able to go work in Spain for free, basically. But you're gonna spend less money and have more fun if you just, you know, take out a loan, take out a personal loan, go to Europe, work around at a couple places. I know

Chris Spear:

a number of people who did that they just reached out to chefs via the Internet and said, I want to come work at your place. And they just packed a couple bags and headed on over there. And when you think about paying 20 to $50,000, a year for school versus like, How expensive is it to live off your savings, you know, to live in Spain? So yeah, you worked at one of the best restaurants in the world in Spain. Can you talk about where you were working and how you ended up getting that job? After

Unknown:

finishing culinary school and having a few jobs in the San Diego area, I was getting a little antsy and like sad that, you know, I'm living in the same place that I grew up in in the same city and I just never wanted to be that person who never left the city they grew up in. So I had a childhood friend who lives in San Francisco and I just impulsively was like, I'm gonna come visit you. And I went up to SF and I thought it was the coolest thing ever having never been to really a big city other than LA. But that's just for school field trips or whatever. Being in a city like that, like a condensed city where you don't need a car, and you just you take public transport. coolest thing ever. That was probably when I was like 22 I think. And pretty much six, six months. I think after that I decided I was going to just move up there. So that's what I did.

Chris Spear:

throw caution into the wind and go and go on. Yeah, sure.

Unknown:

I did. So I moved up to San Francisco. And I actually started at some like pretty fancy places. Kind of like you i i got an inn at the French Laundry and I did stodg there not for like six months, just a couple days. And I did a tasting and everything. And I pretty much on my first day. Oh my first day when they were yelling, whatever it was clean up or whatever. And everyone stopped what they're doing and start sweeping. I was like, This is not for me. This is way too, too crazy that I can't do this. But I went through the process and it was cool and whatever. But I definitely knew that that level of fine dining was probably never going to be my future. And then I had found a Brandon Jew who is was a friend of a friend and he was just opening Bar Agricole, which is now closed. But that was super exciting, because he was telling me about butchering whole animals and that whole thing kind of more like the shape, nice approach to food, very simple, rustic style. That was what got me really excited. So I took the job with him. And I was there for probably close to three years and moved my way up to sous chef and everything. But I had some life stuff happen. And I was like, you know, I always wanted to go to Europe and work and I didn't really know how to go about it. So I googled the 50 best restaurants in San Pellegrino list and I literally just started emailing every single restaurant and saying that I was interested in coming first Dodge, and the ones that got back to me. I was always asking if they would house their stashes. That was my main thing is I knew I couldn't pay for it. Trying to figure out which place would How was me and feed me and also let me work for free. That's how I ended

Chris Spear:

up working in Minneapolis for a while. It's not Spain, but same thing I need. I needed to do an internship or externship for culinary school and I didn't have a car and I didn't have money and I would be working for free so I just started sending out like all you have to have as onsite housing and feed me and I'll come work for you for free. So I had up in Minneapolis, it's it's not stained by any stretch, but

Unknown:

yeah, I will because I had been to Spain previously asador Tamari was literally like top of my list. That's the restaurant that I wanted to go to. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Of course I watched the Anthony Bourdain feature on it, which made it even cooler and they were luckily the first restaurant to email me back and say absolutely, you should come and so I was thinking okay, it's gonna be this three Three month thing. Great. And Victor, the owner and Jeff was the one email thing. So it's just really funny and I'm broken English. But he said, No, no, no, you're gonna come here for six months. And I was like, Oh, well, okay, I guess I'm not gonna argue. We're not sure. So I worked really, really hard before that, I think I like called a TNC. Because I paid you know, I paid my phone bill, like, three months in advance, just to make sure and I tried to save as much money as possible, but I just got credit cards and and went and did it.

Chris Spear:

What positions were you working there? Like, what type of work were you doing?

Unknown:

So I was basically on the pantry station on the cold station. When I first started there. And then I got into a bit of a kerfuffle with the gentleman who was running that pantry station. It was a multicultural kitchen. And he was Japanese. And he basically talked to me at one day, like I was a piece of garbage. And I was like, oh, no, no, no, no, no, you do not talk to me like that. So I was very upset. And the pastry chef who was Basque, and was a good friend of mine, and who had worked there for over a decade, basically grabbed me and was like, I asked Victor, you're going to work with me now. Okay, so I started working in the pastry department, which was great, because I do have a little bit of pastry experience just being around. And I worked with him on desserts, I worked with him on developing like the whole chocolate after chocolate program near DC, etc. And I was able to because I worked with him, go into the brasa and start grilling strawberries. But regardless, I got to touch the grill.

