The Crafted Hospitality chef and restaurateur on building a strong team, leading by example, and finding work-life balance. 

By Oset Babür
Updated January 17, 2020
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Restaurant empires like Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality, which stretches across New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, don’t survive without a solid leadership strategy. For Colicchio, it all boils down to self-care. He believes that work-life balance is a prerequisite for a successful career in the kitchen. (Case in point: Colicchio doesn’t take meetings before 11 a.m.) And across his restaurant group’s seven locations, the New York City–based chef encourages senior leaders to have open conversations about addiction, mental health, and well-being—an ethos that trickles down to the entire kitchen.

Mastering the art of delegation, he says, has proven to be one of the most critical lessons in his career. “If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to trust the people around me,” he reflects. “I always felt that I had to be there for the staff and that if I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t work as hard. I thought, ‘If I’m not working 12 hours a day, how can I ask them to work 10 hours a day?’”

In time, Colicchio says he realized that micromanaging and hovering in the kitchen just to ensure everything was done right meant he had less time for himself and his family, which, in turn, meant he had less of himself to give to his staff in terms of support and training. “You don’t have to be a martyr for the business,” he says. “Be there when it counts. Show up when you’re needed. Don’t stay just for the hell of it.”

Tom’s Tips

On building culture

“The best way to ensure that your kitchen is a safe place to work is to make and stick to a mission statement, including nonnegotiables about [acceptable] conduct. You have to follow through, even if it’s one of your best sous chefs [who slips up].”

On teaching

“Once you’re the chef, the majority of your job is teaching others. You have to understand what motivates people, and it’s not fear. You have to meet them where they are.”

On hiring staff

“When you hire someone, say: ‘It’s great that you want to cook, and yes, we care about great food and great service, but here are our core values and what we stand for.’ People like structure.”

On avoiding burnout

“When you go to a food festival, you’re not making money, and you’re also out of the restaurant. Pick four or five events a year …there’s only one of you, and it’s a marathon. If you want a long career, you’ve got to stay sane.”