Chris Spear:

Very cool. I mean, there's very few people who've gotten to go do that. So

Unknown:

yeah, it's kind of like a hierarchy thing. It's like when Victor deems you ready, you can go into the brasa. And then help plate but there's no talking in Nebraska, you have to basically look at Victor and anticipate what's coming next. And you got to pull the plates from the plate warmer, but at the right time, and there are certain things that only he can touch. And there are certain things that only other people can touch. But I think, you know, not speaking bask and being who I am with not not talking or communicating with words, a lot of times, I actually could read his face and could read his body a lot more than most people. So for me, I caught on super quick and was able to start basically helping through service on the savory side. And then I'd switch over and do desserts once that started happening. So I basically got to do like everything because because I got mad.

Chris Spear:

That sounds like a great experience. You know, everyone jokes about astonishing like the dude who swept the floors at Noma who puts it on their resume that they stopped, but they didn't really work. But it sounds like you had quite an experience and picked up a lot of skills and did some really great stuff there.

Unknown:

I definitely worked, which was nice, because I also had heard those things where you know, you're going to starve and you're just going to go pick herbs. And you know, we didn't wear chef coats, you could if you wanted to I wear a sweatshirt and a T shirt when I was there and we had not matching shitty aprons and

Chris Spear:

expect that from a place of that caliber.

Unknown:

So on my like, I don't know, it was my first week and Victor's wife, basically like hands me the phone. And why is she handing me the phone right now. And basically, since I spoke English, they just would always hand me the phone when someone was speaking English for an English reservation. So on top of all of the other shadows doing I was making reservations in English, and the way they take reservations is in a really big book, written down,

Chris Spear:

no, POS system, no,

Unknown:

no computer, no, nothing like that. So I would be talking to people on the phone and they'd be like, how do we get to give them directions? One day after work, I thought I was in trouble because someone's like, Victor wants to see you in the office. I was like, Okay, great. So I go up, and he sits me down in front of his computer and basically says, I need you to write a bio for me, and I'm gonna tell you in Spanish and I want you to write it in English. Sheila said, Okay, I'm sitting there with Victor. And he's dictating stuff to me. And I'm writing it down in English. And he's like, watching what I'm reading and says, no, no, no, no, no, I don't want to say it like that. I want to say it like this. And like, you understand you just don't want to be typing right out your secretary.

Chris Spear:

A little bit of everything. Yeah, a little bit.

Unknown:

Everything was

Chris Spear:

right. His biography at some point, right. Or the intro to cookbook,

Unknown:

I think, well, he already came out with a cookbook. Yeah, definitely didn't make it it.

Chris Spear:

So I guess we'll jump forward a little bit you were you on a show Top Chef? Was that like sign that happened this past

Unknown:

year? That was something that happened?

Chris Spear:

Yeah, how? I mean, how did that happen? Did you actively pursue going on the show? Like were you submitting to be on? Or did they reach out to you because I know it could go either way.

Unknown:

So I being the introverted quiet person that I generally am unless they blow up at you bottled everything in for too long? I didn't do any of that, you know, I would get stuff from Food Network here and there about like, do you want to do this

Chris Spear:

program? For games? Yeah, like they would hit

Unknown:

me up on Facebook. And so you know, it's just casting people reaching out, and I just never even thought about it. And I never thought I would be one good enough to like, do that sort of stuff, too. And then I got, I got a cold cold call, basically, from my casting person, about Topshop. And this was when I was still living in San Francisco. And I thought it's like, okay, all, like, go, I don't want to close the door to an opportunity. So I'll, I'll feel it out. So I actually went through the whole casting process. And I bowed out at the last minute, basically, at the final casting step where you have to go and meet the producers. And at that point, you're really, I mean, there's only a hand full of people that won't be chosen at that point. So when I bowed out, the casting people that had worked with were very upset with me, they're like, they're just fly to LA and do this interview, we can't tell you that you're for sure. Gonna get it, like, just do it. And I didn't, I didn't at all. I was

Chris Spear:

like, Why? Why did you go that far, and then decide not to do it.

Unknown:

I was in between jobs. And I had just finished my first head check job. And despite getting a little bit of acknowledgement here and there, I had never been in that position before. And it was really hard for me personally, because I just, I'm so hard on myself. And I never realized how hard I was on myself until I was the one in charge. And then I definitely, you know, take that thing where I will, when it comes down to it, it's always my fault. I very much took that literally. And I got nominated for a James Beard award and for like, it just didn't mean anything to me, because I was so focused on all of the things that I thought I was doing wrong. And I didn't really take those awards and acknowledgements as positives. I took them as I don't deserve this. Like, they're only giving this to me, because I'm under 30. They

Chris Spear:

talk a lot about imposter syndrome on this show, you know, because I have so many guests who they're not, you know, they even say that I don't consider myself a real chef. And that's because people have told them they're not a real chef, for whatever reasons. You know, I think it's hard on so many of us to think that like we're deserving of the attention or the accolades or whatever.

Unknown:

Yeah, I I don't know what it was. I just didn't think I deserved it. So I was coming off of that. And I didn't, the thing was the restaurant wasn't doing well. And I think that's a huge part of it. The restaurant wasn't doing well. It was a small restaurant, and I thought that it was my fault. And the owner of the restaurant, didn't not make me think it was my fault. And I knew that he was going to replace me and I got very upset because I was like, you have to tell me it was a whole thing but I was in between jobs and that was when the whole Topshop thing happened and then towards that end of the process. Melissa perello at Octavia in San Francisco had asked if I would help her out she was gonna get married and she was like I'd like you to run Octavia which was also super scary because it had a Michelin star. And I was like, I feel like shit. You know, like, I feel like, I'm the reason this restaurant is failing. And I know I'm like getting these awards, but I feel like I'm the person. I mean, I guess it also tells, you know, normal people, just because you're getting awards doesn't mean your restaurant is successful. So I, again, I was like, Do you want to go on TV? Or should I take this job and the money? Because I don't have? Right? Yeah, I have to work. I've never not had to work. I don't have that luxury. I decided to do the job at Octavia instead. And I just thought like, I burned that bridge, that TV bridge, but whatever. It's okay.

Chris Spear:

What's the time commitment for Top Chef? How long are you away for? And is it? I mean, I don't know, is it the same this past year during COVID versus other times

Unknown:

COVID was longer usually, I think it's a six week commitment. But ours was like eight weeks, two months,

Chris Spear:

it's a long time to be away.

Unknown:

It's a long time to be away and living in San Francisco and thinking like, I still have to pay rent on my apartment, but I don't have a job. And I'm going to like I'm going to take this risk to go on TV and probably humiliate myself in do terribly. No, come out with zero money. feeling terrible about myself no job. It just didn't seem like the right time. So I like I said, I ignored all those. Cool. So this is never happening in my life. That's okay. It just wasn't ever anything I wanted to do either. I watched maybe the first couple of seasons. And I never strove to like, be on TV. It wasn't a thing. And then the next year during the casting season, I had actually moved up to Portland that year. Literally the day after I moved. I got a phone call from LA, who's this? Answer it and it's the casting people asking if I want to go through the process again. It's like, oh, I kind of just moved a kid I have a job like, I can't do it. Wrong timing. Again. I was like, well,

Chris Spear:

they must have really wanted you. I mean, jeez,

Unknown:

yeah, that shipped definitely sailed. And then the following year. I was like, You know what? Moving to Portland was great. But I think what I realized, shocker. Restaurants are the same everywhere. I moved out of us out because I was getting burnt out on restaurants. And then I moved up to Portland to work in a restaurant. And it was the same and I felt the same. You know, I wanted to have a life. I didn't have a life. I wanted to make more money. I wasn't making more money. It was the whole nine yards are still struggling. So I reached out to the casting people this time around.

Chris Spear:

Here I am. Yeah,

Unknown:

I was. Hi, hello. I'm ready. Now I'm ready. I feel more confident. I'm ready. And they, they were like, thank you. We're going castings a little different this year. I really fucked this one up like, I definitely they're never calling me again. But casting was different because it was one of the All Star Season. So they were bringing old cast members back, which I didn't know because I don't watch the show regularly. So that was the moment where I was like, Well, this is definitely never gonna happen. And the following year, was 2020. And it was actually the end of March and 2020. And I had was now working at this winery. I had just started there six months prior as their chef and not a restaurant. Very chill. I was working I you know, I'd get to work at seven leave it for awesome. I was living this normal life by I was kind of bored. And all my friends still kind of worked in restaurants. And just because I had this normal schedule, I wasn't doing anything that I was just going to bed earlier. And I felt kind of guilty almost when the pandemic hit that I didn't work in a restaurant and I had just kind of made this move to work at a winery that was you know, just sure they were struggling but people were drinking a lot of wine during the pandemic. They didn't necessarily struggle, there's still money in the bank, I wasn't gonna get laid off. Like my job was very easy. And I really felt this desire to do something to help you know, I had friends who owned restaurants or just struggling and so I hooked up with Chef speed I think which is our taste made and did like very strange for me. But I did a cooking class, livestream cooking class and I raised money for it,

Chris Spear:

are you making what what kind of class? I made gnocchi.

Unknown:

And I got a was probably like close to 100 people in my class, which was crazy. And I was so nervous, but I just did it. And afterwards I had this like, crazy adrenaline rush. And I couldn't slow down. And it was so fun. And of course, in the grand timing of my life, I looked down at my phone expecting a text message from friends or a boss. Austin was like, You're crazy. What are you doing? But instead, it was a text from the casting people. And I was like, Wait, this is so weird happening. And in all the adrenaline. They were like, do you want to go through the casting process? Like, yes, yes, I do. I do want to go through the casting process. So I did it again. And then I then I actually went on the show, finally.

Chris Spear:

Did your confidence grow during the show? Because I feel like as a viewer, I saw that like, it seemed like you came in very quiet reserved. And you've already talked about being a little bit that way. And I think like, once you started to see some success, like, Oh, I'm actually doing did you when the first episode? Yeah, yeah. So it just it just seemed like you started to kind of snowball, like, you found your rhythm. And we're like, oh, I'm actually like, really good at doing that.

Unknown:

Yeah, I, you know, like I said, you know, regardless of awards, and whatever, I just, I never really held much credit with those, you know, just again, just because I am nominated for James Beard doesn't mean the restaurant I'm working at is successful, or bringing in money. And that's, that's more of the thing that I look at, because that's something I look at every single day. So people weren't coming in the restaurant, and I was getting these awards. And that's great. But like, it just doesn't mean anything, if if you're not working in a successful place, I guess. There's a bigger picture and a bigger story. So I have always just been incredibly hard on myself, like, incredibly hard, and I'm dealing with it now. Now that I understand, it's an issue that maybe not everyone deals with on the level I deal with it. So I definitely feel like my confidence grew, I didn't think I could, I just knew I was like, I'm gonna be the first one off, and I'm gonna go home and I'm gonna feel super shitty. And I'm gonna just delete all my social media and pretend like it didn't happen, and go about my stupid little life and be happy and content with being average Lea average. This is like this is I had it all planned out. There has

Chris Spear:

to be a balance somewhere because there's ego I mean, I've definitely not just on top shot, but seeing like those chefs who like come in, and they're like, I'm gonna win this whole thing. I've worked at eight, three Michelin star restaurants and whatever. It's like, nobody wants to be that guy, either. I mean, like, oh, yeah, bravo, on your confidence. But like, there there. There's a fine line there like walking that balance between confidence and arrogance?

Unknown:

Absolutely. I think I always just when I exhibit any sort of competence, I basically think that it's almost a bad luck term. Like, if I if I go in with the mindset that I'm going to kill it, then I'm very much not going to kill it because it's karma and I shouldn't be this confident and I shouldn't be narcissistic asshole, you know, is it's a constant battle, fighting in my head, but think positively be confident, you know, speak things into the universe. And then my other part being like, don't be you know, don't be stupid. That's not how that works.

Chris Spear:

And it's not a natural leaving on the show. I mean, I haven't been on it. But it's not like a natural environment. You know, it's like, it's like weird, right? I'm sure you can not say, you know, it's not like reality of working in a kitchen. But just like the whole competitiveness, like I love working with people. But I don't always love working in groups that that makes sense. Like, I was the one who always hated projects in school. And there was always someone who wanted to like, be in charge. I'm just like, tell me what to do. I want to be worker be as much as you know, I have my own businesses and stuff. And I have my vision. I'm always just like, path of least resistance. Like this person clearly wants to like, tell us what we're making. Just let's make that and um, uh, yeah,

Unknown:

I think I think the biggest takeaway that I got was, I always thought that I was kind of dull and not creative and same like, I just do simple things like repetition. I just, you know, copying people but not in like a bad way but in you know, like, I'm, I don't not reinventing the wheel. I'm just Making food tastes good and like look decent on a plate. But once I was around a group of other chefs, and you know, you get this challenge, and you're cooking, and I'm looking around, and I'm realizing what I'm doing is like, so far out of left field than what everyone else is doing. And of course, I'm sitting there thinking like, I've made a terrible mistake. But at a certain point you, you can't turn back because you have a timer on you. And you have limited ingredients, because it's what you thought of and what you purchase at the grocery stores. So you kind of are forced to go with they're almost and because I was forced to just complete my thoughts. And then I would do well, it was this, like, almost mind blowing moment for me to be like, Oh, holy shit, I just, I've never completed anything. I've not completed my thought ever. I've just been thinking like, you know, playing it safe, because I thought that's all I was capable of, and I'm capable of so much more. I just had no idea. You know, it just it forced me basically to be so uncomfortable. I'm like, well, if I'm gonna suck, I gotta just keep going. And then I would go and be like, Oh, it's so creative. And I'm sitting here like, oh, you know, I took big risks and made stuff I've literally before on TV, even though you go on and you're like, don't do that. Don't do that. Don't do things you haven't done before. But it's just like, I can only be myself. Going back to why they really wanted me up. Now I'm realizing that,

Chris Spear:

you know, you just have to, I guess commit to it sometimes, right? Like, just figure it out. I don't know that my brain works like that, though. Like in a quick fire. I think I'm more methodical about how I plan out my dishes and stuff. And that's my biggest hurt because I've had people reach out to me, I went through the casting process for Food Network show. And kinda like you, I backed out at the last moment, like I did a couple interviews. And I'm just like, I don't know, that self talk got to me, and I'm like, this isn't the right thing. This isn't how I like to cook. It wasn't the right opportunity. I don't know, maybe it'll happen someday. But I'm like, I found kind of my comfort zone and what I like to do, and I don't know, you know,

Unknown:

even if you're really, really good at cooking on your feet and quick fire, or you're methodical at the end of it, it's just like an athlete, you're not 100% Every day, you're not gonna have a great day, you know, I'm gonna be honest with you. I, you know, I recently put myself in another situation because I was like, Well, I did, okay, the first time, like, I'm gonna just try to try another thing out. And I didn't do great, I did really shitty and I was really, really hard on myself. And, you know, but again, it's like, I wasn't in the right mindset to do it. I have a lot going on. And it's just because you're good at it one day doesn't mean you're gonna be good at it the other day, you know, I think it's more about putting yourself out there and being being okay with putting yourself out there. And that's, you know, for me, of course, I would go on top stuff again, because it means more to me to build my confidence as a human, you're gonna fuck up for sure. I'm not that special. Like, I'm never gonna win a competition show literally. Oh, you

Chris Spear:

might Oh, come? I

Unknown:

don't think so.

Chris Spear:

But we're also I mean, we're also in such a weird time. I mean, we're hopefully kind of winding down with the COVID thing. But it's been a weird two years. Like, I think everyone's going through the stressors of life and have this extra layer or two of things, whether it be someone you know, got sick or passed away, or you lost a job or someone you know, lost a job. Like, there's a lot going on right now. And we all need to cut ourselves a break. You know, it's tough times.

Unknown:

Yeah, I'm trying. I again, being an introvert, and, you know, had a lot of stuff happen. I was on TV in the last year and a half, I did a crazy competition, and I quit my stable job, I opened a business. And I am so triggered by all of these things that all of my tics and my quirks and whatever else in my brain is happening. Like, all of those things are 100 fold right now, and it's a lot to process

Chris Spear:

and you're on display. I mean, we talked before the episode a little bit about how you know, you feel like you have to be on social media, you have to be on Instagram, you have to be creating that. That opens the box for everyone in the world to come and have an opinion about you and not just about your work about how you look about how you sound about terms you you like just you're on stage now. for everyone to take a shot at you, and from behind a door where you don't even know who that person is necessarily. And that's yeah,

Unknown:

it is, it's super hard. And I've had, you know, I'm not any, you know, I'm not as more special than any other female growing up in the society, you know, but everyone has body image issues and males, females, but it is different for females and being so in front of the public, you know, so public facing and on social media all the time it's ever present. That, you know, all of the things I obsess over, and I've always obsessed over, but I've kind of like keeping it inside, I can't keep it inside anymore, because I'm so triggered by all these things, and they're really coming out. And it's been so difficult. And I wish I was it wasn't that way, especially for females, but, you know, it just is.

Chris Spear:

But did you come back with more confidence? Like, did you come back from the Top Chef experience with a renewed sense of earn, you know, whether it's finding yourself or just feeling more confident in yourself and your abilities?

Unknown:

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think, confidence in my cooking for sure. I think for me, it's a crossover. Like cooking, cooking isn't just something I do. I'm a very, like, I have a lot of emotions, you know, so when I'm happy, like, I know, people can taste that in my food. And way if I'm upset, I don't like cooking. Because I, I feel like the food tastes good. So for me, it was more about fixing myself as opposed to fixing my food. So I ended a very long not awesome relationship, because I finally like spoke up and said something because I needed to think about me. And instead of feeling like, Well, I'm gonna, like be a dick for like, you're not happy, you need to say something. So it was a lot of speaking up and saying, saying things which I think, you know, bosses at work were like, were all these emotions coming from and it's like, because I haven't said anything. And now I'm saying things. And that's another hard, introverted thing where, you know, you're constantly the person who doesn't ruffle feathers. And you get this confidence to finally do it. And you're smacked down all the time. People are like, you're like, you know, like, you're the pushover, you're the easy. And you really say yes to everything. What's the problem now? So I think for me, it was, you know, I'm, I'm continuing to speak up and I'm continuing to fail miserably. But I am just happy I just keep, you gotta keep doing it. Because you can't be that person. Unless you're that person. It was just a lot of realizing that I let people take advantage of me and stuff on me because I'm nice. And it sucks. It really, really sucks. And I still am a people pleaser. And I still want everyone to like me, and I still don't understand when they when I'm super nice to them. You know, letting letting it go? is on my list of 2022 resolutions?

Chris Spear:

You Yes, I'm with you. It's hard, especially the more you put yourself out there. You know now as someone who has, like, I have to reach out to people for business inquiries and doing deals and stuff like that. And like the rejection or just the not responses. Like, I go into my head really quickly, like, oh, I send this person. Like there's this person I really want to have on the podcast, I send them an email, like they didn't even get back to me like do they aren't like, why aren't they even responding? You know, like, oh, yeah, mine just gives them this like weird place where it's like, oh, we, you know, we all just have a lot going on. And maybe they overlooked it or just like the amount of times someone reaches out to me with a really nice message that I don't get back to them. You know?

Unknown:

Yeah, I am also I'm that person. I'm like, I'll sit there and stare at a wall and overthink someone not responding to a text as opposed to getting my work done.

Chris Spear:

Well, let's talk about tiny fish you like you're excited there. There you go. I I got you going. So what's this new endeavor you have with the tiny fish PCO?

Unknown:

Yeah, so I've always loved tinned fish. It wasn't something that I thought like I'm gonna make tinned fish. I've always wanted to make a product and I'm fascinated with like, factory food as weird as that sounds, how to make things shelf stable, like looking at all the jars on the shelves and you walk by them like it's kind of cool when you think about it, you know? You take food and you can just let it sit on your counter that's like, Yeah, I'm actually when I moved from San Francisco to Portland a big factor in that was never going to trust myself and believe in myself enough to do business in San Francisco is too expensive. So moving to Portland was a step towards giving myself. I wanted to give myself a fair chance to succeed. And I knew I wasn't gonna be able to do that in a bigger city. Because of money. I always think about money.

Chris Spear:

It's important. I mean, it's something you need to get by right.

Unknown:

Yeah. So I moved up to Portland and really wanted to work on basically it was General my fish idea. Whatever my fish idea was. The one thing I would always make in restaurants in the Bay Area, we got really great fresh anchovies and I would pickle them Spanish style and make book erroneous and whatever I did to them, people loved and I would convert, you know, oily fish haters and oily fish lovers. So I was really working on trying to figure out how to do the bulk Rene's. But being me and wanting to use local stuff and anchovies really, really don't come up to origin much. They're more baitfish and baitfish and food grade fish are graded differently is the whole thing. So as I was kind of calling around and getting into it, and finally, like, who I made, I went to, like a Hasebe school and I did my whole half step plan. All of this was kind of culminating around that March 2020. Date. And it didn't seem good to me to work in a Commissary Kitchen at that point. So produce a product. And I also, you know, I was like, Okay, I don't want to sink money that I've worked really hard for and saved into this. If like, we're all gonna die in some crazy zombie. You know, this is silly. So it was kind of the more like, I'm gonna live my life situation. And of course, Topshop happens. And I really always have wanted to open a boutique cannery as I said on the show, as it seems so cool. To me. It's just so cool. And I don't know, I just made it happen. I found a manufacturer and I didn't know anything about CO packing and manufacturing. When I first thought of it, you know, I'm looking at Canary equipment and asking around and the industry to like actual canneries and figuring out infrastructure stuff, how much money is going to cost and is credibly overwhelming. And then I got a random email from someone who was like, hey, you know, we'd like to maybe partner on you with some more Chef inspired recipes for our 10 fish. And I went to go visit them up in Washington and was explaining what I wanted to do. And they were like, well, we know we wanted to hire you, but maybe we could actually help you out. And you can start doing products. And it just all happened really fast. Yeah, that's

Chris Spear:

so cool. I am I stocked up on sardines for the zombie apocalypse. I remember. I've always liked sardines. No one else in my house likes them. But I just remember going to Costco when they said like go shopping this week, because we're shutting everything down for two weeks or the foreseeable future. Like I had no idea and there was like no food on the shelves. I'm like, Well, I like these. I bought like way too many sardines that I had to figure out what to do with what are some of your tips for like, I know there's a lot of really great high end canned fish out there these days. But like if someone just went to their grocery store and just bought like a can of sardines, like what are some of your favorite quick, easy dishes to do with them?

Unknown:

I like to go super crazy or if they're of course, basically if it's completely basic. I don't like theory that of course. I gotta make my life to fold on myself. Sardines on toast of course is delicious. sardines and pasta is of course delicious. I think canned fish is great in Okonomiyaki. Cabbage pancakes. Super delicious. I'll toss that in there. And you sort of like kimchi pancake. Also super tasty.

Chris Spear:

I've never done that with those. I'll have to Yeah. On my list because those dishes I love but I'm usually like pork belly or bacon in there. Right? Go with us. Yeah.

Unknown:

I mean, if you think about it, smoked oysters, mussels, they kind of have that same same flavor. So do that. Obviously like grilled cheeses. People are weird about cheese and the fish but I think it goes really well together especially canned fish. I think fish is great is to help like soup bases get a little bit more body. Obviously rice bowls are pretty incredible. I think today I'm about to make a video on doing a Thai style omelette. So using I'm going to finally I got my packaging is like on its way to me today. So I'm going to be realistic releasing rockfish and soy sauce hopefully by the end of the week.

Chris Spear:

I saw on your website coming soon. Yeah,

Unknown:

that suits me. very impatient person. So I'm working on recipes for that. But like Thai style omelets, putting in any fish in a news delicious. I love Spanish tortilla. So I'll pop it in Spanish tortillas. I think sardines especially I will make that into salad dressing. Super easy.

Chris Spear:

I think it's a tough sell the most people though, like when I put that stuff on menus, people don't want to order that. I feel like if I put it into like a chef's course, they'll eat it. But if I put that on a menu, they kind of shy away from that.

Unknown:

You gotta hide it. That's how I tried to trick people into eating certain things. That when they eat it, I'm like, gosh, like,

Chris Spear:

I'm a big fan of cooking ofall and it's like, nobody's gonna order that. You know, it's like I do like, a tongue sour brought and people like, oh, yeah, I mean, it just made sense. To me. It's like, a tough piece of meat. And it's like, oh, marinating it and vinegar and wine for three days. Fix right there. Right, but it's not the first thing that sells on my menu.

Unknown:

Yeah, I've done like, like corned beef tongue. Yeah. One thing that I love doing, because it just made sense to me. And people didn't necessarily know what it was.

Chris Spear:

You're also the yogurt queen, right? Like, I think you're the spokesperson for yogurt. Is that you have any? Any like brand deals or? No?

Unknown:

No, it's okay.

Chris Spear:

I work in that.

Unknown:

Not for not trying like I had a PR company. No, definitely no yogurt deal. I

Chris Spear:

just don't think yogurt companies are good. Like I work with yogurt a lot. And I'm always like tagging them on Instagram. And like they don't even necessarily like my posts. It's like, how do you not love that? This is amazing. Like I'm making lab? No, I'm making Labneh with your yogurt and then I do this like super creative dish and like you're just selling like plain yogurt you can sell way more yogurt if you had someone working with you do things but we're not there yet. I want to get them as like, you know, find the right one to be a sponsor for my podcast. But

Unknown:

um, yeah, I mean, I'm, I'm gonna do in this. It's the same, regardless of whatever. People with marketing brains and marketing backgrounds have a specific marketing story they want to tell. And if you're not part of that story, it doesn't matter how much you tag, your call, you know, yogurt queen, it just doesn't matter. You kind of have to fit fit the image of whatever they're trying to promote right now.

Chris Spear:

Yogurt with fruit and granola. And yeah,

Unknown:

I mean, it's it's all image these days, it's all videos, everyone's in front of the camera. So, you know, again, it just makes it makes it a little bit hard. Because it's not such just about the food. It's about the person behind the food now. And I think that's a that's a big, big thing these days, especially with cooking that it literally isn't just about the food, it's about the story, the chef's, the story of the chef, and makes it difficult. The cool part about my products too, is that I really, I put a lot of emphasis on me as a chef and how I operate in a restaurant and try to put that into our products. So first thing you see is the packaging. And if you note working with me, I like to crack jokes, you know, so there's a joke on my back there's

Chris Spear:

some great packaging it's fine and funny like looking on the website and like having merch and stuff like that. It's very It shows your personality, right? And I guess how do you stand out? I mean, there's so many products on the market, I think you need something and for for good or for bad. So much of it comes down to marketing. Like I think of beer like you in the beer store. And it's like looking at all the can artwork these days and the label artwork. It's like how do I pick out an IPA? You're like, Oh, that one has like Star Wars on the camera. And I don't even know if it's better or even good, but it's like it you know, it jumps out.

Unknown:

Yeah, it just is how it is I really wanted to make my personality a part of the entire product. So you know you've got the packaging, which is great and beautiful. And I love my designers who did it because they somehow got whatever was just swirling around in my brain onto a box. And you know, and then as far as the fit It just goes, I really want to focus on being super local in the Pacific Northwest and making sure that sourcing, local sustainable food is still a part of the actual company. So, you know, a lot of tinned fish comes from abroad, a lot of domestic tinned fish brands sourced fish from abroad. And that is fine. And that's their business and, you know, whatever. But I think there is a gap in the market with finding how to how to market fish domestically produced beautifully as well, you know, just just because I don't have a marketing background, just because I'm a chef doesn't mean I'm stupid and don't know what I'm doing.

Chris Spear:

That chef feeling, you know, chefs like to source locally and you know, like a good craft product and stuff. So I think that'll come through. Thank you for the time this. Yeah. I really appreciate having you on the show. This has been great. I hope you had a good time.

Unknown:

I did. I did. I did one. I mean, I think being on top check to along with, you know, confidence booster and what I it's a being able to share some of my struggles that I have, not only as a chef's as a normal, functioning human, has been really helpful to me too. As someone who's always been so quiet about certain things to be able to finally speak up, you realize you're not so alone in the world. So for all the introverted weirdos,

Chris Spear:

we don't want to just talk about the good stuff. This isn't just come on a pump yourself. It's like let's dig in and talk about the hard stuff on this show too. And life is hard. And I think a lot of people, especially on social media, there's a lot of fronting and you show the world what you want them to see or what you think they want to see. And things aren't always that easy. So if you can be open enough to come to talk about that. That is fantastic. Yeah. Have a great afternoon. Thanks so much. Thanks for listening to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. And if you're interested in being a guest on the show, or sponsoring your show, please let us know. We can be reached at chefs without restaurants@gmail.com Thanks so much.